I often find myself wishing that restaurants would offer a bowl of lime wedges alongside the ubiquitous salt and pepper shakers (or, as is increasingly the case in trendy establishments, a little bowl of salt flakes that you can pick at, unhygienically, wondering how many other people have contributed their under-nail dirt to the pile). I'm obsessed with sour things, whether it be a spritz of citrus to finish a dish, the vinegar that clings to pickled vegetables or a bowl of rhubarb compote that has seen only a pinch of sugar. It’s perhaps one of the reasons I love east Asian food so much, as these cuisines are all about balancing the different taste sensations and ensure a good hit of sourness alongside the sweet, salty and hot. My cooking is increasingly concerned with including that all-important sour element: a scattering of redcurrants over a smoky aubergine salad to accompany a recent barbecue; a bowl of quick-pickled cucumber and radish to cut through the richness of a teriyaki salmon fillet; a lemony tabbouleh to take the edge off a plate of sea bass smothered in tahini sauce.
Perhaps one of the reasons that strawberries and cherries excite me less than most summer fruit is that they just don’t possess the mouth-puckering tang of raspberries, redcurrants, gooseberries or blackcurrants. I don’t mind their sweetness, but it seems somewhat one-dimensional compared to the bittersweet bite of their sourer cousins. I’ve always found cherries somewhat overrated in sweet recipes, which is why I enjoyed Nigel Slater’s recent Guardian column: he suggested pickling the fruit in a mixture of red wine, red wine vinegar, star anise, peppercorns and just a whisper of sugar. It appealed to my love of sour, pickled ingredients (cucumber is a current favourite) and to my weakness for combining fruit with savoury flavours. The dark, unctuous mixture, glossy with the swollen cherry flesh and heady with the tang of vinegar, is a beautiful sight to behold on a sunny summer afternoon as it sits on the countertop, the flavours mingling.
I chopped the pickled cherries and mixed them with some parsley to make a delicious sweet, tangy cherry relish. It topped some of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten. Inspired by this recipe, I mixed lamb mince, crumbled goat’s cheese, fresh oregano from the garden and some spices to make unbelievably flavoursome, moist, delicious lamb burgers that just melted in the mouth and were enhanced by the grassy tang of the goat’s cheese. No burger is complete without a proper bun, and these milk buns, from a Tom Kerridge recipe, are the best thing you could ever use to encase meat. They have a crumb that’s as light as air, with a delicate, buttery, brioche-like taste and beautiful golden glazed tops. They’re the burger buns of dreams. Of food porn. Of Hoxton hipster cravings everywhere. They are also incredibly easy to make and take around two hours from start to finish (with about five minutes’ actual hands-on time). Definitely worth every minute. Every single one. Just look at them. There were lots of 'bun in the oven jokes' between my boyfriend and I as these baked, but luckily they only take about ten minutes, so awkward pregnancy humour doesn't have too much opportunity to spiral out of control, if that's a worry of yours.
So, this is essentially an amalgam of several different recipes that I liked the look of, but they all came together in about an hour of cooking and turned into one of the best things I’ve ever made or tasted. The recipes below look like a faff, but they're not, and can all be made simultaneously so you're not in the kitchen for very long slaving away. The lamb burgers, seared in a hot pan until crispy on the outside and juicy within, are topped with a dollop of yoghurt to add moisture (and that all-important sourness) and then the jewel-like cherry relish, a delicious sweet-sour addition to the rich lamb and goat’s cheese. Lamb and cherries are often used together in middle Eastern cuisine, and feel like natural partners here. Enshrined in a fluffy milk bun, you have the kind of burger that may ruin you for life. Make these, and you must accept the inevitable. No other burger will ever be as good. #sorrynotsorry
Lamb and goat's cheese burgers with pickled cherry relish (serves 6, or 3 greedy people):
For the milk buns (makes 9, because you'll want some left over):
- 375ml semi-skimmed or whole milk
- 30g butter
- 600g plain flour
- 20g salt
- 40g caster sugar
- 7g sachet instant yeast
- 1 egg, beaten
- Sesame seeds, to sprinkle
First, put the milk and butter in a pan and gently heat until the butter just melts. Remove from the heat and leave to cool to body temperature (no hotter, or it will kill the yeast). Meanwhile, put the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, and add the yeast to one side and the salt and sugar to the other side. When the milk is cool enough, add to the flour, and knead with a dough hook for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave until doubled in size - around an hour and a half. (If you don't have a mixer you can do all of this mixing and kneading by hand).
When the dough has risen, knock it back on a worktop and divide evenly into 9 pieces. Put a sheet of non-stick parchment on baking tray and roll the dough into balls, spacing them out on the baking sheet about an inch apart. Leave to rise again until doubled in size - around 40 minutes. When they have risen, pre-heat the oven to 220C. Brush the tops of the buns with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until just golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
For the cherry relish:
- 250g cherries, pitted and halved
- 50ml red wine vinegar
- 150ml red wine
- 1 star anise
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 3 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Put the cherries in a saucepan with all the ingredients except the parsley, and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes, then set aside for a couple of hours, if you have time, or a few minutes if not. To make the relish, simply remove the cherries from the liquid, finely chop and mix with the parsley.
For the burgers:
- 450g lean lamb mince
- 125g soft goat's cheese
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 2 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- To serve: thick yoghurt and salad
Simply combine the ingredients in a large bowl, mixing and kneading well with your hands until it is all well combined. Shape into six rounds, then place on a plate in the fridge until ready to cook. To cook, simply pan-fry in a little oil for 3-4 minutes on each side.
To assemble the burgers, slice the milk buns in half and spread each half with a little butter (this stops it going soggy). Top the bottom half with a burger, then dollop on some yoghurt and top with the cherry relish. Put the other half of the bun on top and serve with salad (I made a simple salad of spinach leaves dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar).