One of the moms at 4Real asked for ground beef recipes, so I thought I’d put several simple ones here — not really recipes but more like guides. We’ve been having more ground meat lately because they made up the bulk of the grass-fed beef we had ordered from Grass Fed Farms — which was surprising, but not altogether unwelcome; there’s so much you could do with it besides the basic meatloaf or meat sauce! I think I still have a shelf-full in the freezer.

Let’s start out with a simple saute:

extra virgin olive oil
minced garlic
chopped onions
chopped tomatoes
a pound or two of ground beef
freshly ground black pepper
salt and/or soy sauce and/or fish sauce to taste

Heat up the olive oil in a large skillet, over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until just beginning to color. Add the onions and saute until limp. Add tomatoes and saute until tender. Add the ground meat, breaking it up, and continue to saute. Cover for 5 minutes, stir again, and add seasonings. Cook 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently and adding water if necessary to prevent drying up.


Here’s where you have some fun:

– add almost any kind of chopped up vegetable to increase the nutritive value and you’ve changed the dish! for instance, you can add

  • diced potatoes and diced sweet bell peppers – this will give you a picadillo dish
  • diced potatoes, peppers, PLUS raisins, a bit of soy sauce, a bit of sugar
  • chopped cabbage, or any of the cruciferous variety — broccoli, cauliflower
  • chopped greens — spinach, chard, kale or collards (cook longer if using this)
  • chopped zucchini or eggplant — or instead of chopping, cut into nice diagonal slices, about 1/3-inch thick — if using large eggplant cut lengthwise first into smaller widths

– double up the garlic and onion, add 1-2 tablespoons chili powder, 1-2 tablespoons cocoa powder, and a can (or use homemade, precooked) of beans; we use black beans because of kidney-bean-allergies, but almost any type of bean, or even chickpeas, will do. if kids are averse to beans as mine used to be, puree some of the meat mixture along with the beans and they’ll never know, plus it will add a nice thick texture to it – and you’ll get the health benefits! Serve over rice, noodles, or cook it down slowly until really thick, and use as sandwich filling!

Now let’s go back to the variation with potatoes:

  • the one with only potatoes and bell peppers can be used as omelet filling. It’s soooo yummy. Before egg allergies, I’d mix this up with 3-4 eggs and fry them up in small “patty” shapes. Serve with ketchup or tomato sauce.
  • the one with potatoes, peppers and raisins can be served “a la Cubana” — serve with rice and a fried egg.
  • Use as filling for stuffed peppers, mixed up with pre-cooked couscous if you like. Serve with a spicy tomato sauce.

– Tomato sauce can be added anytime to convert the mixture to a meat sauce, plus oregano and basil. Serve on top of rice, pasta, or potatoes.
– Use ghee (clarified butter) in the basic saute instead of olive oil. Add minced ginger, a tablespoon of curry powder, a teaspoon of turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin. Add diced potatoes and diced cauliflower, or peas and carrots if you like. Then you’ve got two options:

  • add coconut milk, and cook until thick — serve over Basmati rice.
  • Add a very small amount of coconut milk, just to kinda bind things together, and use as turnover filling, using your favorite pie-crust recipe.

– Add mushrooms to the saute (instead of tomato), chopped or sliced, then add a cup or so of chicken stock, plus a bit of cornstarch-water mixture to thicken. Serve over rice or potatoes.
– Or omit tomato, saute as in basic recipe, and add 1 can mushroom soup and 1 can water. Cook until thick and serve as pasta sauce or over potatoes or steamed veggies.
– Add 6 cups or so chicken stock to the basic saute (or use veggie stock or beef stock, or just water), and you’ve got a wonderful soup base! To which, again, you can add:

  • chopped veggies, as for a minestrone, e.g., zucchini, potato, cabbage, green beans, carrots, leeks, etc.
  • or add grain like barley, plus chopped up veggies and/or beans
  • small pasta shapes and chopped up celery, more onions and carrots
  • or go Asian — don’t use tomato, change the oil over from olive to an unflavored one like canola or safflower, and add rice noodles, or bean vermicelli (available at Asian stores), plus chopped up bok choy and green onions. Serve with optional soy sauce or fish sauce at the table.

