Lummox Journal

THE SAVORY FEAST by H. Lamar Thomas


Introducing a new section, THE SAVORY FEAST, which features a blend of poetry and the art of cooking as brought to us by Athens, Georgia Chef & poet, H. Lamar Thomas. Since it’s getting close to the end of summer, I thought it would be a good time to sing the praises of the good ol’ Hamburger!

Editor's Note: These articles come from HLT's monthly column in Southern Distinction Magazine so references to stores, etc, are site specific to the Athens, GA area.


Wherever in the world I live my favorite foods tend to be grilled over charcoal, wok/sautéed over ultra high heat or slow roasted. The in-between is exactly that, in between. Charcoal is one of those things that every cuisine has and loves; it is an equalizer across the vast foodscape of the world. What we put upon the grill over this charcoal is what changes things. Hamburgers or, burger in general, is our exploration today. I am keeping it Southern, so don’t talk burnt meat as BBQ, we are talking charcoal, grill and smoke, no burn, no gas, and no hot dog bun or yellow mustard. From 1833 at Delmonico’s in New York City to Athens, GA of the 21st century the burger has seen many incarnations.

We are lucky to have the variety of clean meats and seasonings that we do. Just imagine the pantry of thirty years ago, for even in that close age there was a thing or two missing, and yet there was also a thing or two that they had on us. That ‘thing’ was the free time to enjoy being together at the grill and at the table. My brick mason father had built a barbeque pit out of river slate and sleek, white to tan natural stone brick. It was beautiful and it burned wood charcoal not briquettes, but lump charcoal and wood and that is where the flavor is, in the smoke.

Always use grass fed beef, sustainable seafoods and as close to home bred turkey as you can find. When using tofu Fooks has it fresh, as well as one hour away at Super H Mart on Pleasanthill Road where you can get it straight from the tofu cooker all warm and delicious. Super H has it as spinach, carrot and regular.

Lump Charcoal brands: Big Green Egg (available at Birchmare Pool and Spa on Oneta Street in Athens), Crazy Good, Cowboy Lump, Royal Oak Lump, Royal Oak Brazilian and any coconut lump charcoal that you can find. I made the mistake of using Kingsford Lump (the ash king to me) in my BGE and had to clean it out and brush down the inside to get it all out of there, really, the grill actually rejected it and would not properly burn it. I do know that there are a lot of good woods like hickory, cherry, pecan, mesquite (small doses) and Jack Daniels barrel, out there that can be soaked in water and added to the coals to put the flavor into the smoke. As a note, Royal Oak produces Big Green Egg Lump charcoal, so.... it’s up to you which to buy, BGE or high end Royal Oak. Here is the web address for the best information on lump charcoals:

Don’t use instant light charcoal as it adds petroleum taste to the meat. I assume you know your grill so I won’t go any further on this part other than to say that to take it up to as high heat as it will accept and then adjust your grill so that the temperature is down to a degree that you are comfortable grilling on. Suggested temperatures are between 250 (for smoke grilling) degrees and 650 degrees (ceramic grills and the Weber kettle). Spend the money, get a good grill.

So OK, hamburgers are a Coney Island discovery but it was the dreamy South and those modernist Californians who advanced this ground patty into a thing of divine invention. Ground fatty beef, ground dark and a little white meat turkey, seafood burgers that consist of a fatty fish like halibut or Pacific salmon and some crab and shrimp to balance it out, and a black bean burger are what we will be cooking. There are also a couple of slaw recipes to keep the mood of the outdoors and summertime going.


My Favorite beef burger? Ground hangar and sirloin with duck fat, truffles or truffle oil, gorgonzola cheese and guajilla pepper. It is best to grind the duck fat together with the meat so that it is completely incorporated. If you don’t have duck fat then use good old heart bursting lard. The thing is the fat. The fat binds and at the same time makes it juicier which means more flavors holding longer on the tongue, and yes that means tastier. If none of this is around then use bacon fat. If no bacon fat then use extra beef fat. If no beef fat then use butter. If no butter then use a high quality antibiotic free pasteurized cream cheese.
The gorgonzola has to be the dry style not the creamy for the meat to properly hold together. Gorgonzola of course is sweeter and has more subtle flavors than it’s robust cousin, bleu cheese. Gorgonzola is green veined which in many cheese lover circles means sweet and salty, rich, creamy, deep flavors that are not as immediate to the senses as bleu cheese. Gorgonzola and ground meat are genuinely attracted to each other in ways that are no different than classic New York cheddar and roast beef sandwiches, one is absorbed by the other such that the flavors combine and become richer rather than disappearing into one another.

