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Slovenian Goulash Burgers to Make My Momma Proud

My mother’s parents were from the same small town in Slovenia—although they did not meet until each had immigrated to America prior to World War I. They raised nine children on a small Kansas farm. True to my mother’s farm girl roots, my siblings and I enjoyed wholesome meals, home-preserved foods, and freshly baked goods while growing up in Seattle during the 50s and 60s. I’m sure my mother preferred to shake her farm girl image; she enjoyed traveling, gambling on nickel slots in Reno, and a cocktail every afternoon. She was a fabulous cook with an adventurous spirit. My mother passed away a few years ago. Among her belongings, I received several of her cookbooks, including one published in 1951 by the Slovenian Women’s Guild of America. Since her passing, I have been exploring Slovenian cooking. I realize now that there was a lot of my heritage in what I think of as simply good home cooking. This hamburger is a delicious union of my Slovenian heritage and the classic American hamburger.


12 slices hickory-smoked bacon (not maple flavored)

Quick sweet pickled cucumbers:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 English cucumber

Goulash seasoned beef patties:
2 pounds lean ground beef (20-23% fat)
1/4 cup grated onion (about 1/2 of a medium dry, yellow onion)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Cottage cheese spread:
3/4 cup small curd cottage cheese
1/2 cup sour cream

Onions and peppers:
One red onion
One jar (10 ounces or larger) sweet, roasted red bell peppers
One jar (10 ounces or larger) mild pepperoncini or sweet yellow banana peppers

Grilling and dressing the burgers:
Reserved bacon fat or vegetable oil to wipe the grill rack
6 potato hamburger buns, split


Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill, or preheat a gas grill to high.
Cook the bacon: In a medium skillet, cook the bacon over high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly crisped. Drain the bacon and set aside. If desired, reserve some bacon fat for the grill.
Make the pickled cucumbers: In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, white wine vinegar, and salt. Place saucepan over a high heat. Stir occasionally until sugar and salt are thoroughly dissolved and liquid comes to a boil. Meanwhile, diagonally cut the cucumber into thin (1/8-inch) slices. Place the cucumber slices in a medium-size, non-reactive (glass, pottery, or stainless) bowl. Pour the boiling liquid over cucumber slices. Weight the cucumber slices with a small plate to keep immersed in the liquid. Set aside until ready to use. Note: If making the pickled cucumber ahead, drain after two hours and store covered in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
Make the patties: In a large bowl, combine ground beef, grated onion, tomato paste, paprika, minced garlic, salt, and cayenne. Mix well, handling the meat as little as possible. Form into six patties that are slightly larger than the size of the bun. Cover and set aside until ready to grill.
Make the spread: Press cottage cheese through a sieve into a small bowl. Add sour cream and stir to mix well. The mixture should be uniform, but will be grainy. Set aside until ready to use.
Slice the vegetables: Cut six thin (1/16- to 1/8-inch) slices from the red onion. Slice roasted red peppers into 1/2-inch strips; you will need 24-36 strips. Slice pepperoncini into thin slices; you will need 24 small or 12 medium pepperoncini. Set aside any remaining vegetables for another use.
If desired, everything up to this point may be prepared one day ahead. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Grill the patties, re-warm the bacon, and toast the buns: Wipe the hot grill rack with the reserved bacon grease or vegetable oil. Grill the patties about 4 minutes per side for medium-cooked meat. After turning the patties over to cook on the second side, place 2 bacon slices of the reserved over each patty to re-warm it for serving. At the same time, place the buns on the grill cut side down until well toasted, about 2 minutes. When the patties have cooked to desired doneness, remove them to a warming rack or a warm plate, cover with a lid or foil, and allow to rest while you dress the buns.
Dress the burgers: Spread the toasted bottom bun lightly with some (1-2 teaspoons) of the spread. Top the dressed bottom bun with a grilled and rested patty with the bacon slices on top. Cover the patty with several slices of sweet pickled cucumber, a slice of red onion, several slices of roasted red pepper, and several slices of pepperoncini. Dress the top bun generously with more (1-2 tablespoons) of the spread and close the hamburger.


U slast! (Enjoy!)