April 26, 2006

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Low Carb For Life Reprint - Burgers

We had our first cookout of the season this weekend, so this column seemed timely:

The scent of burgers on the grill is one of the great joys of summertime, surpassed only by eating them! Americans didn't invent the idea of the ground meat patty, but we did elevate it to defacto National Food. Even vegetarians can't quite get over the yen for burgers, or why are there so many veggie burgers out there?

The humble hamburger has a lot to recommend it. It's reliably inexpensive, quick to cook, and lends itself to endless variation. Too, your family will eat it with no complaints, a virtue not to be underestimated. But how is that burger nutritionally?

A four ounce (cooked weight) broiled hamburger, made from 80% lean ground beef, has zero carbs, of course. It will have 306 calories and 29 grams of protein. But so much bad has been said about red meat that you may be surprised at the vitamins and minerals that burger packs - 15% of your iron, 39% of your zinc, 15% of your B6, 12% of your riboflavin (B2), 33% of your niacin (B3) 55% of your B12, even 9% of your potassium. The bun, fries, and soda may be a nutritional wasteland, but the hamburger patty very definitely is not.

Ground chuck, about 80% lean, is ideal for burgers, and because of the fat running off your finished burger will only have about 20 more calories than one from the leaner ground round, a negligible amount. Since you're likely to broil or grill your burgers, I wouldn't use ground beef with less than 20% fat. Leaner meat is likely to end up being dry and flavorless. With fattier meat, much of the fat cooks out, shrinking your burger and wasting money.

(This is as good a place as any to recommend that you not press down on burgers while they're cooking. Yes, they'll cook faster, but you're pressing out the juice, ensuring your burgers will be dry and flavorless. I'm afraid this also means that electric tabletop grills, which squeeze from both sides, also tend to turn out dry burgers. I tend to save mine for burgers with additional moist ingredients, like minced vegetables.)

Of course, the burgers are carb-free, but hamburger buns have about 22 grams each, in the form of refined white flour. Not good! There are low carb buns available from the low carb etailers - among others, www.low-carb.com lists them. Or you could slap your burger between a couple of slices of toasted low carb bread, which is easier to come by. I'd be more likely to eat that burger with a fork, or wrap it in lettuce, myself.

But a plain hamburger patty on a plate can look pretty forlorn. How to add flavor and interest, and maybe even nutritional value?

* Slap some cheese on top, of course! Cheeseburgers are standard. Can I urge you to use real cheddar on your cheeseburgers, instead of "American singles?" I know those little hermetically sealed slices of pasteurized processed cheese food product fit neatly on a burger, but they're simply not the equal of real cheese, nutritionally, or in flavor. Three-quarters of an ounce of American cheese - the size of a standard "single" - will add 1.64 grams of carb to your burger, while cheddar will add only 0.27 grams. The cheddar has more calcium, too, and is a better source of vitamin A. If cheddar's a little strong, you could use the milder Colby - which you can buy in handy slices at the deli counter.

* Have you tried blue cheese on a burger? To die for. Add a teaspoon of minced sweet onion. Only a trace of carb here.

* Melt a slice of jalapeno jack on top of your burger and top with a tablespoon of salsa, for a Mexiburger. 2 grams of usable carb.

* Or try mozzarella, and top with a tablespoon of jarred pizza sauce - Ragu makes a sugar-free variety. Pizza burger! About 2 grams usable carb.

* Often, though, I just eat my burger with "everything" - except the bun. Lettuce, tomato, sugar free ketchup, mustard, pickles, and mayo. Just one concern here - that ketchup. Standard ketchup has a ton of sugar in it - just one tablespoon will add 4 grams of carb to your burger. That's a lot for just a dab!

Many grocery stores now carry low carb, sugar free ketchup - Heinz makes one. If yours doesn't, or if the high price of commercial low carb ketchup is too much to bear, try this!

Dana's No-Sugar Ketchup

This recipe has appeared in every cookbook I've written, because ketchup is an American staple. Here I've added the option of using Stevia Plus instead of Splenda, for those of you who don't trust artificial sweeteners.

6 ounce can tomato paste
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup Splenda OR 2 teaspoons Stevia Plus (stevia/FOS blend)
2 tablespoons finely minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon guar or xanthan

Assemble everything in a blender, and run it - you'll have to scrape down the sides; this mixture is thick - until the bits of onion disappear. Store in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator.

Makes 1 cups of ketchup, or 24 1 tablespoon servings. 2.25 grams per tablespoon, with a trace of fiber and protein.

Posted by HoldTheToast at April 26, 2006 09:04 PM