Labor Day barbecue, Mediterranean style

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By Keri White

As summer comes to a sultry end, many people mark the occasion with a Labor Day barbecue. The all-American hamburger and hot dog variety certainly has its merits, but variety is the spice of life and, to that end, I offer a slightly more unique menu for this September ritual.

We will have burgers — but rather than the standard beef on a bun, how about a Greek-style lamb burger nestled in a toasted pita? These are often served with a yogurt sauce or laced with crumbled feta cheese, but to avoid mixing meat and dairy, I have mixed the burgers with chopped black olives and topped them with tahina dressing.

In place of the classic potato salad, I offer a brown rice and chickpea salad, and a side of Israeli salad. For dessert, a chocolate orange brownie caps the meal nicely.
Lamb Burgers with Tahina Dressing

Serves 4
For the burgers
1½ pounds ground lamb
½ cup finely chopped red onion
½ cup finely chopped parsley
½ cup chopped pitted oil-cured black olives
1 egg
½ cup panko bread crumbs
Salt and pepper

For the tahina dressing
½ cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
Approximately ½ cup cold water
4 individual-size pita loaves

Make the burgers: In a large mixing bowl, place all the ingredients and blend well. An electric mixer is ideal for this as it distributes the fat and the ingredients evenly.

Form the lamb mixture into patties and place them in your refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Make the tahina: Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Add more water if needed to achieve the consistency of a thin, spreadable sauce.

Heat the grill and cook the burgers over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. During the final two minutes of cooking, place the pita bread on upper rack of grill (or far away from heat) to lightly toast. Turn once.

Serve the lamb burgers in pita with tahina dressing and any other desired accompaniments, such as pickled vegetables or sliced onions.

Brown Rice and Chickpea Salad

Serves 4 generously
This can be served hot or cold and is hearty enough to double as a main course if you have vegetarians on your guest list. The mint and lemon deliver a fresh burst of flavor. If brown rice is not to your liking (or handy in your pantry) any type of rice can be used.

2 cups cooked brown rice, cooled
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup chopped red onion
½ cup chopped carrot
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup chopped fresh mint
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients and set aside for about 30 minutes at room temperature or longer in the fridge. Taste for seasonings and serve.

Israeli Salad

Serves 4-6
This salad delivers a burst of freshness to any meal. It’s wonderful on its own, as a healthy side or even as a topping on sandwiches, grilled fish, meat or poultry.

The key is to dice the ingredients finely so that they all meld and distribute evenly. I prefer the simplicity of parsley in this salad, but feel free to include mint, cilantro, basil or whatever your heart desires.

This can be served a few minutes after it is prepared or can be done ahead and chilled for several hours or overnight.

2 large tomatoes or 2 pints cherry
tomatoes, chopped finely
1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
1 bell pepper, finely diced (any color is fine)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley (or blend of other fresh herbs)
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste (be generous)

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Let it sit for a few minutes or a few hours, taste for seasoning, adjust as needed and serve.

Chocolate Orange Brownies

Makes 2 dozen
This classic flavor pairing is the ideal end to this meal — slightly exotic, but still plenty accessible. And if you can’t stand the combo, skip the addition of the zest and liqueur and serve traditional brownies instead.

2½ sticks margarine, melted
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
4 eggs
Zest from 1 orange
1 tablespoon orange liqueur such as Gran Marnier or triple sec

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a rectangular 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.
Pour the batter into a prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes until the edges are just crisping and center is set.

Cool completely, cut and serve.

Keri White is a Philadelphia-based food writer.

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