Spiciness is in the palate of the taster: One person's fiery dish is another's too-mild disappointment. For the home cook, navigating heat levels can be tricky. One diner wants extra habaneros stirred into a dish, while the other can't stand much more than a pinch of cayenne.
These simple burgers are flavored with heat-producing elements of chipotle and jalapeno chilies, and you can set the level of fire. Both peppers are jalapenos, actually -- the chipotle is made by smoking the fresh pepper. Although available dried, the chipotle peppers here are canned in adobo sauce. (Look for them among the Mexican ingredients at the supermarket; extras freeze well.) The chipotle adds a smoky heat, while the raw jalapeno contributes fresh sharpness. Adjust the burgers' heat by using more or fewer of each pepper. Tasting a tiny bit of the jalapeno before mixing it in will help you control the level you want. More heat and smoke? Stir a tablespoon or more of the adobo sauce into the ground beef.
Tip: Mincing the fresh jalapeno very finely will distribute its heat evenly in the burger. Try this trick: Stem, seed and remove the ribs from the pepper, quartering it lengthwise. Drop the pieces into a running food processor. The spinning blade keeps the pieces moving, preventing big pieces from falling out of reach.
Prep: 15 minutes / Cook: 8 minutes / Makes: 4 servings
1 pound ground beef, 85 percent lean
1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, pith removed, finely minced
1 to 2 chipotle chilies in adobo, finely minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, roughly chopped
2 tomatillos, husked, roughly chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 or 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
4 hamburger buns or other buns, toasted
1. Mix the ground beef, jalapeno, chipotle and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in a large bowl. Using your hands is the most efficient method. Form into 4 patties, each about an inch thick.
2. For the salsa, stir the avocado, tomatillos, 2 tablespoons lime juice, cilantro and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a bowl until well mixed. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or lime juice as you like. Mashing the mixture a bit with a fork will help it hold together on the burger.
3. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the burger patties. Cook, flipping once, until browned on both sides and the desired doneness inside, about 4 minutes per side. Alternately, grill the burgers over medium heat.
4. Serve the burgers, topped with the salsa, in the buns.
Nutrition information per serving: 407 calories, 21 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 69 mg cholesterol, 27 g carbohydrates, 25 g protein, 779 mg sodium, 5 g fiber