Meatloaf Makeover: Putting My Own Twist on an Old Favorite.
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Call it comfort food, traditional fare, an old-time favorite or a “tireless chameleon” (name given to it by Nadia Arumugan, author of Chop, Sizzle & Stir), the meatloaf has the ability to change and adapt to the ebb of time and place. It is never boring, unless you want it to be. The nature of its constituent parts lends itself to culinary expressions and experimentations. And why not? Just change one component and you’ve added a twist to this old favorite. Consider the possibilities—change the meat used, the binders, the spices, the fillers and the toppings—there is no limit to what you can do to crank up the flavor or play it down. From the use of Worcestershire sauce to turmeric to prunes to bacon to variety meats, there is no one way to create a meatloaf. Every generation, place and culture adds its own spin on this versatile invention. Its capacity for re-invention is what made meatloaf so enduring, earning a permanent place on our dinner tables.
I had my first meatloaf when I came to America in the 90s. It is not difficult to fall in love with a good slice of meatloaf. After all, it remotely resembles a steamed version of meat with eggs that my mother used to make. Still, the traditional meatloaf, dutifully baked in a loaf pan was foreign to me. My husband showed me how to make a traditional American meatloaf with a tomato sauce on top but that was possibly also the last time, he eats one like that in our house. From the first basic meatloaf, I had inevitably added my own spin, one borne out of culture and upbringing—an Asian meatloaf.
Who invented Meatloaf?
It’s hard to pinpoint but it bears European ancestry. It was first mentioned by Roman gastronome Apicius and it featured chopped meat seasoned with spices, pine nuts and bread soaked in wine, shaped into a patty. As you can see, these features endure the passage of time and are still the mainstay of meatloaf.
Meatloaf is also a traditional German and Belgium dish, which is closely related to the Dutch meatball. As for the American meatloaf, it probably evolved from scrapple, a Pennsylvanian Dutch settlers’ concoction of meat scrapped from bones and combined with various organ meats. The combined meat is then seasoned with spices and cornmeal added to thicken it to form loaves. The loaves of compressed meat is left to set, then sliced and pan-fried. The first mention of meatloaf in print was in 1899. From then, meatloaf as we know it has been an open template—open to possibilities without losing its basics.
An Asian Meatloaf—How About That?
I call it my Asian meatloaf. My husband calls it bluff—though in truth, he says he loves it better. As for my kids, they didn’t know any better—they grew up on Asian meatloaf. Wary friends would shake their heads until they had a bite. So far, no complaints but maybe, they are being polite.
So what goes into this Asian meatloaf? Actually, the only Asian thing about it is the seasoning—soya sauce, sugar, chopped green onion, cilantro and a touch of sesame oil. The rest is a culmination of things that work well with the chosen seasoning. I typically line my loaf pan with one whole coarsely chopped onion. Over the meatloaf, I pour about a quarter cup of white wine to allow it to caramelize with the onion for a sweet flavor. There is another advantage to using the white wine—the resulting sauce makes a good gravy for mashed potato or rice. And then for eye appeal, I enlist the help of bright red bell pepper and robust green parsley—so festive and playful, it’s sure to tempt even the most finicky eater.
- 1 pkg lean ground turkey, 93% fat free
- 3 hard boiled eggs
- 1 big onion, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 big onion, finely chopped
- 2 stalks green onion, finely chopped
- A bunch of parsley, finely chopped
- 2 to 3 sprigs cilantro, finely chopped
- Half a red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 tbs brown sugar, (more if preferred)
- 2 tbs soya sauce
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- A handful of oats
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup of Chardonney
- Put ground lean turkey in a large mixing bowl. Add finely chopped onion, green onion and cilantro.
- Add soya sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Mix well.
- Add oats and cornstarch and mix thoroughly.
- Spray loaf pan with a non-stick spray. Spread the bottom of pan with coarsely chopped onion.
- Divide turkey mixture into two portions. Spread one portion on top of onion.
- Put the three hard boiled eggs on top of first layer of turkey mixture. Lay the eggs lengthwise in one straight line in the middle of mixture as shown.
