Back a good few years ago there was a little 24 hour burger joint, a converted caravan, that stood in a patch of waste ground near a busy road just off where I lived.

We called the place Turbo Burger due to the speed at which the food tended to pass through your body. You got the distinct impression your guts got hold of it, tried to convert it into something usable, gave the idea up as a bad joke and flushed it out ASAP.

One of the specialities of the house was the cheeseburger. It consisted of the kind of burgers you get out the cheapest kind of frozen food store. You know the kind of thing, generic assaults on good taste. The trick with this burger was that it actually had cheese inside the meat. A kind of sandwich of two slices of reconstituted animal parts glued together around a cheese slice. It was the complete cheeseburger with no additions required. For extra taste the guys serving would put another cheese slice on the top of the affair before slamming it into the bun. If you didn't want that extra slice of cheddar glue then you asked them to leave it out, for which the phrase 'Cheeseburger, hold the cheese' was used.

The only purpose of a cheeseburger without cheese that I can figure out has come to me through a lunch experience with a friend. Time and time again he will order the same thing and it took me a while to figure it out.

He would order a Number 2 value meal at McDonald's, which is two cheeseburgers, fries, and a drink. But he would ask for them without cheese. So instead of a two-cheeseburger-meal, he would get a two-hamburger-meal, which still ended up being cheaper than if you bought the items separately.

On a side note, he would also get the 99 cent double cheeseburgers without cheese.

This node title is a bit of a misnomer for the recipe I'm about to give you because it actually does contain cheese. The catch is, it doesn't behave like it does - it's far more subtle than your average dollar menu lunch. The look on your guests' faces when they eat them, though, is worth the extra prep time. It's also indescribably fun to make, which is always a plus.

Here goes:
Get yourself some fresh ground beef, ideally a 50/50 mixture of chuck and sirloin, but if you absolutely have to pick, either get the sirloin and, when scrunching it up, add the tiniest bit of olive oil to it, or get the chuck and thoroughly rinse it first to get some of the fat out of it.

You'll need:

  • Ground beef
  • Parmesan cheese (the real stuff)
  • Salt
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pepper
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Lemon
  • Garlic
  • Rolls of some kind



Heat a cast-iron pan over low to medium (closer to medium) heat. Take your beef and roll it into burger-sized balls.

Now. grate a healthy portion (or maybe a slightly unhealthy portion) of aged parmesan into a bowl. Add a generous quantity of cracked sea salt and fresh black pepper. Dump the contents of the bowl onto a clean (though there shouldn't be any other kind) cutting board.

Take your balls o' meat and roll them (like you used to roll play-doh) in the cheese. Once every inch of the burger is thoroughly coated, mash the ball up, mixing the cheese with the beef, and form it into balls again. Then flatten the balls with a bigass cleaver, making sure to get some more cheese from the board onto the thing. The benefit of does it this way is, oddly, it almost always comes up with the exact right amount of cheese in the thing. Blame it on the math people.

Throw the burgers into the pan and start the cookin'.

Now, for part two.

Take a large tablespoon of mayonnaise and put it in a bowl. Add a drop (no more!) of lemon juice and a largish pinch of parsley, sage and rosemary with the resolute salt and pepper. (No, no thyme. Three spices are enough, though you can sub the thyme for one of the other ingredients if you'd like.) To all this, add some very finely diced garlic. You really don't need much. I love garlic with a passion, but please believe me: you can kill these burgers with too much of the stuff, and because you're not cooking it, the extra garlic oil has nowhere to go. A quarter of a clove should do. Mix it all up with a spoon.

When the burgers are done (rarer is better for these) put 'em on potato rolls, top 'em with the herbed mayo you just made and a touch more salt and pepper and hand 'em over. The good news is, they feel comfortable and familiar and also strangely decadent. The bad news is, they settle like little hockey pucks to the bottom of your stomach. They're also quite good with a light beef barley soup.

A perfectly valid reason to order a "Cheeseburger without cheese" is based on religious faith – specifically Judaism.

Cheeseburgers and Jewish Law

Along with the Torah1 as a primary source, the practice of Jewish faith is governed by the Shulchan Aruch, a distillation of biblical prose into practical law. An important part of Jewish religious law concerns a Jew's diet. Dietary law, ostensibly concerned with cleanliness, is called the Kashrut. The adjective that applies to food compatible with the Kashrut is "kosher". This is a lengthy way of saying that many practicing Jews choose to eat kosher. Please bear with me here – I'm attempting the daring stunt of making 5000 years of religious tradition dovetail with an 80 year2 old entree in junk food culture.

