Little White Lab Rat has been forced by ill health to eat as close to a no-fat diet as possible for the past few months. It’s a case of the mouse trap with its potential to snap my neck being less painfully dangerous than the cheese with which the trap is baited.
I call it my “Know Nothing Diet” based on a conversation I have with myself at least three times a day:
I: Can I have something tasty for breakfast/lunch/dinner?
Myself: No, nothing.
No fat means no dairy (pale blue water peddled by lying capitalists as skim “milk” doesn’t count), virtually no meat, no egg yolks (whoever invented the eggwhite omelet probably thinks it’s a good idea to fry the feathers and throw away the chicken, too), no nuts, no avocados, no olives, no salad dressing, no oils used in foods or for frying, and a very careful reading of labels to ferret out the sneaky marketers who set their serving sizes to unrealistically minuscule fractions of teaspoons in order to take advantage of the law that says you can label something as “nonfat” as long as it doesn’t contain above a certain amount of fat-per-serving.
For someone who loves to bake and cook as much as I do, this has put a real crimp in my enjoyment of life. Also my socializing. Go to the stake Pioneer Day breakfast? No point. Go to the ward ice cream social? Don’t bother. Go to lunch with groups of grad students before they scatter to the four winds with the beginning of the school year? Sure, but you’ll sit there nursing a cup of ice water while they dive chin-deep into cheesy, gooey mounds of delicious but greasy Mexican food.
To escape the dreary alternation between boiled vegetables (without butter) and the salad bar fare of chopped iceberg lettuce and canned chickpeas (without dressing), I’ve been combing cookbooks on line and in paper, searching for fat-free recipes that don’t involve tofu or TVP or soymilk from the vegan crowd or the chemical artificialities of fake cheese, fake eggs and fake everything else from the diet industrial complex.
That’s why Little White Lab Rat was willing to try a recipe from the meatless-wheatless section of the World War I-era Relief Society Magazine of November 1918:
1 C. white beans cooked.
1 C. peanuts.
1/2 C. bread crumbs.
1 T. salt.
1/2 C. milk.
Put beans and peanuts through grinder. Add crumbs, seasonings, and milk. Shape into a loaf. Bake 30 min.Serve hot, sliced.
I thought it sounded awful – I imagined gummy mashed beans, diluted with bread and milk, pale, anemic, baked hard, and I couldn’t imagine what in the world you’d ever serve this stuff with. Besides, peanuts, even boiled rather than roasted in oil, are enormously high in fat – the good mono-unsaturates, for sure, but fat still. Maybe I could substitute ordinary beans for the peanuts on the second try, if there was a second try, because I’ve learned you really need to make a recipe as it is written the first time before you go experimenting with substitutions.
Besides, this was probably going to be so awful that I wouldn’t be able to eat enough to have the peanut oil trigger my pain.
Was I ever in for a pleasant surprise!
The first surprises were to solve the puzzles in the recipe. Was the 1 cup quantity of white beans measured dry, or after they were cooked? Dried beans at least double in volume during cooking. Peanuts? dry roasted? salted? And that “1 T.” salt would, in today’s cookbooks, indicate one tablespoon – but one tablespoon of salt to that quantity of beans (regardless of when you measured them) would be strong enough to pickle your tongue; it must mean teaspoon, especially if the beans were salted during cooking. Then there’s always the question of baking in these old recipes – they hardly ever indicate how hot an oven should be.
I began by picking over and boiling small white beans, measuring a cupful of dry beans. I now think the recipe intended that measure to be of cooked beans, but no matter. I just ended up with a larger loaf than the recipe intended.
Peanuts was the real puzzler for me, and I’m still not sure what was intended. I decided that the most likely style of peanut available to cooks in 1918 was raw peanuts, which I keep on hand because I like to make peanut brittle (or I did, before butter became verboten). Raw or boiled? The recipe specified that the beans be cooked, while remaining mum on the peanuts. But since there is little that is nastier than a raw peanut, while boiled peanuts are pretty good (they sell them hot from roadside stands in Georgia in the fall), I boiled them too.
When the beans and peanuts were tender, I drained them and put them through my food processor. (I actually have the old fashioned cast-iron grinder my mother used – I think inherited from my grandmother – but it’s a bear to put up and clean. Modern food processors are king.)
That was the next surprise. Where I had expected a mass of pureed beans, maybe a lump looking like gluey mashed potatoes, the processed beans, although fully cooked, looked more like coarse-ground whole wheat cereal than anything else. In fact, after processing a couple of slices of bread and dumping the crumbs in the bowl, I could barely distinguish the bread crumbs from the ground beans.
The bread crumbs and milk are necessary to bind the beans together – which is where I decided the recipe intended the beans to be measured cooked rather than dry. I needed to add considerably more bread crumbs and milk to get the ingredients to form even a loose mass. I pressed it all into a loaf pan and put it in the oven.
But at what temperature? I googled to see if I could find any similar recipe … and that was the next surprise. I must have been living on an alien planet not to have heard of bean loaf before, but there are hundreds of recipes out there, using various kinds of beans, every imaginable spice, vegetable add-ins, everything. I set the oven for 350 degrees based on some of those recipes and went back to googling and taking notes.
Since my loaf was larger than intended, it took longer than 30 minutes – I left it in almost an hour before deciding it was done, judging from the browned crust and that the wet jiggling in the center had mostly subsided. I let it cool for a while, then sliced it like a meatloaf, which it rather resembled, although considerably paler. (It wasn’t pasty white, though – besides the oven toasting of the crust, the peanuts darkened the white beans by several shades.)
The biggest surprise of all was that it was actually good! Kind of nutty-tasting – not peanutty, but earthy and like brown rice or whole grain cereal. The texture was surprisingly good – unlike the mashed bean effect I had anticipated, it was, again, more like brown rice, with a little tooth resistance. With no seasonings but salt and pepper, I had expected a very bland flavor, too, but it actually tasted a bit spicy – must have been those peanuts.
The next day I cooked more white beans and some very small quantities of other kinds of beans. Using suggestions found while googling, I made a dozen more tiny bean loaves – this time in muffin cups – using the same bean, bread crumb, and milk base, but adding chili powder to one, onions and parsley to another, caraway seed to a third, etc. When I sampled them, I tried them plain, topped with sweet chili sauce, salsa, or ketchup. (I’d have tried them with gravy, too, had I had anything to make it with.)
I have to admit that the taste testing was more than one person should have to endure, even though they were all generally quite good. I was just plenty tired of beans by the time I had sampled and compared. My favorite was the onion and parsley combo, although next time I think I’ll chop the onion coarsely rather than processing it quite so fine, and I might throw in some chopped celery, too.
Little White Lab Rat boiled the beans expecting to have a recipe to laugh at, but ends up admitting that bean loaf (but a variation of the recipe in the 1918 Relief Society Magazine) is something I’ll prepare again. I’d serve it as a side dish in the same menus where I might otherwise serve rice or potatoes. It’s also hearty enough to be the main dish itself, with a couple of vegetables as sides. It would be hard to find a more thrifty main course. And by using various kinds of beans rather than peanuts, it’s practically fat free.