Guajilla is a Southwestern American pepper that is similar to New Mexico pepper in that it has a medium heat and is kinda sweet which means great companion to the other ingredients to our beef burger. You will see these peppers in the dry herb section in the Mexican and Latin aisle at the grocery store, or just go to a Super Mercado and buy it there, and while you are in the Latin grocery store buy some Aji Amarillo pepper and give it a whirl with your summertime ceviche dishes for quick taste of the spicy sea.

Fresh ground really does matter. Buy what you like and cut into cubes that will fit into your Kitchen Aide grinder attachment, or whatever kind of meat grinder you have.
1 pound sirloin, cut into cubes
1 pound hangar, cut in cubes, fat and all
4 ounces duck fat (or any of the suggested)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon guajilla pepper
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
4 ounces dry gorgonzola
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

Rub the cubed meats with the fats and spices. Grind. Fold and knead the gorgonzola and panko lightly into the mix. Do not mix a lot, just enough to incorporate it. Pat the meat into 7 ounce patties. This should give you six or seven burgers depending on you and your scale.

Of course this burger is best on any soft kaiser bread or even a California style batard. Lettuce, red onion, tomatoes and a good seasoned mayonnaise always add to the thrill of the ketchup scene. To get your mayonnaise into the Southwestern thing add a teaspoon of Cholula into a ¼ cup mayonnaise and mix them together.

And what’s an outdoor grill party without slaw y’all? Not much, not much at all, so here is a fun tasty slaw:

Southwestern Cabbage Slaw
1 red cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, shredded
2 red apples, peeled and diced
½ red onion, fine dice
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon fine ground black pepper


Now we will quietly shuffle from the beef section over into the once seasonal cooling chamber of fowl. Keep your birds separate. Grind only the turkey for this recipe. You will use leg and breast meat in order to get a bit of real flavor into it. If it is all breast meat then you might as well just do tofu, which ain’t all bad, it’s just not as flavorful. You want flavor. Leg and thigh meat have flavor. Breast meat is more about texture and low fat. Grind fresh, grind your own; keep this rule steady and don’t go for the preground meats in the grocers cooler unless you ask the butcher on duty to do for you, then you know what is going into your body.
I like ground turkey burgers and tend to give them a heavy hand with the seasonings of the subcontinent India and Bangladesh. The spice mix is garam masala. Garam (hot) masala (spice) is easy to make and even easier to buy. But I have found that it’s always more rewarding to make my own in the good old molcajete, which is a huge mortar and pestle made of Thai granite river rock. You can buy the Mexican and South American ones made of lava rock as well. You cure it by crushing sea salt and rice into it to clean the dust and loose pieces out. Once this is done you have a remarkable piece of kitchen equipment. A two cup or larger molcajete is used for making tortilla batter, salsa, crushing herbs and spices and really good pesto.

The first recipe for garam masala is by Madhur Jaffrey. Look for her books on Indian cuisine; they are essential for Westerners exploring the many cuisines of India.

1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
1 bark cinnamon or 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon black cumin (shahjeera)
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Mix together and grind by hand in your mortar and pestle or use a coffee grinder, both work equally well.

You will toast the ingredients before grinding them together for this one. I have adapted it somewhat so that the ingredients are more easily found at a regular grocery store. If you cannot find them all then go to Dekalb Farmers Market and have the best afternoon ever just going through all of the worlds produce and dry goods.
2 tablespoons cardamom
5 cloves
(the pods, if not then one tablespoon powder)
2 pieces mace 
(the pods, if not then one tablespoon powder)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
5 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoons fennel seeds 

1 teaspoon black peppercorns 

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek

After toasting immediately grind and set aside. Store in a cool dark place in an airtight container.

Now you can add ginger, sesame seeds, turmeric, bay leaves, star anise, garlic and even lemon grass to build your own favorite flavor garam masala. I like to add bay leaves and ginger. Here’s the cool part: you can make it any way you like the taste to be once you have learned the pungent and aromatic taste that a classic garam masala is able to produce in your various dishes. Garam masala, though the name implies hot is not a HOT spice blend. It is aromatic and is used in high heat cooking. Add at the end of the cook cycle, not at the beginning as it will lessen somewhat as it cooks.

