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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Saving money on groceries: Meet "neat" balls

Good morning! I hope you had a wonderful weekend (with a holiday bonus, for those in the USA). I've been catching up on various tasks that were awaiting me when we returned from our trip to the sunshine.

Our weather has been a mixed bag, here. But that's typical of Seattle spring (okay, so it's still winter, but I can dream, can't I?). Sunshine on Friday, rain on Saturday, with hail in the evening, then just clouds on Sunday and Monday.

Late Saturday afternoon, very dark clouds rolled in. Looking out into the woods behind our house, I felt like I was living in a fairy tale. Not a fairy-tale life (too much grit in my own life for that), but something out of Little Red Riding Hood. I half-expected to see the Big Bad Wolf in the shadows of our uber-tall evergreens!

But all this gray was whisked from my mind, Sunday night, when a very sweet young woman friend of my son's, gifted me with these! She just knew I would be needing a spot of color in the house! Lovely, thoughtful girl.

On another floral note, the branch cuttings from the red-flowering currant that I took on Friday are very close to showing color. I'll post a pic when the blossoms open.

But, I'm way off topic for the moment. What I wanted to share with you, today, is one of the ways we save money on our grocery bill. We eat several vegetarian dinners per week, specifically, we eat beans. I buy them dry, in large sacks, spending somewhere around 75 cents to $1 per pound, dried. When reconstituted with water, this per pound price drops to about 40 cents, or so, per pound. Not bad for good quality protein!

So, beans are cheap thrifty (trying to banish that "cheap" word from my vocabulary). They're also a good protein source. They're high in fiber and low in fat. And beans are great for a cholesterol-reducing diet. Beans are an all-around healthy food that are light on your wallet, too!

I like to mix things up a bit with my bean preparation. After all, beans could get monotonous, if we only ate them in a few ways.

Here's one variation on the theme of beans -- "Neat" balls.

Meet "neat" balls.

"neat" balls on homemade wheat roll, topped with marinara and cheese

"Neat" balls are a vegetarian alternative to meatballs. They are bean and grain based, held together with egg.

A batch of about 35 "neat"balls (8 or more servings), costs about 65-85 cents, a fraction of the meat alternative.

In these photos, I've used black beans, as that's what I currently have in the pantry. But I've also used pinto beans, garbanzo beans and small white beans. I mash mine with a potato masher, but they can be run through a food processor, for a more uniform look (great for disguising the bean-iness from the finicky eaters in your household). You can make them with canned beans or cook your beans from dried.

Here's what I use and how I make them:

about 4-5 cups drained, cooked beans
2 large slices bread (I use whole wheat sandwich bread, but any bread product will do fine)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt or 1 teaspoon beef soup base
4-6 small (or 2-3 large) cloves garlic
1/2 to 3/4 cup minced onion
dash red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup rehydrated bulger wheat (optional, but it gives a nice chew to the balls)

  • Beat the egg in a large bowl. Tear the bread into pieces, and allow to soak in the egg. Mash or puree the beans into the egg/bread. Stir in remaining ingredients. Allow to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge, to firm up the mixture.
  • Butter a large baking sheet. Form the bean mixture into walnut-sized balls and place on the baking sheet. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees F (176 C), for 20-25 minutes, or until firm when pressed lightly.

before baking

These can be used right away, or frozen, as is (no sauce), to be used later.

Some variations on the "neat" balls themselves
  • for Italian neat balls, add oregano, basil, parsley
  • for teriyaki neat balls, add ginger and chives

after baking -- lightly browned and firm to touch, and ready to sauce up

"Neat" balls will fall apart if left to simmer in a sauce for a length of time. So, ladle the sauce over just before serving.

Saucing up "neat" balls

  • We eat these Italian-style with a marinara sauce poured over, and served atop pasta, or,
  • in marinara sauce, on buns, then topped with mozzarella cheese, and toasted under the broiler until bubbly, for "neat" ball sandwiches.
  • "Neat" balls, served in a mushroom gravy is a delicious comfort food when served with noodles.
  • If made teriyaki-style, I serve on a bed of rice and pour a thickened teriyaki glaze, with green pepper and pineapple, over all.

The texture of "neat" balls is not much like meat. As well, they tend to be drier. So whichever way I serve "neat" balls, I allow for a lot of extra sauce.

Mixing things up a bit with the beans.


  1. These sound interesting and the I think anyone would be happy with them especially when you add sauce and cheese. Maybe we'll have them on our legume Friday this week, if I get the other food used up from the fridge before it goes bad.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I hope you enjoy them. Adding the sauce and cheese really helps with the members of our family who would rather have meat every night of the week. For me, I actually "snack" on them plain (and my kids like to do the same), while making the rest of the dinner.

  2. I shall definitely try these. I doubt my anti-bean-son will even attempt them. I can only get beans into him thanks to my blender - blended beans (colour relevent) go in mac and cheese, chili, shepherd' pie, creamy soups, mashed potatoes ..... makes things go further as well as being Good For You. Sometimes I tell him, sometimes I don't.......

    1. Hi Jessica,
      Too funny, your last line, "sometimes I tell him, sometimes I don't". Oh, I have to admit, I do the same, with my most finicky eater. Sometimes it's best to just leave out the *ahem* "details".

      I really like the idea of adding blended beans to potato dishes. That would be a great way to add some protein to a less-meat meal. I can just imagine a mostly vegetarian Shepherd's Pie with a bean-potato topping. I'm going to give that a try this next week! thanks for the ideas.

  3. Lili-you and I were both thinking vegetarian and using beans!!I bet these are very tasty-one of my daughters is vegetarian ,she would love this recipe too!

    Thank you for stopping by, I enjoy hearing from you!!

    1. Hi Jemma,
      I smiled to myself when I read your post this morning and saw that you had given us a recipe using black beans, as well! I'm looking forward to trying the stuffed peppers. They looked scrumptious!

  4. These look great, and very easy to make gluten free :) I'm looking for ways to reduce my food costs while still making real food, so I think these will go on the menu in the next couple of weeks :)

    1. Hi Economies,
      I thought about gluten-free with these, as well. Just sub some sort of gluten-free bread product, g-free flour and then grain like brown rice. And they can keep in the fridge or freezer for a bit, for quick meals.

  5. These look good! Another way for me to use up my dried beans!

    1. Hi Pamela,
      Hope you enjoy them! And yes, they'll put a small dent in your stock of dried beans, I'm sure (it's amazing how long a bag of dried beans can last in the pantry!).

  6. It's funny that I have made bean or lentil "burgers" but never bean or lentil "meatballs." Great idea!

    1. Hi anexacting,
      I hope that you find them as delicious as we do!


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