A Mediterranean Makeover for Turkey Burgers

Mild turkey is the perfect canvas for the bright, refreshing flavors of Greek cuisine
June 27, 2019 Updated: June 30, 2019

If you have been to Greece (or if you are Greek), then you know why people are so enamored with the flavors of that country’s cuisine, which are just wonderfully lively, vibrant, and clean.

Olive oil is the basis of almost everything, typical of Mediterranean cooking, joining other common ingredients like olives, lemon, and honey. Some others are herbs such as oregano, dill, and mint; fresh produce including tomatoes, cucumbers, and garlic; and dairy often in the form of yogurt and cheeses, such as feta. Typical proteins are lamb and lots of seafood.

And while turkey isn’t a usual main protein in Greek cuisine, it’s a wonderful canvas for all of these bright flavors.

The Perfect Canvas

I’m a huge turkey burger fan, and I know that there are some skeptics out there. But when you make a turkey burger at home, and can control both the ingredients and the cooking of the burger, you will end up with something amazing, I promise. Look for an 85 percent lean, 15 percent fat white-dark meat blend, if possible—this will be richer and juicier than lean turkey meat, though either will work here.

The mild flavor of turkey lets the supporting ingredients shine: pops of tangy feta, briny bits of olive, a piney freshness from the oregano, a bit of spiciness from the garlic. 

Most burgers swell in the center as they cook, and if you start with flat patties, you can end up with very puffy, kind of domed burgers—not so easy to pile the toppings on these. Before cooking, use your thumbs to press an indent into the middle of each burger, about one-inch deep and an inch or so wide. Then, as the middle expands while it cooks, the burger will end up fairly flat. This is true whether you cook the burgers on a grill or in a pan, both of which are options here.

Cook the burgers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, which is the safe temperature for cooking ground turkey.

A Quintessential Greek Sauce

These Greek burgers call for a Greek sauce. Greece is also well known for its dips and sauces, and perhaps the most popular, and the most familiar outside of the country, is tzatziki. It’s served with everything from pita (as a dip) to lamb to seafood. And it’s great on this turkey burger.

Tzatziki starts as a refreshing mix of cucumber, garlic, and yogurt. From there, the options broaden.

You can add any number of fresh herbs to the sauce, such as dill, oregano, mint, parsley, or even the fronds of fennel bulbs. You can swap out the garlic for shallots, or another member of the onion family.

Olive oil is often added for a bit of richness, here just in a tiny splash, but you can add more if you want a thinner, silkier sauce. And there is usually some sort of acid, usually lemon juice, to give it a little kick. The amount of garlic is fairly light, which I like so that the soft simple flavors of the yogurt and cucumber don’t get obscured, but add more if you wish.

And if you are as fond tzatziki as much as I am, you may want to make extra to serve up with pita chips the next day, or perhaps to dollop on a piece of grilled chicken or a chop. Leftover roasted meat, thinly sliced and piled into a pita with tzatziki, makes a great makeshift gyro (lamb, beef, pork, or yes, turkey!).

Tzatziki is best eaten within a day of making it, as the mixture can start to become a bit watery from the cucumbers.

What the Kids Can Do

For the tzatziki, the kids can peel and grate the cucumber if they are old enough to watch their fingers with the peeler and grater. They can salt and squeeze out the cucumbers, and measure and mix all of the ingredients. Even little kids can pull fresh herb leaves from the stems. They might also pick additional herbs or seasonings to add.

For the burgers, kids can crumble feta, pull oregano leaves from the stems, and mince the olives and herbs with a kid-friendly knife. They can mix together the burger mixture and form them into patties, with the understanding that hands have to be washed thoroughly before and after with warm soapy water. Older kids might be able to flip the patties on the stove or grill, with supervision.

Greek Turkey Burgers With Tzatziki

Makes 4 burgers

For the tzatziki:

  • 1 medium (10-ounce or so) cucumber
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt, preferably whole
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the burgers:

  • 1 pound ground turkey, preferably a mixture of white and dark meat, or an 85/15 blend
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta
  • 1/4 cup finely minced fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped Kalamata olives (optional)
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 buns
  • Lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and sliced onions, to serve (optional)

Make the tzatziki: Peel the cucumber, unless the skin is fairly thin—then it’s your choice. Slice in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon. Grate the cucumber using the large holes on a box grater, or the grating blade in a food processor. Toss the cucumber with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and place in a strainer over a bowl, or in the sink. Let rest for 10 to 30 minutes.

Use your hands to squeeze the cucumbers to press out any extra liquid, then place in a medium bowl. Add the yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, 2 teaspoons oregano, mint, and 1/2 teaspoon garlic. Stir well, and add pepper and any additional salt as needed (remember the cucumbers were salted at the beginning).

Make the burgers: Combine the turkey, feta, spinach, Kalamata olives, shallot, 1/2 teaspoon garlic, 2 teaspoons oregano, salt (go lightly on the salt—the feta and olives are salty), and pepper to taste in a bowl, using your hands unless you just feel like you need to use a spoon.

Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions, and form a patty with each. Use your fingers to form a small indent in the middle of each patty. This will allow the patties to end up flat after they have been cooked.

Preheat the grill to medium-high, or preheat a nonstick or cast iron pan. Grill or pan sear the burgers for about 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

Serve the burgers hot on the buns with tzatziki, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, as desired.

Katie Workman is a food writer and recipe developer in New York City. She writes the popular blog TheMom100.com, contributes to many publications, and has written two cookbooks: “The Mom 100 Cookbook” and “Dinner Solved!”

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