Thai(ish) Turkey Burgers with Quickle

Salty, Sweet, Hot, your mouth.
I was a camp counselor for many years at an amazing summer camp in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Camp Huston works with an international company that matches young people abroad with camps in the States that want foreign staff members. Huston ends up with a number of amazing exchange counselors each summer (though exchange is a misnomer, as few Americans go abroad for similar reasons, since “summer camp” is an almost uniquely American conceit). The kids love it, the staff love it, and I’ve personally ended up with some amazing friendships as a result (shoutout to my best Dutch pal, Ivo).

One year, we had a lovely young man from Ukraine named Alex. Alex mostly wore too-short nylon running shorts with tank tops and had a real enthusiasm for American culture. We worked together one session and, on a rainy campout, set about making a vegetable stew for supper. I asked one camper to dice the potatoes and toss them in the aluminum cooking pot; Alex fairly flew off his tree-stump stool. “You must peel them first!” he insisted. I shook my head. “No, don’t peel them. We want the peel! The peel is where the nutrients are!” Alex shook his head gravely. “No, the peel is where the radiation is.” Alex had grown up near Chernobyl, I discovered, and his relationship with food from the ground was very, very different from mine. This is my best example of the way “edible” means different things to different people. My uncle eats apple cores. As kids, my brother and I met someone who ate the frilly green tops of strawberries so we took up the practice in what I can only assume was a state of half bravado and half contrariness. Someone once told me that kiwi peel is edible so I learned to rub the fuzz off and eat the whole fruit at once, out of hand. The prospect of all three of these things has horrified countless people in my life.

I think, particularly when we’re young, we’re taught that certain things are not okay to eat, which to Little Heather translated to “poisonous” but which was actually “maybe not that tasty to some people.” Just last month I learned that bay leaves can be consumed. Thirty-two years old and I somehow got by thinking they can be used in a broth but are (I guessed?) deadly if eaten. Foolish girl! Allow me to free your mind if it’s not already been freed: Unless you are using carrots as a garnish, peeling them is a waste of your time and of the carrot’s sweet sweet vitamins. Just scrub them well! And if you cut florets off your heads of broccoli and toss the stems, you’re losing out on a) half of what you paid for and b) a flavorful, crunchy vegetable packed with fiber and protein. Friends, liberate yourselves. Let’s enjoy some carrots (with peel) and broccoli stems by bulking up a turkey burger that’s laced with the flavors of Thailand (that holy quartet of salty, sweet, hot, and sour).

I usually prefer a one-dish meal on a weeknight, but that means I need it to satisfy more than one food group (of chief importance to me at supper are protein and vegetables). This burger sneaks a few vegetables inside the patty and adds a few more on top as garnish. In place of dill pickles or sliced onion, I made a quick pickle (which around here, we call a quickle) to cover both bases. It’s crunchy, sour, and a little sweet, all at once. Some spinach instead of traditional lettuce and a generous dollop of peanut sauce both give you a familiar-looking burger with a very nontraditional taste. Oh, and if you want to use other veggies in this burger, go right ahead. I’ve successfully swapped in bell pepper, snow peas, water chestnuts, and of course broccoli florets. Just make sure whatever you toss in is finely chopped and try to keep the proportions of meat to veg similar (too much veg makes a crumbly burger).

I hope you’ll try this burger and let me know what you think in the comments. And if you eat any part of a vegetable or fruit that other people find strange, do tell!

Thai(ish) Turkey Burgers with Quickle

Active time: 30 minutes  |  Total time: 40 minutes  |  Serves: 4
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats


For the quickle:

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 English cucumber

2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

1/2 tsp. honey

2 pinches fine salt

For the peanut sauce:

1/4 cup smooth peanut butter

1 Tbsp. rice vinegar

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

1 Tbsp. water

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

1 tsp. chili-garlic sauce (or Sriracha)

1 tsp. honey

1 tsp. minced peeled fresh ginger

1/4 tsp. fish sauce

For the burgers:

1 pound ground turkey (I use white, but dark would be even more delicious)

1 medium carrot, shredded (about 3/4 cup)

1 large broccoli stem, peeled and shredded (about 1/2 cup)

3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

2 green onions, sliced

1/2 tsp. fine salt

1/2 tsp. red-pepper flakes

4 buns (optionally toasted)

1 cup baby spinach


  1. Make the quickle: In a small bowl, toss together onion, vinegar, honey, and salt. Wash cucumber thoroughly to remove any wax and then, using a vegetable peeler, peel thin strips from it. Turn the cuke as you go to maintain thin strips. Stop when you reach the seedy core and discard. Roughly chop pile of shaved cucumber and toss with onion mixture.
  2. Make the peanut sauce: Using an immersion blender or a spoon and some elbow grease, combine peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce, water, garlic, sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, honey, ginger, and fish sauce.
  3. Make the burgers: Set aside 1/4 cup of peanut sauce and add the rest to a bowl with turkey, carrot, broccoli, green onions, cilantro, salt, and red-pepper flakes. Mix well with your hands and form into 4 patties. Heat a grill, grill pan, or skillet to medium-high. Spray with nonstick spray and add patties; cook for 3-4 minutes per side (with a grill press, cook for 5 to 6 minutes total) until cooked through. Assemble each burger on a bun with a patty, some quickle, a few spinach leaves, and a dollop of reserved peanut sauce.
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