Let cravings serve as inspiration; it's the body communicating needs
I obviously love to cook but sometimes I wonder what really drives it, this daily compulsion to make something. You could say, "it's hunger," but that can't be right. We could all simply fill ourselves in any number of less time-consuming ways.
No, what makes me, and all the other people I see in the grocery stores trolling the aisles in search of inspiration, need to cook?
I think the key lies not in basic hunger, but in hunger, or more specifically, in cravings.
I'm a disciple to my cravings. I really try to listen to them, because I've found that they direct my diet in interesting--and usually healthy--ways.
I'm lucky to have learned to pay attention to my cravings very early on, from my mother, who would famously ask us kids about dinner every morning at breakfast. I remember being in the shower and she would pop in: "what are you hungry for?" Or she'd say, "I'm making fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans tonight. What other vegetable do you want?" If I said peas, she'd say no. "I already have something green. Pick another color."
Lately I've heard nutritionists tell us what my mom instinctively knew: that you can get all of your vitamins if you eat something from every band of the rainbow.
But more importantly, she was teaching us to pay attention to our cravings. And I still think it's true: what I crave is what my body actually needs. I'm not talking about the top voice, the insatiable one who screams "Ice cream! Ice cream!" I mean the voice that speaks just below the hungry blowhard: the one that craves red meat or lemons or something spicy.
So when I noticed that I was craving a crisp slice of cucumber, I listened. Spring must be sprung if I'm craving cucumber, as it's not really my favorite. But you know how it is: sometimes you feel a primal urge to taste something fresh.
That meant I had to come up with something that could receive a lid of thin sliced cucumber - and fast. We were nearing the 5 o'clock hour. As I rolled through the grocery store aisles, eyes peeled for something interesting, I came upon the Asian stuff - the hoisin and the hot sauce - both easy sells for me because I love to mix the spicy with the sweet.
I quickly picked up a package of ground chicken, a knob of fresh ginger and a bundle of cilantro, and I had it: the makings of chicken burgers with a sweet and spicy Chinese-inspired glaze. I splurged on one of those expensive cucumbers, the English ones in the individually shrink-wrapped package, because I was craving a bit of the peel and I find their skins more edible than the other cucumbers. (They're usually crisper and fresher-tasting, too.)
Not only did the burger taste like the beginnings of spring, making me anxious to get digging in the garden, but it was quick to make and, very literally, hit the spot.
with Sweet Chili Glaze
Makes four burgers
12 ounces ground chicken
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
3 scallions, finely minced
2 teaspoons + 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, grated
Three-fourths teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soy sauce
One-fourth cup fine breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
One-half teaspoon sriracha chili sauce (or any hot sauce of your choice)
10 turns black pepper
4 burger buns
butter for buns
cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced on the bias
cilantro or mint or both
Mix together the ground chicken, egg yolk, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, minced scallions, 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, grated garlic, salt, soy sauce and breadcrumbs. Make four patties and reserve.
Whisk together the hoisin sauce, ketchup, sriracha, remaining sesame oil and black pepper; set aside.
Preheat the oven to broil and set the top oven grate about 6 inches from the broiler.
Heat a grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat. Split the buns, butter them, and grill, buttered side down, until marked, less than a minute if the grill is hot enough.
Add the chicken burgers, cooking until marked well on both sides, about 5 minutes. (Don't worry if the burgers aren't totally done. They will finish cooking in the oven.)
Transfer the burgers to a baking pan and top with a generous dollop of sweet chili sauce. Broil until the sauce darkens and the burgers puff slightly, indicating doneness. (Cut into one if necessary to make sure.)
Layer the buns with a bit of mayonnaise, a piece of lettuce, a few slices of cucumber, a few sprigs of cilantro and the chicken patty and serve.