Since I started writing The Fountain Avenue Kitchen newspaper column and blog, I have had the privilege of meeting some truly fascinating people. I’m not referring to big name chefs or foodies either. I am talking about real people, just like you and me, who have some very interesting stories to tell.
All of the stories are not food related, although this one is. A couple of months ago, I read an article in our local newspaper about Phil and Laura Lapp. After the couple’s two daughters declared they would no longer eat meat, Laura began searching for ways to incorporate protein into their diets. After beans and other high protein options were not well received–even when hidden!–Laura began to experiment in her kitchen.
Coincidently, a few weeks after I read this article, I was introduced to Phil and Laura while in at a food expo Baltimore. A mutual acquaintance made the connection of our shared hometown. As Phil said, they never set out to start a food company. They were just trying to solve their family’s problem. But Laura’s kitchen experiments ultimately led to an all-natural, nut-based replacement for ground beef that her family loved. The taste was great and the consistency was spot on for favorite dishes like tacos and spaghetti sauce, burgers and chili.
When I prepared “neat” the first time for my meat-loving husband and two sons, I was rather skeptical. Would a meat replacement have any chance of satisfying them? My 15-year-old’s quick remark after his first bite was not what I expected. He said he could be a vegetarian if he got to eat this all the time! While I told him this was not necessary–and he knew this wasn’t my aim–this was a very strong testament to the product Laura had created. I realized that this product could fill a big void for vegetarians and well as those who are cutting their intake of red meat for various health issues.
The ingredients in the original mix (there is also an Italian and Mexican option) are PECANS, GARBANZO BEANS, GLUTEN FREE WHOLE GRAIN OATS, ORGANIC WHOLE GRAIN GLUTEN FREE CORNMEAL, SEA SALT, SPICES. That’s it! Just healthy, whole ingredients that are minimally processed; and neat is packaged right in our hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. To the mix, one simply adds two eggs (or egg replacer for a vegan option) and sautés just like regular ground beef.
Though my family did not have the same needs that the Lapps had–Phil also had elevated cholesterol that has dropped significantly since substituting neat for red meat–I have returned to the product on several occasions because it is a convenient, affordable pantry ingredient. When I recently forgot to take a pound of ground beef out of the freezer, I used neat instead….and everyone was more than happy with the substitution.
- 1 package neat (I use Original)
- 2 eggs (may use an egg substitute)
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) shredded Parmesan cheese (may substitute other shredded cheese of choice)
- For serving: marinara sauce or salsa for dipping; or pasta and preferred sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Combine all of the ingredients except the sauce in a large bowl. Mix well. Form into 12 balls and place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. (I find it very easy to shape the "neatballs" when my hands are wet. The mixture will not stick to your fingers this way.)
- Bake for 14-16 minutes. Serve immediately with desired dipping sauce or pasta.