Turkey-Zucchini Burgers with Vietnamese Flavors and Hot Pink Mayonnaise

, , , , ,

Photo Ben Gebo Photography

Ben Gebo Photography

STRATEGY SESSION: In this recipe, I limit total  fat, saturated fat, and calories by starting with a lean protein (turkey breast). Then, to compensate for the absence of fat, I work in some shredded zucchini, whose high water content keeps the burgers juicy. Additional moisture comes from the sauce, in which light mayonnaise takes the place of full-fat. The sugar’s contribution to glycemic load is balanced by the low-GI veggies: zucchini, scallions, red onion, and lettuce. To cook the burgers, I use macadamia nut oil because olive oil’s flavor would be inappropriate in this setting.


Within the past few months, I’ve seen recipes for Vietnamese pork meatballs in The Boston Globe (http://tinyurl.com/prkmtblls) and in Bon Appétit (available on Epicurious.com http://tinyurl.com/prkbanhmi). These little nuggets pack big flavors, and I love them as much as the next foodie, but I don’t love the fat and calories that come with ground pork. When I’m too lazy to trim and grind my own, I use ground turkey breast, which solves the problem. Unfortunately, as someone noted elsewhere on this site, it can be dry. To keep it moist, I add shredded zucchini and then sauté instead of grill. (Dry heat would be counter-productive.) Because my laziness extends to forming the meat, I skip the balls (50 in the Globe recipe!) and make 4 large burgers instead.

I’ve incorporated aspects of both conventional recipes. I prefer The Globe’s lettuce to Bon Appétit’s baguette for glycemic reasons. And I think Bon Appétit’s mayonnaise works, but I flavor it in a way that mirrors the complexity of the burgers rather than underscoring the heat only. Re the hot chili sauce: I’ve tested several different ones (sambal oelek, sriracha, and Chinese chili sauce). They differ in intensity (sambal is a bit milder than the others), but they all yield excellent results. If you’re not familiar with them,  you should taste as you go.

BTW, the mayo isn’t really “hot pink”; it’s hot and pink.

Serving suggestions: I like these burgers with Hot and Sweet Asian Slaw , but I’ve also served them with snow peas or sugar snaps, blanched 1 minute, and tossed in sesame oil, seasoned rice vinegar, and soy sauce.



Turkey-Zucchini Burgers with Vietnamese Flavors and Hot Pink Mayonnaise

  • 1 medium zucchini (6 ounces), shredded in a food processor
  • ½ cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 2 tablespoons sambal oelek, sriracha, or other hot chili sauce, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 3 teaspoons fish sauce, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground turkey breast
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon macadamia nut oil or canola oil
  • ½ cup light mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann’s
  • 3 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1 head Boston lettuce, leaves washed and dried
  1. In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, scallions, 1 tablespoon of the chili sauce, basil, mint, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the sugar, 2 teaspoons of the fish sauce, and black pepper to taste. Stir to blend well.
  2. Add the turkey and work gently to blend. Do not over-work. Mixture will be moist and sticky. Form into 4 patties, about 1-inch thick.
  3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the oil, When it is hot, add the patties and cook approximately 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook 3 minutes longer. Turn and repeat on 0ther side (3 minutes on medium-high, 3 minutes on medium) until nicely browned and cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the mayonnaise and red onion. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon chili sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon fish sauce.  Blend well with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (The mayonnaise may be prepared up to 24 hours in advance.)
  5. Place each patty on a bed of lettuce and top with a dollop of the mayonnaise.

Makes 4 servings

Per serving: 262 calories, 8 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 81 mg cholesterol, 13 g total carbohydrate, 1 g dietary fiber. 29 g protein, 329 mg sodium.


  • September 5 2010, 1:02 PM

    These look delicioso!!
    Thanks for the idea of using zucchini for moisture.
    Going to make them this week w/ the mayo. YUM!!

  • September 5 2010, 2:04 PM

    I can’t wait to hear what you think. If you really like hot food, use sriracha, because the sambal may not get the job done for you.

  • September 5 2010, 6:09 PM

    Way to make authentic food. Zucchinis don’t even grow in Vietnam.

  • September 5 2010, 6:32 PM

    If I were making a claim to authenticity, I would have called them banh mi. However, the title of the recipe indicates that I’m making no such claim. Only the “flavors” are said to be Vietnamese. By “flavors”, I mean the fish sauce, sugar, garlic, scallions, basil, mint, and chili sauce.
    P.S. The plural of “zucchini” is “zucchini”.

  • September 5 2010, 11:46 PM

    That guy’s a jerk.

  • September 6 2010, 1:55 AM

    Wow, people are just vicious for no reasons sometimes; that’s the Internet for ya. I’m Asian too and I have no problems seeing foods that are inspired with Chinese flavors but prepared in different ways.

  • September 6 2010, 7:24 AM

    I appreciate your support.
    I won’t go shrinky on you, but let’s just say that behavior has complex drivers and it’s very difficult to know why some people do what they do. Perhaps this person has experienced some sort of disparagement of his or her cultural heritage and saw my recipe as a further assault. All I can do is clarify my position, which is that I respect other cultures and my recipes are expressions of that respect.

  • September 6 2010, 9:00 AM
    [email protected]

    Your response to the snarky remark was superb and kind. Who knows what makes people do such things. The great thing about blogging is the generosity of spirit that exists among the community… always a few bitter apples… and honestly.. you say Vietnamese flavors!!! 3 cheers for the doc!

  • September 6 2010, 9:24 AM

    Thanks, Deana. I do try to understand visitors’ comments from their perspectives. It can be challenging.

  • September 22 2010, 6:24 PM

    Dear Deborah,
    I’ve been a fan of yours for years and was delighted to find your web site — it took that long.
    I prepared these wonderful burgers and served them with the Asian cole slaw. What an incredible combination. My husband loved the combination of herbs and tantalizing flavors. He’s sold!
    You’re great. Keep up the good work.

  • September 22 2010, 7:17 PM

    I’m THRILLED that you and your husband enjoyed the burgers and slaw, and I’m delighted you found your way to my website. I hope you’ll return often. If you’d like to be on the mailing list for my weekly newsletter, you can sign up on my home page in the lower right hand corner. The newsletter is just a preview of the recipe of the week and contains and direct link to it for easy access.
    Best wishes,

  • January 10 2011, 9:22 PM
    Vietnamese Turkey Burger with Sambal Oelek Mayo « Saucy & Bossy

    [...] poultry burgers go.  I found a recipe for these delicious Vietnamese Turkey Burgers on the blog A Doctor’s Kitchen.  This burger is lean and mean — and even though I used very ground turkey, which has a [...]

Leave a Comment

Please Note: We welcome your feedback. It may take some time before your comment appears. All comments will be moderated.