Cheeseburgers as viewed by distinct groups of jews

Perhaps the best-known injunction of the Kashrut is to not eat meat from pigs or other cloven-hoofed animals. A lesser known rule admonishes Jews not to consume meat and milk (or milk products) in the same meal3. At this point, the connection between Cheeseburgers and the Kashrut should begin to clarify: Clearly, a proper, God-fearing Jew should eschew Cheeseburgers, not chew them. Alas, like most things Jewish, it ain't that simple.

How a Jew approaches a Cheeseburger depends on what kind of Jew (s)he is. Jews, especially in the USA, place themselves into four major categories based on, umm, the depth of their faith:

  • Orthodox: The label for the fundamentalist, Torah-thumping literalist. These folks pray several times a day, wear special "jewish" clothing and generally sleep, breathe and eat Judaism. Even sans the cheese, consider the following list of horrors, as viewed through the Kashrut, inherent in a hamburger:
    • The mincemeat could contain pork, or at least have been through the same grinder, or fried on the same griddle, or served on a plate that previously served pork;
    • Even if pure beef, it was likely not slaughtered by the exact ritual prescribed by the Kashrut;
    • Even if the meat was OK, the same might not hold for the grease it was fried in, the buttermargarine on the bun, the condiments, or the bun itself. IF IT AIN'T SANCTIONED BY A RABBI, THAT BAKERY DOESN'T BAKE KOSHER BUNS, PERIOD!

    It follows that an Orthodox Jew would sooner declare an impromptu fast than come within grease-spattering range of a Cheeseburger. Orthodox Jews are either fairly well-to-do or fairly thin, 'cause it's not cheap living exclusively kosher. Manishevitz is in no danger of going bankrupt.

  • Conservative: These folks hold the traditional values but are less strict in following them. They may not pray quite as often as the Orthodox, and possibly not always in Hebrew. While they most likely keep kosher at home, they may (literally) pig out when going out. That Cheeseburger eater next to you could be a Conservative Jew. Or he could be a goy, just like you. It's no use following him to the bathroom to find out; while only 2% of Americans are Jewish4, as many as 77% are circumcised5. If he appears to be henpecked by his wife, that may be a better indicator.

    On the other hand, many conservatives operate like my parents: They keep "kosher style" both at home and out of it. "Kosher style" means that the major rules of the Kashrut are followed, but one doesn't insist that every bite is guaranteed kosher. The "kosher style" Jew will eat a beef Hamburger but not a MacBacon or a Cheeseburger. It is from this group you're most likely to get an order for a "Cheeseburger, hold the cheese!"

    "Why not a hamburger," you mask ask. Well, it may be psychological. Some Jews love to put fake Bacon Bits on their salad; it's nominally forbidden, but technically allowed. Similarly, a Cheeseburger is a no-no, but it's OK without the cheese. Well, sort of. There's a distinct twinkle of satisfaction to be had from, umm, pulling a fast one on God. Or having the freedom to do what one normally can't. Or something like that.

  • Reform: "Reform" is to Judaism what "Liberal" is to mainstream American politics: Imagine elder rabbis sadly shaking their wise heads and sighing, "there goes the neighborhood." A Reform Jew believes in God and may go to Synagogue once in a while, but other than that will tend to cherry-pick from the smorgasbord of Jewish tradition. Reform Jews are the folks who did an end run against the rule about starting a vehicle on the Sabbath: They invented the Sabbath Clock to make an elevator automatically stop at every floor, all day long, so they don't have to push a button to use it. A Reform could proudly proclaim his/her Judaism while chewing on a pork chop and flushing it down with a milk shake. Then again, it's not unknown for Reforms to keep strictly kosher, either.

  • Non-Practicing: means being Jewish by descent but not by faith. The same title applies to both, so the "Non-Practicing" tag is needed for disambiguation. Needless to say, a Non-Practicing Jew's eating habits are unlikely to be influenced by the Kashrut. Except, of course, in cases like mine: My Conservative parents never let me eat pork, so my body's not used to the protein. Now when I try to eat it, chances are it won't stay down.