– If you’re short on time or patience, just simmer broken up pieces of ground beef in lots of water, then dump in a large bag of spinach, and season to taste with salt and pepper, fish sauce if you like that, and if you’re really into Asian food, serve this with lots of golden-fried minced garlic.

Now let’s go back again to that mixture with potatoes and peppers. Like I said, this can be used as omelet filling. But you can also add peas, diced carrots, a tablespoon of brown sugar for some sweetness, and use it as empanada filling. Use a pie crust you like, and either deep-fry the empanadas or bake them.

Substitute ground pork for the basic mixture above, or use a combination of ground pork/ground beef, omit the tomato and olive oil, use a flavorless oil like canola or safflower, add minced or sliced and crushed ginger — and you’ve just gone Asian. Which again gives you many more options:

– add larger pieces of veggies to the saute, like diagonally sliced zucchini, diagonally sliced carrots, broccoli florets, 1-inch piece bell peppers, etc.
– Omit ginger, add the veggies, and make a thickening sauce of chicken stock (or veggie) -cornstarch-soy sauce-oyster sauce to be stirred in when the veggies are about 3 minutes from being done. You can serve this over rice, or over noodles.

Other ideas:
– Don’t precook the meat. Add minced shrimp, one egg, a tablespoon of sesame oil, soy sauce to taste, minced carrots if you like, chopped green onions instead of onion, and you’ve got a dumpling filling. Buy gyoza wrappers and use a tablespoon or so per dumpling. Boil in lots of water, or cook potsticker style: in a large (non-stick or seasoned cast iron) skillet, filmed with oil and heated, lay dumplings one by one in a singler layer. Fry until brown at the bottom, then add water and continue to cook 10-15 minutes or until cooked through.
– Use the above filling as springroll filling — try to find springroll wrappers at the Asian store — the ones without egg. Stuff and roll so that the “rolls” end up being about 1/2-3/4 inch in diameter. Cut into 3-4 inch pieces and deep fry. Serve with sweet and sour sauce, or banana ketchup, or for a kick, use vinegar and lots of garlic.
– For a Szechwanese “spaghetti sauce”: Saute meat in canola or safflower oil, lots of garlic, green onions, chopped ginger, “brown bean sauce” (a couple of tablespoons will do), hoisin sauce, Chinese rice wine, sesame oil, a bit of sugar, chili paste (unless the brown bean sauce you got is already the spicy kind), and soy sauce. Add water if desired. Serve this over Chinese egg noodles, or rice noodles, or over rice, with some sliced up scallions and julienned cucumber. Sprinkle on sesame seeds if you like.
– Another variation on the above “spaghetti sauce”: the same ingredients, but this will be a dryer mixture, hardly any water — add chopped up eggplant and/or chopped up firm tofu, and add chili paste to taste (it should be hot!) + a large pinch of five-spice powder. If you can find Szechwan peppers (pre-toast and pre-grind first before using), it’s a great addition.
– A really easy one, similar to Sloppy Joe: brown ground meat and pour out fat if you like. Add ketchup, soy sauce, freshly ground black pepper, and brown sugar. Garlic powder and onion powder if you like.
– Saute meat until the fat comes out — do not discard the fat. Add minced garlic (LOTS!), a couple of tablespoons vinegar, a couple of tablespoons honey, a tablespoon of brown sugar, LOTS of freshly ground black pepper, plus 1 Japanese eggplant, diced, one hot red pepper, minced (or use part of it, if you don’t want things too spicy). Cook, stirring, until eggplant is tender.
– Mix ground meat with freshly ground black pepper, fennel seeds, minced garlic, salt to taste, a teaspoon of sugar. Break off small pieces and brown in skillet. Use as “meatballs” in tomato sauce, or as topping for pizza. If you used pork and would like to try sausage making, this is perfect. If you don’t have a sausage stuffer, a cut-up liter-bottle (just the top) will do: attach the hog casing to the spout, and stuff the meat into the opening (the cut bottle portion). Voila — sausages!