As a chef—and an avid eater of all dishes, unusual and normal—I have sampled several seemingly strange foods from around the world. And now I’m encouraging you to do the same. Why? Because if your burger with ketchup and mayo routine is getting stale, so are you. Now’s the time to switch it up, to be bold, and to stun everyone with your Anthony Bourdain-like culinary expertise. Try these wild ideas and you’ll impress everyone at the cookout way more than that guy with the foreign sports car—and tantalize your taste buds, too.
Kimchi To get a little authentic Gangnam style, try the Korean favorite as a topping. The spicy pickled cabbage turns up the volume on any bland-tasting burger you might have overcooked into a cracked beef desert. Try it with Swiss cheese on top, and North Korea’s Fearless Leader himself will probably rise from the dead to claim it was his idea.
French Fries In Springfield, Illinois the hometown classic is an open-faced sandwich—thick Texas toast slices, two to three burger patties with plenty of “cheese sauce” (Google it) or melted cheese and a mountain of fries on top. They say the unhealthier you make your Horseshoe Sandwich, the more authentic it is, so have at it!
Traditional Indian Curry Burger Score a curry mix at an Indian supermarket or online, and instead of cooking the meal according to the box directions, work the curry powder mix into your raw meat before you grill the burgers. When you finish, sandwich the patties between two slices of garlic Naan bread and toss in melted Paneer goat cheese. Namaste that!
Fried Pickles with Nordstrom-Style Olive Aioli It’s easier than you think! Get breadcrumbs that you’d normally use for frying fish and swap in crinkle cut pickles. Nordstrom’s famous aioli sauce is a secret, but you can find imitation recipes online. I used this one, with a little more ketchup than called for, to achieve the full Nordstrom dining experience.
Natto Natto refers to fermented soybeans typically eaten during breakfast with mustard. Find in any Chinatown, at a Japanese market or online. Microwave a bit, then pan-fry with strong seasoning like Chinese five-spice powder, garlic and soy sauce. Add to the top of burgers with a fried egg, mustard and white rice, and no one will accuse you of being boring.
Greek Food Truck Stuff Gyros are so 100 A.D. Next time you find yourself at a Greek restaurant or food truck, order extra yogurt sauce meant for gyros and those nifty, veggie-stuffed grape leaves called dolmades. Take ’em to go, then smother your burger the next day with the sauce and smash the dolmades on top. What’s Greek for “taste explosion”?
Mexican String Cheese Oaxaca (pronounced “whoa-ha-ka”) is one of the best cheeses you’ll ever eat. It’s like those goofy cheese sticks you peeled apart on the school bus but with a richer flavor for grown-ups. Fill out the south of the border flavor with plenty of Mexican hot sauce, sour cream, tomatoes, avocado slices and/or corn salsa.
Bacon and Eggs You don’t know aristocratic eating until you’ve combined some of the very best breakfast and lunch ingredients... by placing Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs, a burger and Cheddar cheese in a toasted English muffin. If you have time to whip it up, a little Hollandaise sauce is totally worth adding too.
Old Soup Pull that soup you forgot about for a few days out of the fridge, add a bit of water or beer to the stuff at the bottom and heat it up in a frying pan, stirring every so often. Mushroom soup will enrich the beef, while tomato bisque will give it an almost smoky BBQ flavor. Five-star restaurants use similar ingredients to enhance their patties—why not you?
Salad Thought you had no use for that side salad you got with your takeout? Think again. Combine the olive oil they gave you with the crunchy Asian salad wonton strips, slaw and any other tasty random bits, then maybe add a slice of Pepper Jack cheese to liven things up. Suddenly salad doesn’t suck after all, does it?