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Gobble up some spicy turkey burgers

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"Now don't turn your nose up yet. Just give it a try." Those were my mom's words the first time she served chili that she made with ground turkey rather than ground beef. We looked at my mom in disbelief. How could she do this? Why would she do this? Ground turkey in chili was just not right.

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One taste of the chili with pale ground meat and I couldn't stop my nose from twisting and turning.

With age, education and experience, my bad attitude about ground turkey has changed.

Ground turkey won my affections completely about a year ago when I had a burger at The Craftsman Restaurant in Minneapolis. Lean yet moist, with little fat but still full of flavor, the turkey burger was topped with a smoky chipotle sauce similar to mayonnaise.

There are a lot of good reasons to choose turkey once in a while when you're getting ready to make your own burgers. Ground turkey breast is 99 percent lean and has no saturated fat. If the package doesn't say the meat is ground turkey breast, it could be part white meat and part dark meat, or it could be mostly dark meat and may even include the skin. As the amount of dark meat increases, so does the amount of fat. If you're trying to keep an eye on your intake of fat and calories, keep in mind that ground turkey made with darker, fattier parts of the turkey will run higher in calories and saturated fat than that made with lean white breast meat.

The challenges that come with preparing very lean ground turkey are that it can be dry and, yes, flavorless. But that's easy to remedy. Kicked-Up Turkey Burgers are prepared with ingredients that add tons of flavor and a bit of spice. Mild salsa, minced jalapeno, some chipotle-flavored hot sauce and a bit of ground cumin will definitely wake up your taste buds. Adjust those ingredients to come up with the amount of heat that suits you. Fresh cilantro adds bright flavor. A little bit of canola oil added to the meat helps prevent the burgers from drying up on the grill. The burger mixture will be very moist. You won't be able to form the patties in your hands as you are accustomed to doing. Shape the patties on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Time spent in the freezer before grilling will make transfer of the burgers to the hot grate an easy job.

My favorite toppings for these turkey burgers are smoked cheddar or gouda cheese, slices of fresh avocado and baby greens. Sliced tomatoes fresh from the garden are good on these burgers. Try roasting some red pepper halves on the grill to serve on the turkey burgers. And don't forget a little dollop of light sour cream.

Kicked-Up Turkey Burgers are a high-protein, healthful alternative to beef burgers.

Don't turn your nose up yet. Just give them a try.

Kicked-Up Turkey Burgers

1-1/4 pounds lean ground turkey

1/2 cup mild salsa

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots

2 fat cloves of garlic, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon chipotle-flavored hot sauce

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. The mixture will be very moist. On a waxed paper-lined baking pan, shape the turkey mixture into 4 patties, each about 3-1/2 to 4 inches in diameter. Place the patties in the freezer for about 30 minutes before grilling.

Preheat grill. Carefully place each patty directly from freezer onto hot grill rack. Allow the patties time to cook to firmness before flipping. It will probably take about 6 minutes over medium-high direct heat. Very carefully flip the burgers over and continue to grill until the burgers are cooked through, about another 4-6 minutes. Makes 4 turkey burgers.

Tips from the cook

--Bottles of chipotle-flavored hot sauce are often found near the hot pepper sauces, such as Tabasco. Chipotles give a smoky flavor to the hot sauce. Be careful - not all chipotle-flavored hot sauces are created equal. Some have much more heat than others. You can start with smaller amounts of the hot sauce as you experiment with the flavor.

--Shallots are often described as a cross between onion and garlic. They have a mild, delicate flavor and are often used in French cooking. You will find them in the produce department of the grocery store, often in small mesh bags holding two or three shallots. One bag will give you enough minced shallot for this recipe.

--It can get a little tricky flipping the burgers. Because they are so lean, they are a bit delicate. Carefully use a gentle touch to turn the burgers with a long-handled spatula only after they have completely firmed up on the first side.

--To cut the cost, chop up some green onions to replace the more expensive shallots. Ground turkey breast, the leanest variety of ground turkey, will often be the most expensive. As the percentage of lean meat decreases, so will the cost. In other words, ground turkey with a higher percentage of fat will be lower in cost.

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