I’ve never been an ardent fan of the All-American hamburger. The meat is almost always too dry and lacking in flavor, requiring a dousing of mustard and ketchup to make it palatable. I am, however, a lover of a different kind of hamburger. It’s called pljeskavica and can be found in Balkan countries like Serbia, Croatia, and Bulgaria. The cuisines of these countries are a mishmash of German, Hungarian, and Turkish influences, due to their domination under the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. My family are ethnic Slovaks from Serbia. Our cooking is even more varied due to the influence of both the Slovak and Serbian cultures. We eat all sorts of dumplings and stews, as well as bake with phyllo and grill a lot of our meats. Whenever I go to Serbia, eating pljeskavica is one of the things I look forward to the most.
Pljeskavica is served in most restaurants and on city street corners, the way vendors serve up hot dogs in North America. It’s a meat patty typically made of a combination of beef, lamb, and pork. The bun is not your typical hamburger bun, but something between a bun and a Georgian baguette. You can garnish it with mustard and mayo, of course, and chopped onions are de rigeur. The best part is the cheese, called kajmak, similar in taste to feta but creamier–almost like a spread.
Since I live in the city and don’t have a balcony, I can’t grill my own pljeskavica at home. When the craving gets to be too much, I drive out to the suburbs to a restaurant called the Balkan Grill, the only Serbian restaurant we have here in Vancouver. The meat patties served there are the size of your head; three people can eat one of them. At this restaurant they stuff them with feta cheese. This is how I got the inspiration for this little burger here.
At home, I make my own version with lean ground turkey meat. Yes, it’s lower in fat, but it’s also juicy and I like the taste. I just fry the burgers up on an oiled cast iron pan for about 20 minutes. I have tried baking them but that made a lot of the juices and cheese run out.
This recipe also calls for something called Vegeta, a seasoning mix for meats, soups, and vegetables. It’s produced in Croatia but every European deli I’ve ever been to in this country carries it. It’s a very popular product across Europe. It’s an optional ingredient, but it does boost the flavor. It also contains a lot of salt, so if you skip the Vegeta, you will need to add more salt than this recipe calls for.
This recipe makes 4 small burgers. Pljeskavica is usually much larger than a regular hamburger, but thin.
Turkey Burgers Stuffed With Feta
1 pound (1/2 kilo) lean ground turkey meat
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Vegeta seasoning
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1) Mix all of the ingredients except the feta in a mixing bowl until well combined. Divide the meat into 8 chunks. Roll 1 chunk into a ball and then press it out into the shape of a patty in the palm of your hand.
2) Press the feta on top of the meat patty. Take another chunk and form a patty with it as well, and then press on top of the feta covered one. Repeat with the rest of the meat.
3) Fry on medium heat for about ten minutes, until well browned. Flip over and fry for another ten minutes or so. Make sure that the meat is well cooked. If you cook it on too high of a heat it might burn on the outside but might not be done on the inside.
In restaurants, pljeskavica is typically served with Greek salad. I also really like it with a salad of cucumbers in yogurt. I find the turkey burger is great with both. Once you have a burger stuffed with feta, you’ll never want a regular one again!