When it comes to ground meat (or most any meats for that matter), it's a simple equation: fat equals flavor and moisture. It would follow then that a low-fat burger should be dry and tasteless, right? Not necessarily.
While it may be tempting to go for 90 or 95 percent lean ground beef or turkey when crafting a leaner burger, the results will be disappointing. A better choice is to use a juicier 85 percent lean meat and find other ways to cut the fat.
The secret is in knowing how to pad your patty by using some healthful ingredients mixed into the ground meat that can enhance the flavor while also reducing the amount of meat (and fat) in each burger.
Ingredients such as whole-grain breadcrumbs, couscous or prepared bulgur often are used for making meatballs and meatloaves, and they work just as well in burgers, too.
As a rule of thumb, it's best not to add filler at more than a one-to-three ratio to the meat; otherwise the hamburger patties will tend to fall apart, especially on the grill. Dry ingredients also tend to work better than moist ones.
If you'd like to use vegetables to bulk up your burgers, it's best to drain the ingredients well. For instance, you can use flavor-packed roasted red peppers or sun-dried tomatoes, but be sure to thoroughly blot away any excess packing liquids with paper towels before chopping and adding to your meat.
This recipe for chili turkey burgers uses black beans to reduce fat while adding extra bulk and fiber. The beans are mashed with sauteed onion and garlic that have been spiced with ground cumin and minced jalapeno. This mixture then is combined with lean ground turkey (not the 99-percent lean kind!), and a few tablespoons of tomato paste for a touch of acidity and extra binding power.
For more daring palates, you can jack up the heat by adding a few more chilies, a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce or using habaneros instead of the tamer jalapenos.
CHILI TURKEY BURGERS
Start to finish: 35 minutes
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 cup canned black beans, rinsed
2 slices firm whole-wheat bread, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound lean ground turkey
4 whole-grain hamburger buns
Tomato salsa, for topping
Shredded lettuce, for topping
In a small nonstick skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the onion and saute until lightly colored, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeno and cumin. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a dish to cool.
Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the beans, bread and tomato paste. Pulse until well mashed, then add the cilantro, salt, pepper and the reserved onion mixture. Pulse several more times, then transfer to a bowl. Add the ground turkey, mix well, then shape into four 3/4-inch-thick patties.
Grill the burgers until they register 165 F on an instant thermometer, about 5 minutes per side. Meanwhile, toast the buns on the edge of the grill. Serve the burgers topped with tomato salsa and shredded lettuce.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 392 calories; 99 calories from fat; 11 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 45 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 8 g fiber; 696 mg sodium.