Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bison burgers with spinach and queso fresco

bison burger with spinach and queso fresco, adapted from Eating Well
(I forgot to take a picture after they were cooked... oops!)

There are some words and phrases that are commonly used in the midwest that I refuse to adopt. You will never hear me say 'pop,' for example. Sure, I understand that referring to every carbonated beverage as 'coke' isn't quite accurate (especially up here in Pepsi-land), but there are many other terms that better describe the product (like 'soda' or 'soft drink'). Otherwise I start singing about weasels, and that's just annoying. Then there are 'parking ramps' - those multi-level concrete structures that hold a ton of parked cars. While I have occasionally used this wording, I still picture a ski ramp in the middle of the street that you drive over and end up flying through the air (in the style of Evil Knievel). 'Parking garage' makes much more sense to me.

The word that confused me most at first, though, was 'barbecue.' When I think of barbecue, I picture pulled pork that falls apart and makes a complete mess but is the most fabulous thing you've ever tasted. Or perhaps ribs that are so tender that they fall off the bone right into your mouth, smothered with a delicious sauce of one style or another, depending on where you happen to be at the moment. And when I was invited to my first bbq in Michigan, this is precisely what I found. It was hosted by a friend from Tennessee who decided to throw a few pork shoulders and several racks of ribs on his smoker and cook them to death, meanwhile whipping up a huge vat of sauce. I was right at home. Soon thereafter friends started planning barbecue after barbecue, and I was very excited. After I heard some of the plans, though, my excitement turned to confusion... hot dogs and hamburgers don't belong at a barbecue. Sure, throw them on a grill and go to town, but that's completely different than a hunk of meat that has been cooked low and slow.

I went to these events and had a good time, but I struggled with the misnomer for a while. Every time that I would hear the word, part of me would instinctively get excited, and then I would have to bring myself back to reality. I do love that people are obsessed with grilling over the summer here (probably because it's only feasible for 3 months out of the year). When I'm lucky, we also throw some veggies on the grill because that's almost as good as real barbecue.

Now that it's been four years, I've finally come to terms with the fact that 'barbecue' doesn't mean barbecue here. But I was ecstatic to get an evite for a 'grilling party' for the 4th of July this year. This friend happens to be a native Michigander, and I am unbelievably happy that she knows her terms for outdoor meat cooking occasions.

As the grilling party approached, I remembered that I had a package of ground buffalo meat from TMZ Farm in Pinckney, MI that I picked up at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market several months ago. I thought that this would be the perfect time to use it. I'm not one of those people who loves the taste of meat alone (at least not usually), but I think that it can blend well with many other flavors. Thus, I present the bison burger with spinach and queso fresco.

Bison burgers with spinach and queso fresco (adapted from Eating Well)

5 oz spinach
1 lb ground bison
2 oz queso fresco (or feta), crumbled
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Cook spinach in a large pot of boiling water just until wilted (about 2 minutes). Drain spinach, let cool, and chop. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, mix together with hands just until blended, and form into 4 patties. Cook over medium-low heat on a grill or in a skillet until it's done to your liking (buffalo meat is extremely lean and can't take high temperatures). Serves 4.

These were the best burgers that I've had in a long time. The original recipe is for Greek burgers, but I substituted queso fresco for the feta because I had some leftover from the squash enchilada casserole. They still had a Greek vibe to them, but the queso fresco was more mellow than the feta would have been... and I think I liked it better that way. This is the first bison meat I've had from TMZ Farm, and it was amazing. I think that I've also seen it at the Lansing City Market, and I will likely be heading over there to see if I can get more. It has a more subtle flavor than most of the bison I've eaten before, and it didn't overpower the other ingredients. Perhaps I'll have to whip more of these up for future grilling parties... and maybe even a barbecue.


Julia said...

Your story reminds me of when I first learned that Zinfandel is in fact a RED wine. And then every time I went out to eat after, I'd order a glass of Zinfandel only to being annoyed that they brought me rose.

I like bison better than beef because it's leaner.

Katie said...

Julia - I completely agree with you that bison is better, and chances are that the buffalo had a better life than your average cow.

Anonymous said...

It pains me to see that even people who are absolutely great with vegetables won't adhere to a vegetarian diet. It's tasty. It's good for you. It doesn't involve the unnecessary suffering of fellow animals.

Great blog, by the way. Your eggplant bake is a must.

Katie said...

Anon - Glad you like the eggplant bake!

I respect your opinion about vegetarian diets, and I have often toyed with the idea of completely eliminating meat from my diet. There are several reasons why I feel that this is not best for me (I won't get into that here...), but I choose to only eat local meat from farms that respect their animals and give them a happy life. I can see your argument that it's not enough, but I hope that you can still enjoy my numerous vegetarian posts.