By Emma Chow
We use it in burgers, rissoles, meatballs, pasta sauces, lasagnes, pies, pizza toppings, chilli, moussaka, noodles sauces; in an omnivorous household, minced meat is a staple that is generally cheap to buy and easy to cook. But sometimes we need that meat to go a little further, feed a few more mouths, and cover a few more meals. These ingredient additions will bulk out your minced meat and add flavour and nutrients to the dish as well. Not every extender will suit every meal; we’ll leave that up to your discretion.
Iif you’re gluten intolerant, don’t have bread or crackers on hand or just don’t want to use them, then mixing cooked rice of any variety into shaped mince meals can bulk it out too. It helps if the rice was cooked the previous day and has dried out overnight in the fridge so it can adequately soak up flavours and juices while not causing the mixture to become soggy.
Things like carrots, turnips, celery etc. Basically any vegetables that need a decent bit of cooking to get them softened up. Pumpkin and sweet potato could be included in this category also, though if diced small enough they cook very quickly. Grate, finely dice or blitz hard veg in a food processor and sweat it out before you add your meat. This works great for meat sauces, lasagnes, pie fillings; thick and saucy thing benefit from the addition of aromatic vegetables which add flavour and nutrition while bulking out the meat.
Zucchini, eggplant, capsicum, squash, mushrooms, cabbage, broccoli and other soft vegetables can be finely diced, shredded or sliced and add bulk and flavour. Zucchini, eggplant and mushrooms are great at soaking up flavours. If you need to hide their existence from little ones who don’t like veg, try chopping or processing them as finely as possible and adding them early in the cooking process so that they get a chance to caramelise and develop colour and flavour. I gently cook shredded cabbage and add it to noodle sauces and dumpling fillings for bulk. It also brings out the sweetness of cabbage without the sad dishwater smell.
Mix through some mashed potato in shaped mince dishes or layer it in baked dishes like moussaka, lasagne and pies. Make the potato layer of a shepherd’s pie extra thick, or if you are making a pastry topped pie, you could put a layer of mashed potato under the pastry to bulk out the meat filling.
While cheese is at the pricier end of ingredients for bulking, some crumbled feta, ricotta, cream cheese, diced haloumi or mozzarella could extend shaped mince meals like burgers and meatballs, or a thicker or extra cheese layer in baked dishes like lasagne adds richness and bulk while using less meat.
Already soaked and cooked lentils can be added to any kind of mince dish as an extender. If you’re combing lentils into meatballs, burgers or rissoles, consider adding additional ingredients like eggs or breadcrumbs as binding. Lentils are great for extending a meat sauce and a chilli too.
Beans or chickpeas:
Cooked or canned beans or chickpeas are particularly good for bulking out shepherd’s pie filings, chilli, meat sauce for lasagna or spaghetti Bolognese. They can also bulk out burgers or meatballs but may need some additional ingredients to keep the mixture together when shaping.
Things like buckwheat, quinoa and barley as well as other grains can bulk out mince dishes. Whether you add the uncooked grains with the mince when you make sauces and stews or add already cooked grains to meatballs, grains add nutty flavour, texture and bulk.
Many mamas swear by adding some regular old porridge oats to mince as an extender. While there’s some debate over when it is best to add oats, generally adding the oats when you are browning the meat before adding liquid seems to be most popular consensus. Otherwise some mamas suggest adding the oats ½ an hour before the end of cooking time. You just need to ensure that the oats soak up the liquid and cook out properly or it’ll give your dish a chewy texture.