For the Love of Ground Meat

by Meg Cotner on August 18, 2015

larb

Larb, one of my very favorite ground meat dishes, and something I cooked early on here on the blog.

When I started eating meat after 13 years of being a vegetarian, I began with fish (ironically, it was raw fish—sushi—that enticed me off the wagon), moved to chicken (skinless, boneless breasts), and about three years into my omnivore status, I decided it was time to try “the hard stuff”—beef and pork. I found early on in that phase that I gravitated toward ground, minced, or shredded meats, something that still appeals to me to this day. Perhaps it was how those muscle cuts were so obviously animal flesh, with all their explicit fat, bones, muscle fibers and tendons, something I was still apprehensive about, and the grinding and shredding of meat helped mask that reality.

It was also easier to eat, not to mention that when I cooked it, ground meat was, and is, usually much more forgiving, especially when it’s loose; it takes a certain set of skills to cook a steak, a leg of lamb, or a pork chop and not have it turn out tough to inedible. That said, nowadays I do feel comfortable roasting whole chickens, cooking strips of bacon, and cooking an entire filet of salmon in parchment. But I still prefer to cook ground meat, even after 17 years of omnivorous living.

During the quiet months of this blog, I tried a number of ground/minced/shredded meat dishes and found some pretty delicious recipes from fellow bloggers and food sites. When I tried them out, I posted pictures of some of the outcomes to my Instagram account, but it’s worth collecting them here in one place. Here are four that I really enjoyed.

Spicy Garlic Pork and Ground Pork via Two Red Bowls

spicy-pork-eggplant

This is the most recent ground meat dish I made and is the one I’m the most excited about. It combines the classic pairing of eggplant and pork, surrounded by a well-balanced mix of savory, spicy, and sweet notes, creating something that is pretty addictive. Ever since I made it my mind keeps wandering back to it. I suspect that its uniquely memorable flavor has to do with the time the pork sat marinating in soy sauce, sesame oil, as well as the high-quality pastured pork I used. It also has what I consider to be a lot of garlic cloves but in the end the garlic was not overpowering and was just right. I also loved the inclusion of ginger. 

I decided to make it spicier than the original recipe by adding a half teaspoon of red pepper flakes, which really works for someone who likes their food on the spicier side; I tasted it before I added the flakes and it was really good at that point, too. It would definitely be great with noodles, but I liked eating it all by itself; I could see enjoying it with rice, too.

I’m eager to make this again, especially since we’re in the hottest, most eggplantiest time of the year. This is a total winner of a dish.

Loobia Polo—Beef and Green Bean Rice via Honest and Tasty

loobia-polo-beef-green-beans

Summer also brings us green beans in abundance. A few weeks ago I had both a pound of beans and a bunch of ground beef on my hands, so I searched the internet for a recipe that contained both, and out popped Loobia Polo, a Persian dish. This is not showy food, and to me seems very practical, what with a small ingredient list and what I believe is a classic way to extend protein—by adding grains. The dominant flavors are beef, green beans, cinnamon, and saffron; the combination is very gentle and delightfully comforting.

A new-to-me technique in the recipe was placing a clean kitchen towel between the steaming rice mixture and the lid. This is apparently a common way to cook rice for Persian dishes, and what happens is that the towel catches and absorbs the steam instead of letting it fall back onto the rice mixture, encouraging the formation of tahdig, a crispy layer of rice on the bottom of the pan. It’s seriously good stuff, slightly caramelized and adds a wonderful crunchy texture to the whole dish.

This recipe made a lot of food, but the good news is that it freezes well—when I was tired one evening and realized I had a bunch of frozen Loobia Polo just waiting to be heated up, it was a wonderful feeling.

Thai Pork Meatballs & Sweet Chili Sauce via Foodess

thai-pork-meatballs

I love Thai-centric flavors, so these meatballs sounded really good when I first read the recipe… and they were! Even without the lemongrass—I couldn’t find any in my neighborhood, so I replaced it with lemon zest—they were delicious. Another thing I liked about them was that they are baked, not fried. Not that fried is a problem, but baking a sheet of meatballs is less mess and easier than frying them, and the meatballs didn’t fall apart, either. The flavors were really on point, and I loved all the cilantro, ginger, and onions in them, not to mention the bits of carrot. This is a pretty healthy dish.

I ended up eating the meatballs without the lettuce wraps, and that worked fine; the lettuce I had from my CSA was a little unwieldy and I bet the cups of Boston lettuce would be a better choice. I wonder if they would be good in a Thai soup broth or paired with rice noodles. The chili sauce that goes with the meatballs is excellent, and would be a fine accompaniment to neutral noodles; I’ll have to give that a try sometime. I’m looking forward to making these again.

Chile-Cumin Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt and Cucumber via Bon Appetit

chile-cumin-lamb-meatballs

This was probably the most time-consuming of the four recipes, I think because the instructions included toasting and grounding spices, something I’m new at, and thus takes more time. The sauce was a bit oily for my taste (it unappealingly pooled at the bottom of my bowl), so I’d probably halve the amount of oil next time. That said, these meatballs tasted good. Even without the sauce—and perhaps next time I’ll just omit the sauce—they were fabulous. Lamb and cumin is a magical combination and did very well here together.

The addition of the cucumbers and yogurt was also spot on. Overall, the meatballs had this wonderful combination of spices and fresh herbs along with some lovely ground lamb. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Next up: I’m going to be spending time with this article on meatloaf and giving the classic American ground meat dish a try.

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