You can find most of these ingredients at Fooks on Baxter Street in Athens, and if you cannot find them then ask Karen where you can get them or if she can get them in for you. She is the owner of Fooks and loves food so once you get her going on ingredients and cool flavors she will help you out any way she can. Great little store, great addition to our city. Also you can find a lot of this at Earthfare in Little Five Points, this is one of those places that has a just about everything healthy and Eastern, and of course lot’s of organics.
1 teaspoon cardamom, ground
1 ½ teaspoons ginger, ground
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoons cumin seed
1 ½ teaspoons black cumin seeds (if you can’t find then use sesame)
¾ teaspoons black cardamom (optional, if you can find it use it)]
¾ teaspoons cloves, ground
¾ teaspoons cinnamon, ground
¾ teaspoons crushed bay leaves
1 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons honey granules

Again, toast the spices and then grind them into a powder. Set aside. These masala mixes will keep for several months.

Let’s cook: grind the turkey.
1 pound turkey thigh with skin, chopped
8 ounces turkey leg with skin, chopped
8 ounces turkey breast
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
Grind it all together. Set aside to cool in refrigerator. When it is 40 degrees take it out of the refrigerator and pat into burgers. Make 8. Be gentle.

Grill at 450 degrees until they are 140 degrees internal temperature. You can keep track of this with any number of grill thermometers that you insert, set the temperature and alarm and it will tell you when it is ready. At this point dust each turkey burger with a half teaspoon of your garam masala.

If you cannot find a good eggplant relish then just brush 8 thick slices of eggplant with a strong extra virgin olive oil and a ½ teaspoon salt and grill with the turkey burgers. The cheese here is Sweetgrass Gouda. Sweetgrass dairy is a southern Georgia cheese maker whose Gouda has a grassy and sharp tendency that brings out the more sublime nature of the cheeses.
8 slices Sweetgrass gouda, 1 ounce each
8 slices big hearty summer tomato, any kind
4 ounces eggplant relish or grilled eggplant
8 big potato kaiser buns

Melt the havarti on top the burgers during the last two minutes grill time. Toast the buns and press the eggplant into the bun. Set burger on top then the tomato. If you need a sauce then a little Major Grey’s Chutney will do fine and if you do use chutney on this burger then you will want to spice up the turkey a bit more with Pickapeppa Sauce or the new reliable Jalapeno Tabasco.

The side for this one is a watermelon radish salad. If you have access to wild greens like dandelion, mint, various chicory and even Jerusalem artichokes then use them in this little relish mix to bring out more of the flavors of Georgia.

2 cups thinly shredded watermelon radish (2 medium size radishes)
1/1 cup napa cabbage, shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced on a microplane
1 tablespoon Mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
Combine ingredients and chill.


Now get those fish stick and filet O’ fish images out of your head and I’ll be back in a few minutes after you are cured of this affliction......................Our seafood burger consists of good, fresh fish and scallops and no frozen at sea bits of dyed and processed things and stuff.

We will “top” our seafood burger with a Mediterranean spice mix from Northern Africa (Morocco and Tunisia actually) that is used throughout the Middle East and of course here in America as a table spice and as an ingredient. Harissa is sharp and yet somewhat soothing at the same time. This recipe is straight from the master of Mid-East cooking Paula Wolfert’s book “Mediterranean Cooking.” There are also three other harissa recipes that I have adapted over the years. Once you learn the basics of this spice mix/table condiment you will really get into the possible variations.

1 pod each ancho, guajilla and New Mexico peppers
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, ground
1 red bell pepper, roasted and peeled
1 teaspoon Mediterranean sea salt
2 ounces Sicilian extra virgin olive oil
Toast everything except the oil until it begins to smoke, Transfer to your mortar and pestle and grind to a powder, then add the olive oil and make it into a paste. This is a basic harissa. Harissa is another one of those mixes that will easily become a standard in your refrigerator right next to salsa, pesto, ketchup, brown mustard and seasoned mayonnaise.

3 ounces dried red chilies. If you have anchos, add or use only ancho. It’s up to your tastes.
1 clove small garlic, peeled and crushed in your pestle.
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground caraway seed
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 medium red bell pepper, roasted and peeled
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces virgin olive oil (if you can, use Spanish for this)

First roast the red bell pepper in your oven at 450. It will take about 20 minutes. You want it to turn black, but not burned. Watch closely, and don’t worry about opening the oven too frequently. When it has cooked, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

When it has cooled, unwrap it and drop it into cold water. Peel the blackened skin off of the pepper. Be careful not to tear it up too much. Some of it will come apart, but that’s no big deal as long as you keep most of the flesh intact. Rub the seeds and pith (the white part) out of the pepper with your fingers. Set aside.

