When my mother decided that it was time to teach me to cook, she began with meatloaf. As she taught me how to prepare the mixture of ingredients in the bowl–the eggs, the tomato sauce, the ground meat, the dried spices, and the other things that made her meatloaf indelibly “hers”–she told me that when she was a kid, she had to make meatloaf every single Saturday for a year. Once her mother was satisfied that she could make a loaf with her eyes closed and at the drop of a pin, only then could she move on to the other makings of the standard dinner items in the typical 1950s-1960s Midwestern American home. My mom told me that I was lucky, that I wouldn’t have to make meatloaf every weekend for a year.
As I grew older and moved away into my own apartments, homes, and living situations that included kitchens and as I began to buy my own groceries, I rarely made meatloaf. That was from the cavalcade of recipes from my childhood. In a world that was so much more interesting and varied, why did I need to keep on cooking the standard dishes that I already knew? I learned about the joys of frittatas and butternut squash soup and so much more. I lived, at one point, in a cooperative living situation that had mostly vegetarian residents and a couple of people who observed Kosher eating habits, so I learned to cook some Kosher-friendly recipes out of the Moosewood cookbook that sat in the co-op’s shared kitchen library. I learned to roast all sorts of mushrooms and make tomato-mustard tarts with a lemon rosemary crust. I learned to make foods that were perhaps healthier and foods that were certainly indulgent. I didn’t care so much, in my 20s (and even into my early 30s), about cooking in a way that was as healthy as it was flavorful; I cared, rather, about what it would be like for my mouth to burst with flavor and for my spirit–no matter how high or low it felt at the time–to feel comforted.
As I grew to pay attention to what I ate, to understand the ethics behind what I wanted to eat, and to incorporate meal planning and exercise–as well as the understanding that great food can be a great, happy, tasty fuel to help me stay energized through long days of teaching, taking classes and then studying for exams and writing a dissertation for my PhD, and then going to the gym and kicking ass, my approach to food changed. I looked for recipes that were affordable to a doctoral student with a modest budget. I looked for ways to cook food that required as little of my time as possible. I bought enough tupperware to portion out the recipes I did make…
…and I returned to meatloaf. I came to meatloaf not as the recipe my mom for the entire year that she was 12 years old and then taught me to make, but as a concept. I started to wonder what was possible with meatloaf. Did it need to have bread crumbs (I had gotten “off” of flour)? Did it need to have ketchup or tomato sauce, per se? Did it have to have the dry onion soup mix, the parsley, the other dried herbs and spices that I had always known?
What if, instead, meatloaf was more about the method? What if I could take a ground protein, eggs to help bind, something-that-wasn’t-flour-but-worked-like-it, and a variety of other ingredients depending on my mood?
And: what if meatloaf could be healthy and fun? What if it could reflect the variety of flavors from different parts of the world whose foods I like?
I got to work. I put this theory to test.
What I have for you today is the meatloaf that I cooked as part of this week’s meal prep for me and my fiance. Because we like Tex-Mex flavors and we are always up for eating tacos (no matter what day of the week!!!), I decided to use this idea for the composition of this meatloaf. See? Doesn’t it look tasty? It’s just waiting for a nice side salad, or a great side of roasted asparagus (but because I was in a mood for a little something crunchy, I sliced up about half of a cucumber to accompany my meal–maybe next time on the asparagus?).
This meatloaf is a Tex Mex meatloaf. Or–rather–a turkey loaf, because I am a fan of turkey. The variations, however, are endless. For instance:
Italian: mix together equal portions of beef & sweet and/or hot pork Italian sausage (or turkey and turkey sausage), and add sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and roasted garlic cloves. Use your favorite marinara sauce instead of tomato sauce.
Indian: Use your favorite protein and mix in garam marsala, curry powders, ginger, or a Tandoori spice rub and use a tikka masala simmer sauce instead of tomato sauce.
Vietnamese: Mix ground beef, lamb, or turkey (or maybe even a beef/lamb mix) with the spice, vegetable, and flavor profile (lemongrass? ginger? garlic?) that is in your favorite recipe for a Pho broth or your favorite curry.
The possibilities are endless!
For now, however, here is my recipe. I hope you like it!!
Tex Mex Turkey Meatloaf
2 lb. ground turkey (I use 93% lean)*
1/3 c. almond flour
1/3 c. of your favorite salsa
1 1/2 c. raw baby spinach chopped into small bits
Hot sauce (I can’t recommend Hoff & Pepper enough; it’s my favorite!)
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
2. In a large bowl, dump all of your ingredients–the meat, the eggs cracked from their shells, the almond flour, the salsa, all of the spinach, your taco seasonings, and as many dashes of your favorite hot sauce as you want. No need to be exact here–go by your gut instincts!
3. Use your fingers and mix it really, really good! Let your hands get super gross and let all of the ingredients thoroughly mix in with each other.
4. Spray the bottom of a meatloaf tin with coconut oil or your favorite spray-able oil
5. Dump your mixed-up ingredients in the tin and distribute it all evenly.
6. Sprinkle more hot sauce on top of your loaf!
7. Cook for about 35-40 minutes.
8. Do a happy dance in your home as the smells of your very own healthy, flavorful, gluten-free, paleo-friendly, super-easy meatloaf get stronger and stronger.
9. Devour with friends and loved ones!
*Not a turkey fan? No worries! You can use ground beef (I recommend above 85% lean and preferably above 90% lean), ground chicken (as lean as you can get), or your favorite ground protein!
**You can use your favorite taco seasoning mix whether it’s homemade or from the store; I used the first recipe that came up when I conducted a Pinterest search.