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Eric Akis: Meatloaf morphs into a Tex Mex-style taco meal

This Tex-Mex meatloaf is deliciously flavoured and topped like you would a beef taco, with a mix of spices, cheese and salsa.
Meatloaf is deliciously flavoured and topped like you would a beef taco, with a mix of spices, cheese and salsa. ERIC AKIS

I was a planning a casual dinner to have with friends and thought of serving beef tacos or meatloaf. Both sounded appealing and I couldn’t decide what to make, so I cooked up a way to enjoy both dishes in one creation.

To do that, I made a meatloaf that was flavoured, topped and served as you would beef tacos. To prepare it, ground beef was mixed with chili powder, cumin and other spices, milk, which helps yield a more tender meatloaf, and binders, including eggs and finely crushed tortilla chips.

The crushed tortilla chips replaced the breadcrumbs I most often add to meatloaf. I pulsed whole tortilla chips in my food processor until they were like panko (coarse dried breadcrumbs) in texture.

Once my ground beef mixture was made, I set it on a baking sheet, formed it into a meatloaf, topped it with tomato salsa and baked it 60 minutes. The meatloaf was then topped with some grated Monterey Jack cheese, which could be plain or jalapeño flavoured, and then baked at 10 to 15 minutes, until cooked through and the cheese was melted.

It’s best to use an instant-read meat thermometer when gauging the doneness of meatloaf. When ready the centre of it should reach 160 F or above. Other types of cheese will also work in this recipe (see the Eric’s options part of the recipe for details).

When the meatloaf is cooked, it’s allowed to rest a short while. It’s then sprinkled with chopped cilantro or thinly sliced green onion, depending on your preference, for a hint of green.

To make a Tex-Mex-style meal of the meatloaf, slice, plate and serve it with more of the salsa you topped it with, along with sour cream, thinly shredded lettuce or green cabbage, cubes of ripe avocado and Spanish-style rice (the latter of which you’ll find a recipe for below).

My recipe makes one large meatloaf that will serve five, or maybe six. Any leftover meatloaf you have will make a flavourful meal to reheat the next day or two and could also be sliced and used in a sandwich. Any leftover meatloaf will also freeze well.

Tex-Mex Taco Meatloaf

Meatloaf is deliciously flavoured and topped like you would a beef taco, with a mix of spices, cheese and salsa.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 70 to 75 minutes

Makes: five servings

2/3 cup finely crushed tortilla chips (see Note)

2 large eggs

3/4 cup whole or 2 per cent milk

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp salt

2 pounds (about 900 grams) lean ground beef

1/2 cup tomato salsa, plus some for serving (see Note)

1 cup (about 75 grams) grated plain or jalapeño Monterey Jack cheese (see Eric’s options)

2 Tbsp thinly sliced green onions or chopped fresh cilantro, or to taste

· sour cream, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the crushed tortilla chips, eggs, milk, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and salt in a large bowl, or bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix to combine. Add the ground beef to the bowl and mix until well combined with other ingredients.

Transfer meat mixture to the baking sheet and form into a meatloaf that’s about nine-inches long and five-inches wide. Spoon the salsa down the centre top of meatloaf, and then spread it so it starts to drip down the sides of it.

Bake the meatloaf 60 minutes. Now top the meatloaf with the grated cheese and bake 10 to 15 minutes more, or until cooked through and the centre of it reaches 160 F or above on an instant-read meat thermometer.

When meatloaf is cooked, let rest five minutes, then sprinkle with sliced green onion (or cilantro). Slice and serve the meatloaf with bowls of salsa and sour cream, for spooning beside it once plated, along with any other side dishes you desire.

Note: You can finely crush the tortilla chips in a food processor until like panko (coarse breadcrumbs) in texture. If you don’t have a food processor, put the chips in a large, thick plastic bag and crush them with a kitchen hammer or rolling pin. About 40 tortilla chips should yield the 2/3 cup needed here. B.C.-made, Que Pasa brand triangular-shaped tortilla chips and jars of their Mexicana salsa were used when testing this recipe. Other brands of similar shaped tortilla chips and similarly textured salsa will also work here.

Eric’s options: Instead of Monterey Jack, other types of cheese, such as plain or chili pepper flavoured havarti, or aged white cheddar, will also work in this recipe.

Spanish-style Rice

This aromatic dish, infused with the flavours of onions, pepper and spices, is similar to the Spanish-style rice served in many Mexican restaurants. It makes a nice side dish for the Tex-Mex taco meatloaf.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: about 25 minutes

Makes: four to six servings

2 Tbsp olive oil

1⁄2 medium onion, finely chopped

1⁄2 cup finely chopped green bell peppers

1⁄2 cup finely chopped red bell peppers

1 medium jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped (optional)

1 cup long-grain white rice

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1⁄8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 3⁄4 cups chicken stock

· salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 small to medium green onions, thinly sliced

Heat the oil in a medium pot set over medium heat. Add the onions, bell peppers and jalapeño, if using, and cook three to four minutes, until softened.

Stir in the rice, garlic, chili powder, cumin and cayenne and cook, stirring, for two minutes more. Pour in the stock, season with salt and pepper, then increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

Cover the rice, reduce the heat to its lowest setting, and cook for 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Fluff the rice with a fork, mix in the green onions, and serve.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.