Here’s the tricky part: sometimes I like the seeds in hot peppers for their extra heat. If you just want the flavor of the flesh of the pepper, break off the stem and shake out the seeds, then soak the peppers in very hot water for at least thirty minutes. Drain and dry the peppers with a paper towel, or if you have one, a cheese cloth. Now, put all the ingredients except the oil into a food processor (or use your mortar and pestle) and grind them into a paste. Slowly pour in the oil until it becomes a thick paste. That’s a classic harissa.

You can play with the flavors by adding cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and cilantro. It’s a great condiment and once you learn how to use it you will find hundreds of places to mix it in. When you are cooking with harissa, just heat 4 tablespoons oil and stir in 1 teaspoon of tomato paste, cook it through and then add a tablespoon of harissa, then add the liquids that you want to cook into a sauce. In the present case we’ll use apple juice and white wine, but that does not restrict your options, as tomato fillets and tomato juice, or cream, or chicken stock all work.

1/4 cup harissa
2 tablespoons apple juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or yuzu
2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix it all together in a bowl. From this you can add harissa to salad dressings, brush it on meats, stir into rice or cous cous, or add to a favorite sauce to bring out a distinct North African flavor.

Still with me now? The reason I give all of these alternate sauce, relish and condiment recipes is so you will be better equipped to always offer something new yet familiar with your meals. Keeping it new and interesting while at the same time comforting is quite the challenge but is a challenge easily me when you know more and more about the world of cuisine.

Now that we have all of the sauces and toppings lined up let’s make that burger. If halibut season is going well then use this fish or black cod, and if neither then wild salmon or striped bass; there is always something good happening. Arctic charr are doing very well as a farm fish. It is a kind of salmon but will live well in fresh water long enough to harvest.
1 pound halibut, fillet
½ pound bay scallops
½ pound arctic charr, fillet (if not available use Pacific salmon)
1/3 pound tofu (this will bind it all together)
1 ounce tapioca starch (for more binding)
1 tablespoon Hawaiian pink sea salt
1 tablespoon turmeric

This preparation is different from the others, as we will grind this in the food processor. Pulse one third of the ingredients at a time in the machine. Put in one third, pulse in fifteen second intervals until it is somewhat coarse and fluffy.
When you have coarse cut all of the seafood set it aside and let it rest.
Pat into 8 burgers and then dust with toasted breadcrumbs. Grill on very high heat. On the last turn paint each burger with the Athens, GA Harissa. Let it cook for two minutes after seasoning.
12 slices sour dough bread, real fresh sour dough
1 ounce grain mustard
1 ounce ketchup
2 ounces bread and butter pickles, chopped

Combine the mustard, ketchup and pickles together and brush on the sour dough bread. Place the grilled seaburger on the bread and eat. The best things with this are french fries, onion rings, spinach salad with apple harissa and sweet iced tea.
I hope your afternoons are like lemony sweet iced tea, like creamy iced coffee, like a cool glass of lemonade, a Dr. Pepper or Sprite, or even just lazily sipped like a tall glass of Red Zinger tea, hhhmmm and yum and then that Viet love letter the taro and coconut smoothie. Yeah, let yourself linger a bit and just enjoy a lazy summer day, maybe even tell someone that you love them, that you care, that you want to have them over to share dinner sometime. This is the hottest month, so make it cool, make it loving, make a great burger and eat like there is no tomorrow.


Seasick on humidity and sticky hot winds,
Watching roses wilt beneath the unforgiving sun
I reach over to this glass; I remember a friend passed,
This tender sweet orange pekoe tea,
Yeah, there’s more than one way to beat the heat,
There is a way to make it all better.
Sipping, nodding my head to Drive By Truckers
On the stereo, singing on about Ronnie and Neal,
Singing about that light at the 40 Watt.
Looking around and back to the house,
Looking for love on a heatstroke day,
And I find it there by the counter in the kitchen
Making the salads to match all my burgers,
And her smile is like honey and smoke,
Like the steam off of ice at the top of my glass
She is cool, she is warm,
She is all woman In one beautiful frame,
In one tiny voice she is grace and love,
And me, I am her husband,
And all of this makes any day great,
All of this, even if I were alone would
Be a beautiful day, a beautiful day
To do something warm, something loving
For any one of my friends, Don, BJ, Mike or Tom,
For any day with friends is a good day,
And any day with friends, love and a smoky grill
Is a fantastic day, is almost as good
As a day out fly fishing on the sea,
Passing the time casting for snook with a beloved friend,
Fishing for that champion jack just another cast away.
And for all the friends who’ve come and gone
I raise a chicken leg and thank God for you all
For you all who are brothers in study and life,
In poetry, food and philosophy we are all one.

H. Lamar Thomas