Before I start raggin’ on Iowa’s loose meat sandwiches, I’ll admit Ohio has a kind of loose meat chicken sandwich – shredded chicken, popular in the southwestern part of the state – that is blah, too. The one I tried, that is.
I had higher hopes for Iowa loose meat sandwiches, though. The regional specialty, which also can be found in Nebraska and probably elsewhere, has been extolled in magazines and guide books including my travel bible, “Roadfood,” by Jane and Michael Stern.
The sandwich at its most basic is a soft burger bun filled with crumbled and browned ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper. Mustard and dill pickles are the usual toppings. I almost fell asleep in my lunch when I was served that boring version at the Maid-Rite diner in Newton, Iowa. Maybe the cook had an off day. I’m told loose meat often is seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, or a sploosh of mustard right in the pan, or vinegar and sugar. Mine wasn’t.
Newton was one bummer after another. We stopped there not only for the sandwiches but to visit the headquarters of Maytag Blue Cheese and buy a hunk.
The low-slung building, bordered by cornfields, was open when we pulled into the lot. Under trees on the sloping lawn, workers were arranging vases of flowers on linen- swathed picnic tables. Uh-oh. Yes, hectic preparations for an important dinner were afoot (for the American Cheese Society, we learned later). The showroom cheese cases were empty.
We stopped at a supermarket on the way out of town to snag some cheese, which we were really craving by then. We found brands from elsewhere but no cheese from the lauded fromagerie up the road.
The cheese nagged at me for the rest of the drive through Iowa, but what really occupied my mind was that loose-meat sandwich. In junior high, my cafeteria served a variation called “runzaburgers,” a German via Nebraska specialty featuring ground beef and finely chopped cabbage. I could do better than either, I was sure. I invented recipes in my head as miles of corn fields flashed past. Of course, by the time we hit Illinois I was ragingly hungry for ground beef and corn on the cob.
I satisfied the corn craving the day after we hit Ohio. This week I took care of my craving for ground beef.
“This is loose meat on steroids,” Tony said as he watched me cook. I gave the Midwestern sandwich an Asian twist with garlic, ginger, onions and soy sauce cooked with the meat, and lime juice added at the end. We piled the loose meat on big ciabatta buns and topped the mounds with a slivered carrot salad dressed with vinaigrette, along with fresh mint and basil leaves.
With apologies to Iowans, if you’re going to have loose meat this is the way to go.
VIETNAMESE LOOSE MEAT SANDWICHES
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 tsp. peeled and chopped ginger
1 1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 1/4 cups carrot-broccoli slaw, homemade or commercial
2 tbsp. vinaigrette dressing
12 mint leaves
12 basil leaves
4 large hamburger buns or ciabatta rolls
Heat oil in a large skillet. Saute onions over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Do not brown.
Crumble meat into skillet and stir to combine with onions, ginger and garlic. Break up any large pieces of meat. Cover and cook over medium heat just until no longer pink, stirring once. Drain off fat. Increase heat to high and add soy sauce. Turn and stir until liquid boils away. Remove from heat and drizzle with lime juice, tossing to mix.
Pile meat mixture on the four buns or rolls. Top each with some of the carrot slaw, then the mint and basil leaves. Makes 4 servings.
HELP U COOK
I’d like to remind you again to preheat your skillet before adding oil, then heat the oil before adding the food. These two steps can be the difference between oil-soaked and crisp food. Also, the timing in recipes will make much more sense when you preheat.
When I was young, my mom used to make corn pancakes for breakfast with any leftover corn we had — no measuring, just regular pancake recipe. Also, when corn was in season that’s all we had for supper and we ate four, five or six pieces each. I couldn’t believe it when I got married that my husband wanted to eat a piece or two AFTER we ate a regular supper. And each piece had to be just out of the boiling water. I could never eat it that hot. In fact, I love cold corn with butter and salt.
Dear Laura: That IS a freaky way to eat corn (post-dinner, not your leftover cold method). Corn on the cob seems to be one of those foods that spark family traditions. When I was a kid, we ate corn as a meal, too, but always with sliced tomatoes dabbed with mayo and sprinkled with salt and pepper. If I had kids, they would probably be regaling their spouses about their mother’s habit of eating the first ear raw, on the way home from the farm stand.
From Sherri S.:
Here’s a way to use up some of your beans, from a Women’s Day Article
OVERNIGHT PICKLED GREEN BEANS
3/4 c. white vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup fresh dill
1 tsp. whole coriander
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
12 oz. green beans
In a small pot, combine 1 cup water, vinegar, sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the sugar and salt dissolve, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Divide garlic, dill, coriander, and red pepper between two wide-mouthed 16-ounce jars. Pack with green beans, then pour the cooled liquid over top. Refrigerate overnight or up to 1 week. (The beans are still tasty after a week; they will just lose their color.)
Dear Sherri: I’ve never been a fan of pickled green beans, but this sounds good. Thanks.
I am not successful with blanching and freezing green beans so I make a marinara sauce and freeze the beans in it. They are much tastier than the plain frozen beans that I have made in the past.
Start a quick sauce with :
2 tbsp. olive oil, sauté 1 small onion and 1 whole clove of garlic. When soft and colored lightly add 1 can of plum tomatoes. Add 1/4 tsp of oregano, some parsley and basil to taste. I use fresh from the garden. Also, add 1/2 tsp salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook quickly for 10 minutes over med high heat. Correct seasoning.
To the tomato sauce I add 1 1/2 pounds lightly steamed beans (cooked about 6 minutes or so). Finish cooking in sauce until tender. They can be eaten as a vegetable with some grated Parmesan cheese, put on pasta, or frozen for later use.
This is not an exact recipe and can change according to the amount of beans I have. I sometimes add a tablespoon of tomato paste to make it richer tasting, but is it flexible. Your recipe looks delicious.
Dear Lorraine: Almost everything freezes better in a sauce than naked, as your green bean recipe illustrates. Thanks.
Last week, Carol Simon asked for a Greek spaghetti recipe. And while I didn’t clip that particular one, the request reminded me of one of my favorite go-to recipes from the Five Easy Pieces column in the Beacon Journal. “Fast Linguine and Clam Sauce” called for:
1/2 lb. linguine
4 tbsp. butter
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 can (6 1/2 oz.) clams
I then throw in more garlic sautéed with a chopped onion or shallot; another can of clams (so you have one chopped, one whole baby clams), undrained;
splashes of lemon juice and bottled clam juice;
a dash of red pepper flakes; and Parmesan for topping.
Not only is this easy, as advertised, but quick.
Dear Marcia: It’s good, too, especially with your tweaks. Thanks for sharing.
We still haven’t found the Greek Spaghetti recipe, although Jan C. recalls it was from the former Papas restaurant in the Montrose area of Fairlawn. The recipe probably ran in Beacon magazine. That content wasn’t always transferred to the electronic database.