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Lamb Patties with Tzatziki

Lanna Apisukh for TODAY
Cook Time:
10 mins
Prep Time:
10 mins

Chef notes

Dr. Jessica B. Harris is an award-winning culinary historian, cookbook author and journalist who specializes in the food and foodways of the African diaspora. With this column, My Culinary Compass, she is taking people all over the world — via their taste buds — with recipes inspired by her extensive travels.

Compass points: 51.30 north, 0.7 west. London, England.

The spring months as they run into summer are usually connected with lamb in my mind, from the paschal lamb, that is the origin of the classic Easter roast, to lamb barbecues. Young gamboling animals mean dinner to me. Like the greedy wolf in the cartoons, I used to watch as a child, when I see young lambs, I see chops on the hoof! I also often think of lamb in connection with the Middle East. I crave the lamb souvlaki that taught me how to count in Greek one summer many decades ago (ena souvlaki, dyo souvlakia, tria souvlakai, tessera souvlakia and so forth). I think that I got up to eight before my stomach gave out and my Greek number acquisition stopped. It doesn’t end there; I also think of the delicate lamb chops savored with the freshest of salads: classic Greek ones with sun-ripened tomatoes and a generous crumble of feta cheese or a tumble of fresh greens dressed with bite-y vinegar and unctuous olive oil. I dream of the taste of the crisped skin of the spit-roasted lamb there is an Easter tradition in many country villages in Greece.

Many decades ago, my travels took me occasionally to Greece, where, as a young woman just out of college, I wandered in the markets around Omonoia Square — before the renovations poking in sacks of spices and sampling tastes, searched for treasures in the Flea Markets near Monastiraki, took the local cruise ships and discovered the beauty of Crete, Mykonos, Delos and Hydra, as I spent a month in Athens attempting to learn Greek language and archeology.

Imagine my surprise then when just a few weeks back my lamb cravings were quelled by a meal in London of all places at a Turkish restaurant, Pide Tas, known for its pide (an Anatolian form of pizza). Eating with a friend late one evening and at a loss to find an open place within walking distance of her house, we stumbled through the door of a spot that looked as though it should be on the banks of the Bosporus not on the southside of the Thames. They welcomed us warmly, seated us, and handed us menus that were filled with variations of pide. Contrarian that I am, I wanted nothing to do with the beautiful breads filled with various ingredients. I settled on a lamb burger. (I have never been a big pizza eater.) Then, rapidly turning into the server’s nightmare, I had the nerve to ask for it without a bun and to request instead some rice that I knew from the menu was lurking in the kitchen. It arrived along with ketchup that I hadn't requested, but it also came with a heady garlicky yogurt that went perfectly with the lamb.

This was a way with lamb from the other side of the Greek-Turkish divide. I was delighted but not surprised. I have been a student of geography long enough to know that many things connected with Greece and Turkey are debated as to origin and that the culinary habits of the eastern Mediterranean are often conjoined in many ways. Is it Greek coffee or Turkish coffee is a question that I will never answer in any public forum; I just savor them both, nod my head and keep my opinions to myself.

Once back stateside, I decided to replicate my new favorite meal. I found chopped lamb at my supermarket so easily it surprised me. Seasoning was simple salt and pepper with few additions. The lamb burger was delicious and a welcome change. When it came time to serve it alongside rice and the salad, I added a dollop of the tzatziki that I always have in my fridge. Wow! It was the perfect combination: The cucumber and garlic bite of the yogurt-based condiment paired deliciously with the sweet juiciness of the lamb burger. I found it a perfect alternative to a more traditional burger and a lovely way to salute the arriving warmer weather I had my meal with a glass of rosé, but in the future, I may celebrate my Greek-Turkish combination of lamb burger and tzatziki with a glass of retsina.

Technique tip: Squeeze the cucumbers to remove excess moisture.

Special equipment: Cast-iron grill pan.


  • 2 Persian cucumbers, grated and excess water squeezed out
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves, plus more for serving
  • 1 cup whole-fat Greek yogurt
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • canola oil
  • pounds ground lamb
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • onion relish or chutney, for serving (optional)
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Lanna Apisukh for TODAY

Preheat the oven to 400 F and preheat a cast-iron grill pan over high heat.

Lanna Apisukh for TODAY

In a bowl, stir the cucumbers, garlic, mint and yogurt until well-combined.

Lanna Apisukh for TODAY

Add lemon juice, to taste, and stir to combine; let sit for 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.


Meanwhile, in a large bowl, season the lamb generously with salt and pepper and mix to combine.

Lanna Apisukh For TODAY

Shape the lamb into 4 equal-sized patties.

Lanna Apisukh for TODAY

Brush the grill pan with a thin layer of oil.


Add the lamb patties and cook for 3 minutes per side; transfer to a parchment-lined quarter sheet pan.

Lanna Apisukh for TODAY

Bake the patties to desired doneness, about 3 to 5 minutes for medium.


Serve the patties with a slathering of tzatziki, some onion relish and a sprinkling of torn mint leaves; serve immediately.

Lanna Apisukh for TODAY