- Sprinkle some chopped red bell pepper and parsley for color. Save some for garnishing the top layer of meatloaf.
- Add second layer of turkey mixture and packed it well with a fork. Press it down with fork and make sure sides are sealed.
- Sprinkle the top layer of meatloaf with chopped red bell pepper and parsley. Gently press down on garnishing.
- Pour Chardonney over meatloaf.
- Bake at 375 degree Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes or until done.
- Broil meatloaf for 2 to 3 minutes if desired.
Allow meatloaf to cool but slicing it. You can choose to drizzle sliced meatloaf with the wine sauce, sweetened by onion. Serve with mashed potato, rice pilaf, brown rice or any whole grain. You can also include slices of meatloaf in sandwiches, stuff it in pita bread, break it into pieces to add to chili or soup.
Baking meatloaf is perhaps the most common way but you can choose to use the microwave oven or the slow cooker. And why stick to the loaf pan? You can use the bundt pan, muffin trays or even a mug. Or use your hands to shape it as they did of old.
|Serving size: 1 slice of meatloaf|
|Calories from Fat||72|
|% Daily Value *|
|Fat 8 g||12%|
|Saturated fat 2 g||10%|
|Unsaturated fat 0 g|
|Carbohydrates 3 g||1%|
|Sugar 4 g|
|Fiber 10 g||40%|
|Protein 30 g||60%|
|Cholesterol 106 mg||35%|
|* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.|
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Tips and Tricks
The criteria for meatloaf is simple—some ground meat, a binder to hold the ground meat together, spices and then a filler, if preferred. With these basic requirements in place, it is then fair game. Allow your creative flair to fly and with a few tips and tricks, you’ll be able to make a delectable juicy meatloaf-- not the run-of-the-mill offering you find at the grocery but your very own signature meatloaf.
Any ground meat choices can be used—beef, pork, veal, lamb, venison, veal or poultry. You may choose to combine two or more kinds of meat. In general, meat with more fats makes the meatloaf juicer. If however, you’re looking to cut down on fat calories, opt for leaner meat choices. They may make the meatloaf drier but you can always offset that with the inclusion of chopped vegetables, herbs and other fillers. If you prefer vegetable protein, subtitute part of the meat for tofu (mashed and add)--just add more eggs to hold the ingredients together.
Binders have a specific purpose—to bind the ground meat together, quite like mortar holding the bricks in place. Choices abound from what you’ve in the pantry to cultural influences. Commonly used binders include eggs, breadcrumbs, bread soaked in wine or beer, wheatgerm, ground almonds, oatmeal and crackers. Ethnic meatloaves may have Japanese panko crumbs, rice, cornstarch, soda crackers or sesame paste.
Stick with salt and pepper or go wild. The pantry is the limit. Allspice, ginger, turmeric, garlic, onion, basil, oregano, cayenne, cumin, sage, curry powder—you call the shots. The idea is to add flavor and depth to the ground meat at hand.
- Vegetables and Herbs
Finely chopped vegetables and fresh herbs not only add nutritional value to the meatloaf, they also serve to make the meat less dense and as a result, juicer and more flavorful. I use a variety of fresh herbs in mine but feel free to experiment. Commonly used vegetables include spinach, carrots, celery, potato and parsley. I enjoy chopping my vegetables but you can simply use the food processor.
You can make a solid slab of meatloaf or you can break the monotony by filling the middle of the meatloaf with interesting surprises. I’ve successfully used cheese, chopped herbs, shrimps and tofu. Other ideas include mushroom, pesto sauce, sun-dried tomato and dried fruits, amongst others.
The use of liquid adds another dimension to the meatloaf. Not only does it add moisture, the choice of liquid gives it a distinctive character. Wine, beer, tomato juice/paste, apple cider, fruit juice or broth—one more thing to consider when you strive to make a moist meatloaf.
Ahh…the topping is like the icing on the cake—gives it star appeal. Walk down the corridors of culinary creations and you’ll find anything from mashed potato to ketchup to cheese to chopped nuts to bacon. I keep mine simple with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.