Lessons Learned

If you see someone ordering a Cheeseburger without cheese, then

  • if they're black, they're either a Masai nomad or Sammy Davis, Jr;
  • if they're white, they're either Jewish or just someone who prefers Cheeseburgers without cheese. But if they're Jewish, they're definitely not Orthodox and probably not Reform.
----

Footnotes

1 aka "The Old Testament" of the Bible or "The Five Books of Moses".

2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheeseburger

3 Interestingly enough, the Masai nomads of Africa follow a similar rule; see http://teacherlink.ed.usu.edu/tlresources/units/byrnes-africa/meland/index.html .

4 http://www.jafi.org.il/education/100/concepts/demography/demtables.html

5 http://www.cirp.org/library/statistics/USA/

Capitalization

I capitalize "Cheeseburger" because I consider it a product name; for all I know it might be a trade mark. I don't consider it as generic as hamburger, which accordingly I don't capitalize.

I capitalize Orthodox, Conservative and Liberal because in this context they're more than adjectives: They're the names of cultural groups.

Political, Cultural and Religious Correctness Disclaimer

This is a light-hearted treatise on Cheeseburgers and Judaism. I have a passing familiarity with both, but I may not have all my facts straight about either. If I've offended any Cheeseburgers, I'm sorry. If I've offended any Jews, they can kiss my tuchus.

After quaffing down a couple of my favorite beverages last night I decided to head on home to make myself a simple dinner and figuring I had all the necessary ingredients on hand to make myself a simple cheeseburger, I figured that a trip to the local grocery store wasn’t in order.

I got home, opened up the fridge and pulled out a pound of ground beef, a small onion and an overripe tomato along with some lettuce. Imagine my surprised that when I rummaged through the fridge I was shocked to discover there was nary a slice of cheese to be found. What’s a man to do?

Sure, I could have jumped back in my car and ran to the store but since I’m the lazy sort of person, the type who once they get home don’t want to go out again unless absolutely necessary or in the case of an emergency and these circumstances didn’t seem dire enough to qualify as either of those instances, decided to make do with what I had.

Then, out of the corner of my eye I spied a half full bag of Cheez Doodles sitting on my kitchen counter and an idea began to take hold. They say that “necessity is the mother of invention” and since I was bound and determined to have a cheeseburger some inspiration took hold. I grabbed the bag and dumped the remaining contents into a blender and pulsed it around a few times until I had what looked like a very orange form of bread crumbs. I thought to myself, hey, I’ll try just about anything once and decided to give it a go.

What follows is the recipe for what I’m tentatively calling “deep fried cheeseburgers without any cheese” and keeping in accordance with the “deep fried craze” that has swept the nation will be trying to sell them at the local state and county fairs.

Here’s what you need.

  • About a pound of ground beef
  • One small white onion, finely chopped
  • One egg, beaten
  • A dollop or two (depending on your definition of “dollop”) of barbecue sauce
  • Some shredded lettuce
  • One tomato, sliced
  • Cheez Doodles or some type of knock off
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Hamburger buns
  • Vegetable oil or butter
  • Here’s what you do.

    Combine the ground beef, chopped onion, barbecue sauce and salt and pepper and mix them all together. Form them into two patties and set them aside. Follow the advice I offered up earlier regarding the Cheez Doodles, if you don’t have a blender or food processor you can mush up them with a fork or bash them with a hammer until they resemble bread crumbs.

    Toss the patties in the egg and coat them on both sides with the pulverized Cheez Doodles. In a decent sized frying pan, heat up the vegetable oil or butter and toss in the patties. With a spatula, flip them over a few times until they’re fully cooked. Be careful, my first attempt at this resulted in the coating getting a little bit burnt. Remove them from the frying pan and cover them with paper towels to soak up any extra oil or butter they might have retained.

    Place them on the hamburger buns and add the lettuce, tomato and any other toppings that suit your fancy and dig right in.

    Okay, after consuming these maybe they aren’t the best or even cheesiest cheeseburger that ever came down the pike but they were pretty damn tasty and had the added benefit of getting my creative juices flowing both in the kitchen and in contributing a write up.

    On a side note, if you see these being marketed in the near future by the likes of McDonald's, Burger King or any other fast food burger joint, you’ll know who to thank

    Or not.

    As always, bon appétit.

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