Spicy Lamb Burgers with Vietnamese Herb Salad

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon tamarind nectar (may substitute lime juice)
11/2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
21/2 seeded serrano chili peppers, divided
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1/3 cup whole mint leaves, plus 3 tablespoons chopped mint
1/4 bunch cilantro, whole leaves only, plus 2 tablespoons minced leaves
3/4 of a medium sweet onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 tablespoon)
11/2 pounds ground lamb
1/2 bunch basil, small leaves only (about 1/2 cup)
1 bunch watercress, leaves only
2 scallions, white and light green parts, cut into 11/2-inch-long strips
2 tablespoons chives, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

In a small pan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar and 41/2 teaspoons water and heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, add the nectar and soy sauce, then whisk in the olive oil. Set aside.

Mince the half chili pepper and, in a large bowl, combine with the garlic, oyster sauce, chopped mint, minced cilantro, onion and lime juice. Add the lamb and mix. Using your hands, form 8 burgers no thicker than 3/4 inch.

Preheat the broiler or prepare the grill. If using a gas grill, preheat; if using a charcoal grill, start the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. Oil the grate. Grill or broil the burgers about 11/2 minutes per side for rare, 2 minutes for medium.

Cut the remaining chili peppers into thin strips and combine in a medium bowl with the whole mint, cilantro, basil and watercress leaves, the scallions and chives; toss with just enough vinaigrette to coat. To serve, place two burgers on each plate with the salad piled alongside and an extra drizzle of vinaigrette over all. Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted from "Big Small Plates," by Cindy Pawlcyn, reprinted in the May 30, 2007, Mail Tribune.

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