Minced-meat sauce

Maltās gaļas mērce

Every week I make one recipe from Latviešu ēdieni.

When I was in Latvia in 2008, I came down with the flu just a couple of days prior to our flying back to the States (about a 36 hour trip involving three connections). Not just any flu, as far as I was concerned, but the Worst Flu In the World.

I've had stomach flu before (who hasn't?) and I've had some bad times, but this time was different. I became very, very sick. My mother-in-law, a doctor, became very, very concerned and decided, after 24 hours passed with my getting steadily worse, it was time to pull out the big guns if I was going to have any chance of making my flight -- she had me hospitalized at the main hospital just outside the Liepāja city limits.

After I'd been given a few rounds of saline, a few painkillers and some anti-nausea medication, the nurse came around with the dinner cart. Would I like to try? The drugs were slowly taking effect and I was hungry enough to eat a horse. I nodded eagerly and the nurse handed me a plate mounded high with mashed potatoes and a minced meat sauce.

I looked at it in confusion; traditional American sick food consists of stuff like jello and broth, maybe toast or a little bit of noodles if you're really good, not mashed potatoes and gravy. My stomach rumbled as I inhaled the heavenly scent of sauteed beef. I took a bite tentatively, expecting the worst; this was a hospital, after all. Surprisingly, it tasted great! But the only way I can describe it was that it tasted like comfort. Soft, warm, beefy and oh-so-good. I had to be careful, not eat too fast, nor too much. I managed half, then laid back, satiated and happy.

I'll spare you the details of what happened afterwards. Suffice it to say, the drugs hadn't kicked in enough and it would be another 18 hours before I could eat solid food again. I could also talk your ear off about the fantastic care I received from Latvia's socialised medical system, the caring staff, all for less that I would have spent on one office visit as one of the many uninsured Americans in my country. But this is a food blog, not a political blog.

At long last, we had this sauce again. This version is considerably heartier than what I had in the hospital, but that's not really a surprise, now is it? Once again, it tasted like comfort. To me, its like eating the feeling of my favorite foods; if the essence of what makes a food a comfort was distilled, it would taste like this.

It's not a dish for summer, but for fall through spring, it's divine. I served it over potatoes, but it'll go well with nearly anything from rice to buckwheat to couscous. Serve it with a salad for a complete meal.

Maltās gaļas mērce -- Minced-meat sauce [printable recipe] [latviski]

Adapted from Latviešu ēdieni
Serves 2

  • 140 g onion, minced
  • 3 - 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 100 g carrot, grated
  • 200 g ground beef
  • 50 g bacon (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 chile powder
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp red wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 c (60 g) sour cream
  • salt, pepper

Saute bacon in a large pan over moderate heat, if using, until fat renders, otherwise, use 1 tbsp olive oil and proceed. Saute onion, carrot and garlic until lightly browned. Add ground beef, paprika, chile powder, salt and pepper. cooking until the beef is nicely browned. (If you're using a particularly fatty meat, you might need to drain off some fat.)

Clear a space in the middle and add flour, cooking it in the fat (as in making a golden roux). Pour in the wine, soy sauce and stock, mixing everything up well. Add sour cream and stir well. Let simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, until it's as thick as you want it and the flavors have combined. Taste, adjust seasoning if needed.


  1. The original recipe called for smoked bacon which was rendered down and the rest of the ingredients sauteed in the fat, but I forgot to buy some bacon ends at the store today. Add some if you wish, though it doesn't really require it.