Get in My Belly: Serbian Ground Beef and Potatoes

Back when I was first learning how to cook (short version: I was pregnant and very, very hungry), I used to obsessively check for new dishes to make. The recipes were fairly straightforward, the reviews sometimes helpful, and it was a large enough database that I could keep everything I wanted to try saved in one spot. I don’t visit it as often anymore – really, my cooking isn’t as reliant on recipes now that I’m no longer hopeless – but there are a few recipes from there that I’ve now been making for years and they rank among my favorite dishes. One of those is the Serbian Ground Beef, Veggie and Potato Bake, which I’ve slightly adapted to accommodate my preferences. No, this isn’t really a helpful recipe for vegetarians, but if you have no quibbles with meat, ohmigod, GET IN:

Everything nestled in a dish, pre-baking.

You’ll Need:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2+ carrots, shredded or chopped (in the absence of a food processor, shredding can be a pain, so do what you like)
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pinch+ ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch+ ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/8 cup red wine
  • 1 cube beef bouillon OR 1 teaspoon Better Than Bullion paste
  • 2 tablespoons half-and-half (subbing milk, margarine or butter is also fine)
  • 3-4 potatoes (depending on size), peeled and sliced
  1. Preheat oven to 400° F (200° C). Spray or grease a large casserole pan.
  2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the beef until evenly brown. Remove beef from skillet, drain off most of the fat, and set aside. Mix in the olive oil, and saute the green pepper, onion, carrot, and celery until tender. (I’ve also just cooked the beef and vegetables together at once and skipped the olive oil entirely because it’s a little quicker, but adding a bit of the olive oil taste is a nice bonus.)
  3. Return beef to the skillet, and season with paprika, black pepper, red pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir in the water and red wine until heated through. Dissolve the beef bouillon cube into the mixture. Remove skillet from heat, and mix in the half-and-half.
  4. Layer the bottom of the prepared casserole dish with enough potato slices to cover. Place the beef and vegetable mixture over the potatoes, and top with remaining potatoes. It’s okay to double up on the bottom potato layer if you have a lot of potatoes; they cook up evenly still. Sprinkle the top layer of potatoes with more paprika.
  5. Cook, covered, 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the potatoes are tender.
  6. Drink that 98% remaining bottle of wine and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
My food photography and plating skills leave much to be desired, I know.

The original recipe is not as heavy on the vegetables, so I’ve upped both the carrots and potatoes quite a bit. I also ditched the extra salt because the recipe doesn’t seem to need it, especially if you’re using a bullion cube, which is plenty salty on its own. I have also made this without any sort of dairy in it, and it turned out fine. Don’t fear the cinnamon and cloves – they really make the dish spectacular.


By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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