Cooking | Magazine

Recipes: Go beyond the burger and try these 3 ground beef dishes

Break out of a rut with linguine with spiced beef, Cuban picadillo, or spicy beef salad.

Linguine with spiced beef, onion sauce, and feta.
Linguine with spiced beef, onion sauce, and feta.Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Around the world, different cultures know that ground beef is perfect for a variety of boldly flavored midweek meals. In Cuba, picadillo combines tangy, sweet, and salty flavors for a delicious stew studded with raisins, olives, tomatoes, and cilantro. Inspired by the warm spices common in the Eastern Mediterranean, we make a creamy sauce for linguine with ground beef, feta, and onion. And from Thailand, a minty ground beef salad called larb neua dresses the meat after cooking with a vibrant splash of chilies, shallots, and fish sauce.

Linguine With Spiced Beef, Onion Sauce, and Feta

Makes 4 servings

A ground beef sauce seasoned with fragrant spices and generous amounts of onion and garlic is lightened with a good dose of mint at the end. Rather than sprinkle the feta on as a garnish, we toss the just-cooked noodles with most of the cheese so that it melts and coats the strands. If you like, you could serve the sauce with warmed flatbread instead of on noodles.

To keep the sauce from becoming greasy, be sure to use ground beef that’s at least 90 percent lean.


1½ pounds 90 percent lean ground beef

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 large yellow onions, finely chopped

8 medium garlic cloves, minced

28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand

12 ounces linguine

8 ounces feta cheese, shredded on the large holes of a box grater

1 cup chopped fresh mint

In a medium bowl, combine the beef, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and ¼ cup water. Mix with your hands.

Add the beef mixture, onions, and garlic to a 12-inch skillet. Set the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat with a spatula, until the onion has softened and the beef is no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with juices and bring to a simmer, then reduce to medium heat and cook uncovered, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.


Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta, then return the pasta to the pot. Add about ¾ of the feta and toss. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a platter.

Stir the mint into the sauce, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining feta.

Cuban picadillo.
Cuban picadillo.Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Cuban Picadillo

Makes 4 servings

There are many variations of picadillo — a ground beef dish popular in Cuba, the Caribbean, and Latin America — but the essentials are a stew of ground meat and tomatoes with raisins for sweetness and chopped olives for a balancing touch of brine. Be sure to use extra lean ground beef — 80 or 85 percent lean could result in a picadillo that’s slick and greasy.

Serve the picadillo with white rice or fried potatoes or on a mound of french fries. Or, enjoy it with a stack of warm corn tortillas and use it as a taco filling.

For an optional finishing note, chopped hard-cooked egg makes an attractive and delicious garnish.


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

6 medium garlic cloves, minced

1½ pounds 90 percent lean ground beef

½ cup raisins, chopped

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, roughly chopped, plus 3 tablespoons olive brine

½ cup minced fresh cilantro

3 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and finely chopped

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up, until no pink remains, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in the raisins, cumin, oregano, tomato paste, and 1½ teaspoons salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in ¾ cup water and bring to a simmer. Reduce to medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has evaporated, about 7 to 9 minutes.

Stir in the olives and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Off heat, stir in the brine, cilantro, and tomatoes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Spicy beef salad with mint and cilantro (larb neua).
Spicy beef salad with mint and cilantro (larb neua).Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Spicy Beef Salad With Mint and Cilantro (Larb Neua)

Makes 4 servings

Larb is a minced-meat salad from northern Thailand. Versions abound, but this one was inspired by the spicy, tangy Isaan style from the northeast that’s also popular in Laos. Easy-to-make toasted rice powder, called khao kua, is an essential ingredient here — it imparts a unique flavor, absorbs a small amount of the liquid, and adds a subtle crunch. Cabbage leaves and sticky rice are the traditional accompaniments, but lettuce leaves and steamed jasmine rice are equally good. If you like, add another chili or two for more spiciness.


Avoid extra lean ground beef — a little fat keeps the meat moist, adds flavor, and balances the acidity of the dressing.

2 tablespoons long-grain jasmine rice

3 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 teaspoons white sugar, divided

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 medium shallots, sliced into thin rings

2 Fresno chilies, stemmed and sliced into thin rings

2 teaspoons grape-seed or other neutral oil

1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef

1 cup lightly packed fresh mint, torn

1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves

In a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, toast the rice, stirring often, until browned and fragrant, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool, about 10 minutes; set the skillet aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Stir in the shallots and chilies. Let stand for at least 10 minutes or up to 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, pulverize the toasted rice to a coarse powder. Return the powder to the bowl and set aside.


In the same skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the beef, the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, breaking the meat into very small bits, until no longer pink, 4 to 5 minutes. Immediately add the beef and any juices to the shallot-chili mixture, along with the mint, cilantro, and half of the rice powder, then toss to combine. Let stand for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the remaining rice powder.

Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.