Ethnic variations spice up an old American standby

In many a household, meat loaf means the blahs. It's a main dish that Mom mixes when her budget's low or when she can't think of anything else. But this need not be.

That old American standby takes on class if treated to a bit of ethnic flavoring. And when you break out of that prosaic meat loaf pattern, you'll have a dish that's fit for both company and clan.

If you are partial to Italian food, you might like a mixture of beef and veal or the Gazpacho-Topped Meat Loaf. If cinnamon and pine nuts appeal, try the Lebanese loaf. Here are some recipes that'll take your tastes traveling. Gazpacho-Topped Meat Loaf 2 beaten eggs 1/2 cup chili sauce 1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs 1 3-ounce can chopped mushrooms, drained 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed 2 pounds lean ground beef

In mixing bowl combine eggs, chili sauce, bread crumbs, mushrooms, horseradish, salt, pepper, and thyme. Add beef. Mix well. Press meat mixture into an 8-by-4-by-2-inch pan. Bake in a 350-degree F. oven for 1 1/2 hours. Drain off fat. Cool. Cover and chill. To serve, slice loaf and top with Gazpacho Topping. Gazpacho Topping for Meat Loaf 3 medium tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped 1/3 cup finely chopped green pepper 1/3 cup vinegar 1/4 cup finely chopped onion 1 tablespoon sugar 3/4 teaspoon celery salt 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients. Cover. Chill. Serves 8. Italian Meat Loaf 1 pound lean ground beef 1/2 pound ground veal or pork 1 beaten egg 1/2 cup soft Italian bread crumbs 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1/4 teaspoon each of oregano, basil, and garlic powder 1 tablespoon tomato paste 8 slices mozzarella cheese

In a large bowl combine all ingredients except cheese slices. Mix thoroughly and place on a large sheet of waxed paper or foil. Flatten and shape into 10-by-16-inch rectangle. Arrange cheese slices over meat, keeping about 1 inch from all edges.

Roll up, jelly-roll fashion, lifting the paper as you go. Press all edges to seal. Place roll, seam side down, in shallow baking pan. Bake in a 350-degree F. oven for 1 hour. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. Serves 6 to 8. Sauerbraten Meat Loaf 2 pounds ground beef 1 cup white or whole-wheat bread crumbs 1 cup crushed gingersnaps 1/3 cup red wine vinegar 1/2 cup milk 1/2 cup minced onion 2 eggs Dash ground cloves 2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper Sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl mix well all ingredients. Spoon mixture into 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. With spoon, level top. Bake 1 1/2 hours. Serve with sour cream. Serves 8. South African Meat Loaf 2 medium onions, sliced 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 1 tablespoon curry powder 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon sugar 1 tablespoon vinegar 2 pounds ground beef 1/2 cup raisins 1/4 cup chopped almonds 1 slice bread 1/2 cup milk 1 egg, beaten

Fry onions lightly in butter. Sprinkle curry powder over onions and simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt, sugar, vinegar, and ground beef. Mix well. Add raisins and nuts. Soak bread in milk; add to meat mixture with beaten egg. Place meat mixture in greased loaf pan or casserole. Bake at 350 degrees F. 40 to 60 minutes. Serve with rice and chutney. Serves 8. Saucy Mexican Meat Loaf 1 1/2 cups finely diced fresh mushrooms 1 medium zucchini, sliced 1/2 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons water 1/2 cup ketchup 1 teaspoon prepared mustard 1 egg, beaten 1/2 cup milk 1/2 cup seasoned fine dry bread crumbs 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper 2 teaspoons chili powder 1/2 teaspoon cumin 1/4 cup chopped pimentos 1/3 cup chopped green chilies 1 15-ounce can tomatoes, drained 1 pound ground beef 4 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated Green pepper and pimento for garnish

In medium saucepan, combine mushrooms, zucchini, onion, and water. Cover and let vegetables steam over medium heat until tender. Drain off liquid and add ketchup and mustard. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine egg, milk, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, pimentos, green chilies, tomatoes, and ground beef. Mix well. Press mixture in bottom of 9-inch pie plate or 8-inch square loaf pan to form shell.

Cook 30 to 45 minutes in oven heated to 350 degrees F. Drain off fat. Spoon vegetable mixture over meat shell. Place cheese on top and put in oven for 5 minutes. Garnish with green pepper and pimento. Serves 8. Lebanese Ground Lamb Loaf 4 pounds ground lamb, trimmed of fat and gristle 8 onions, finely ground 1/2 pound bulgur, soaked overnight in cold water 6 teaspoons allspice Cinnamon to taste Salt and pepper to taste Filling (recipe follows)

Mix ground lamb, ground onions, soaked bulgur, allspice, and a generous portion of cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Knead. Dip hand in water. Spread half the mixture over bottom of 10-by-14-inch pan. Filling 8 coarsely cut onions, saut'eed 3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted Cinnamon to taste Salt and pepper to taste Butter

Mix saut'eed onions, toasted pine nuts, cinnamon, salt, and pepper together. Spread over layer of meat in pan. Cover filling with remaining meat mixture. Smooth surface with wet hands. Dot with butter. Bake in a 350-degree F. oven for about 1 hour or until brown. Cut in triangles to serve. Serves 10 to 12.

This recipe is from ``Puerto Rican Cookery,'' by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli. Puerto Rican Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef 1/4 cup minced or ground onions 1 egg, lightly beaten 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper 1/2 cup tomato sauce 1 cup bread or cracker crumbs 2 tablespoons prepared mustard 2 tablespoons brown sugar, firmly packed 2 tablespoons ketchup 2 tablespoons vinegar 1/2 cup tomato sauce 1 can (10 1/2 ounces) tomato soup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 12-by-7 1/2-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Place meat in a bowl and mix thoroughly with next six ingredients. Mound meat in center of baking dish, leaving a space of about 1 inch on all sides. Combine last six ingredients and pour over meat. Cover and bake about 1 1/2 hours. Serve hot or cold with sauce. Serves 6.

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