Thu Apr 18, 2019
I have a long history of burger creations that have come out of the Meatwave, so many that I didn't think I'd really be surprised by a burger I made myself anymore. So it was a little floored after I made these pljeskavica—Serbian-style burgers—and was blown away with how they tasted. It was like no burger I've had before, and maybe that unexpected quality heightened my personal love for them, but seriously, they were crazy delicious and think you'd be equally impressed if you tried them too.
Not having had pljeskavica before, I'm not sure how authentic what I created was—I tend to find out after posting that, what I learn about dishes on the internet is often not very true to their origin. One thing I can say though was the lepinja I made to use as the buns was legit. I've had this Serbian flatbread before and successfully made it at home once in the past, and representing one of my earliest baking successes, it's found a soft spot in my heart. The two things to things to really know about this bread is that it's made from a very wet dough and it needs to rise multiple times.
These two traits, combined with a high heat bake, result in a bread with an impressive hole structure that has a slightly crisp outside, and a soft and spongy interior. Usually the loaves are much larger than what you see here, but I purposefully made the lepinja smaller to be burger-sized for this particular application.
For the burger toppings, I knew I wanted three things—sliced onions, avjar, and urnebes. Onions were easy, avjar is a roasted red pepper and eggplant spread I knew how to make already (although I did buy it in the store this time around), so that left urnebes as the new recipe challenge for me. An authentic version of this cheese and hot pepper spread looked it was going to require ingredients that would be difficult to find, specifically procuring the right cheese. So I took some clues from others for a substitute and used a mixture of cream cheese and feta as the base, to which I mixed roasted hot red peppers to taste, garlic, and paprika.
Moving on to the burger portion of the recipe, I found a lot of variations pljeskavica that used different combinations of meats, sometimes included bacon, some with cheese, others without, etc. So settling on one directions wasn't easy, but it also seemed like there was no one right answer and creativity can come into play here. I was intrigued by use of cheese, which can be stuffed in the center or mixed in with the meat. The cheese of choice is kashkaval, which i couldn't find and ended up using its Italian ancestor, caciocavallo. If you can't find that, a mild provolone will suit you well.
Also in the beef mixture was bacon, onion, hot paprika, salt, pepper, and baking soda. That last ingredient may be a bit of a head scratcher, but I was familiar with its use from when I tried out a recipe for cevapi, a Balkan sausage. The addition of baking soda gives the meat a final springy texture that's definitely unique and sets it apart from other ground meat recipes you may have tried.
Another thing I noticed when doing research for this recipe is that pljeskavica can come in a variety of sizes. A flat, oversized patty is fairly common, so is smaller portions, which is what I wanted to do here for serving in large group setting. I did shape my patties flatter than usual to to try get a skinnier end burger.
But that didn't end up doing much as the meat ceased up and cooked into its usual burger shape on the grill. I grilled these over direct heat, flipping them often for even cooking and better browning. I also cooked them longer than I usually do—my preference is for a medium-rare burger, but I let these cook until just cooked through.
Once the burgers were done, I quickly toasted the lepinja on the grill, cut side down, until warmed through. I then slathered a layer of ajvar on each bun and topped with a patty, urnebes, and onion slices.
I was kind of just expecting a slightly more seasoned burger, but the flavor ended up really blowing me away. The bacon added a nice smokiness, not to mention the extra juiciness of its fat, while the paprika went a long way in giving the patty a good touch of heat that was contrasted by creamy pockets of cheese. The meat itself was much different than an American burger, with a finer texture and a springiness that resulted from the use of baking soda. As if that weren't enough, the bread and toppings elevated this from amazing to totally killer. The ajvar had a great creaminess and sweetness that was contrasted by the spicy and salty urnebes and sharp and crunchy onions. The fresh lepinja was also key—if you were to switch to a normal squishy American-style bun, you would be missing a big chunk of the overall experience. This burger really tasted like nothing I've had before, all in very good ways that surprised me, which can be a little hard to do now that I'm 16 years into the Meatwave!
- Prep Time:
- 1 Hour 30 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 1 Hour 30 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 10 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 3 Hours 10 Minutes
- 6 servings
- For the Lepinja
- 400 grams bread flour (about 3 1/4 cups)
- 12 grams white sugar (about 1 tablespoon)
- 8 grams salt (about 2 teaspoons)
- 7 grams instant yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 300 grams water, lukewarm (about 1 1/4 cups
- 30 grams milk, lukewarm (about 2 tablespoons)
- For the Urnebes
- 2-3 red jalapeño or fresno peppers
- 1/2 lb feta or farmers cheese
- 3 tablespoons cream cheese
- 1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- For the Burgers
- 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
- 1/4 lb bacon, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup finely diced onions
- 1/4 cup grated Kashkaval cheese
- 1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 small yellow onion, sliced
- To make the lepinja: Place flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a the bowl of stand mixer and whisk to combine. Add in water and milk and mix on low speed using a dough hook until no dry flour remains. Increase speed to medium and knead for 5 minutes. Remove bowl from mixer stand, cover with plastic wrap, and let dough rise at room temperature until roughly doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface and divide into 6 equal pieces, form each into a rough ball. Transfer dough balls to a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 550°F. Flatten each piece of dough into a disc roughly 1/2-inch thick, cover, and let rise for 20 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to middle rack of oven and bake until bread is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Remove baking sheet form oven and transfer bread to a wire rack and let cool.
- To make the urnebes: Preheat broiler. Place peppers on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in broiler until skins are charred and peppers are softened, turning peppers as necessary to roast evenly. Transfer peppers to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Peel, stem, deseed, and finely chop peppers. Place peppers, feta or farmers cheese, cream cheese, garlic, and paprika in a medium bowl and combine using a fork or whisk. Transfer mixture to an airtight container and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the burgers: Place beef, bacon, onion, cheese, paprika, salt, pepper, and baking soda in a large bowl and mix with hands until well combined. Break off approximately 1/3 pound of beef mixture and gently shape into a flat patty. Repeat with remaining ground beef.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place burgers on grill and cook until well seared on both sides and almost cooked through, flipping burgers occasionally during cooking. Transfer burgers to a platter.
- Cut each lepinja in half lengthwise and place on grill, cut side down. Cook until bread is warm and slightly toasty, about 1 minute. Transfer buns to a serving platter. Spread a layer of ajvar along the bottom of each bun, top with burger, urnebes, onions, and top side of bun. Serve immediately.