Cooks Exchange

Fire up the grill (or not) for Labor Day and add a taste of the exotic to your menu

Labor Day, the last holiday of summer, is Monday. So enjoy the last hurrahs of summer — get the grill on, take off for a picnic or enjoy making an easy dinner in the kitchen.

One of my favorite foods to cook for Labor Day is a good, juicy burger. They are easy and quick to prepare and cook.

For those who want to skip the beef, veggie burgers are a healthful alternative and can pack a punch of flavor, too.

Let’s look at two burgers that will perhaps inspire home cooks. I like burgers made with 80 or 93 percent lean. There still must be a little fat in the ground beef for flavor.

How about turning chips and a burger into a nacho burger with the chips served inside the bun?

This burger packs flavor, as does the cheese-stuffed veggie burgers with apple-onion chutney and pico de gallo. So, whether you prefer a veggie burger or a beef burger, either of these bring different tastes to the Labor Day table.

The homemade pico de gallo also works well with the nacho burger.

Toucan’s sauce

“I saw your article that mentioned Susan wanted a sauce from Toucan’s,” said Roxanne Russell. “If she is referring to the brown gravy, I might have a bit of help for her.

“I asked Toucan’s manager if they would share the chimichanga, flauta and taquito sauce recipe. The owner didn’t give me exact measurements, but she did tell me what was in it: beef stock, onions, whisper of garlic (her words); portabella mushrooms, chopped up; salt; just enough cornstarch to give it body but not thicken too much, again her phrasing.

“She said it was based on the tomatillo sauce that Cuco’s made,” said Russell. “Hope she can duplicate it.”

Well, Susan let us know if this is the sauce you wanted.


4 medium potatoes, boiled and peeled

1 cup green peas, boiled and soft

2 garlic cloves

2 green chiles

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

A pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Slices or grated cheese

Vegetable oil for frying. (Yes, these are not done on the grill.)

To serve:

Burger buns

Apple- onion chutney

Pico de gallo

If you do not want to make pico de gallo, you can simply slice some onion and tomato and add it on the burger. If you don’t have or want to make apple onion chutney, you can use any sweet and salty relish or dip that you like. The sweet-salty condiment cuts the richness of the cheese stuffed patty and lends a great flavor to the burger. If not, use any ketchup, mayo/spread you like.

In a blender, add peas, chilies, garlic, cilantro and onion. Grind to a smooth paste

Mash potatoes. Add ground peas mixture to the potatoes. Add spices, salt, pepper, sugar, cumin, etc. Mix well. Add some breadcrumbs and cornstarch and mix well to form a thick burger patty mixture. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Divide the mixture into equal portions. Form a thin patty and add some cheese in the center. You an add sliced cheese or grated cheese. Form another thin patty and place it on top of the first patty with cheese. Press on all sides to seal the cheese completely. If the cheese is getting out, just press in and form a neat patty. Form all patties like these two.

To serve, toast burger buns. Add some of the apple onion chutney on the bottom and top bun. Place the patty on the lower half. Top off the patty with some fresh pico de gallo and close with the top bun and serve.

— From


1 medium onion

1 medium apple

1/4 cup apple juice or water

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 teaspoons salt, adjust to taste

2 teaspoons red chili powder or hot pepper flakes

1 teaspoon sugar or brown sugar

2 tablespoons spices per taste, such as cumin, Mexican spices, garam masala, oregano, thyme, whatever ones you like

Grate onion and apple. You can also put them in a food processor and grind coarsely. To a wok or pan with high sides, add vegetable oil. When it heats, add onion and mix well. Fry for 4-5 minutes on medium flame until the onions start to sweat. Add a little salt to onions and fry until they get mildly caramelized. Then add in the grated apples and a splash of juice or water. Close the pan and let it cook on medium low heat for 10-12 minutes. Frequently open and stir to avoid burning. Once the mixture has reduced to a mush and starts to come out from the sides of the mixture, you can add the spices, red chili powder, sugar, salt and anything else you like. Mix well and continue to fry for another 5-7 minutes on medium flame.

Taste and adjust for seasoning. It is done when it becomes a mushy paste and the raw smell of onion or apple isn’t there anymore. Store in airtight jar and serve as a condiment.



Pico de gallo is the kind of dish that really isn’t well-suited for a recipe, so here are some suggested ingredients:

1/2 finely diced onions

1 garlic clove

1/2 to 1 lime, per taste

1/2 teaspoon salt, adjust to taste

1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, minced

4 plum tomatoes, diced finely

1/2 cup chopped cilantro or coriander leaves

Finely chop the onion and place it in a small bowl. Grate the garlic into the bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 hours, to let the flavors seep in. Serve as desired.



1 1/2 pounds ground beef

Salt and pepper to taste

4 slices Cheddar cheese

4 hamburger buns

1 cup salsa

Tortilla chips

Red onion slices

Lettuce leaves

Season ground beef with salt and pepper and form into 4 patties. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and cook until desired temperature, flipping halfway through. Top with cheese slices and toast hamburger buns. Assemble burger by adding salsa, tortilla chips, red onion slices and lettuce.


Andrea Yeager can be reached at and Cooks Exchange, 205 DeBuys Road, Gulfport, MS 39507.