Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kinda Historic Recipe: Soybean Hamburger Casserole (or...How to Make Your Nine-Year-Old Leave the Room Crying...)

Actually, I really wanted to use the following title for the post (but Blogger said it was too long):

Kinda Historic Recipe: Soybean Hamburger Casserole (or...How to Make Your Nine-Year-Old Leave the Room Crying and End Up Having a One-Hour Discussion About Expanding Personal Freedoms and Responsibilities)

Friends, we all have things that we started a little too late in life to really master. For me, I learned the basics of crocheting in my early 20's and then pretty much abandoned the craft until my mid-30's. As a result, my crocheting skills are limited to simple flat pieces and an occasional three-dimensional piece that uses only the most basic increasing and decreasing strategies. Need a potholder? I'm your gal. A basic ball? Bingo. Life-size Einstein doll with chemistry set? No, most definitely no (although, how awesome would that be?).

For Sissy, it's the eating of beans.

I blame myself, really. For whatever reason I didn't start my "we need to eat more beans" kick until Sissy was nearly six years old. Always the less adventuresome eater of the two girls, she did not do well with the introduction of legumes into her diet. Diligently she would pluck each individual black bean from her quesadilla and extract the chickpeas from her pasta dish. Due to our one-bite rule and repeated exposure we have now, after three solid years of frequent bean-based meals, gotten to the point where she will politely comply with beans mixed in with most Mexican fare and happily gobble up all the hummus in the house. Anything beyond this, however, is asking for trouble.

And asking for trouble is exactly what I did with Soybean Hamburger Casserole.

A bit of history first. Soybeans where touted as the preferred non-rationed meat replacement in the U.S. during WWII rationing. Soybeans were plentiful, cheap and provided a near-identical protein profile as meat. When rationing began soybean recipes became prominently featured in recipe books, ladies magazines and government publications. Usually, soybeans were used to extend the modest amount of meat used in a casserole or loaf recipe. Many baking recipes were adapted to include varying amounts of soy flour. Occasionally, soybeans were featured in a completely vegetarian main dish.

To experience a bit of this patriotic legume I chose a basic casserole recipe: Soybean Hamburger Casserole. A little meat, a little soybeans, a little cheese: should be a crowd-pleaser. Granted, this recipe is from the More-With-Less Cookbook, not a 1940's publication, but it so closely mimics the 1940's recipes I've seen that it's rationing-friendly at heart. By the way, if your are not familiar with this cookbook I highly recommend you check it out. It is a cookbook that will change your life. Seriously.

Anyhoo, here's my modest adaptation of the very basic recipe (found on page 110):

Saute in a large skillet:
2 TB cooking oil
1/2 cup onion
1.2 cup celery
1/4 cup green pepper (I used frozen since it's not in season)
1/2 lb ground hamburger

When meat is brown ad:
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
2 1/2 cups cooked soybeans (I couldn't find canned soybeans and the only place I could find dried soybeans was at the local natural food co-op)
1 1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 cup beef broth
2 cups brown rice

Simmer a few minutes and then place contents into a 9" x 13" baking dish. Cooked uncovered in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Top with:
3/4 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese

Return dish to the oven just long enough to melt the cheese.

With a side of pan-seared cabbage here is how dinner looked:

I will confess that this dish has all the worst possible traits of a casserole: dull color, squishy texture, amorphous composition (there is NO way you can make out what is what in this thing). That being said, it was actually really tasty.

Of course, Sissy had to be convinced of that fact.

TMOTH and I happily gobbled up our servings, and Eowyn (who is a bean-lovers kinda girl) did pretty well with her portion, although the significantly firmer texture of the soybeans threw her off (think boiled peanut, rather than soft black bean).

Sissy poked and prodded her helping of Soybean Hamburger Casserole. She picked at and reorganized the mass. Her eyebrows did that scrunchy thing they do when you ask her to do something painful. She stalled. And stalled. All we asked for was one bite.

Eventually she took that bite and quickly followed it up with a giant swig of milk. But the casserole didn't go down. After a slightly panicked looked crossed her face she managed to swallow the bite. And then she refused to take another.

The rest of dinner was not so pleasant, as Sissy fumed and pouted about the (in her opinion) less-than-acceptable meal placed before her. We calmly explained that dinner was what it was, and it was neither disgusting nor painful and that eating it was her choice. She left the table in tears and headed up to her room.

Over the next hour TMOTH and I tag-teamed parental conversations with Sissy (who had, by this time, buried herself in blankets, eyes swollen red with tears). She expressed her opinion that we are not respectful of the fact that different people have different tastes. We explained that we understood that dinner was not to her liking, but that we did provided a dinner (which we do every night) that was not only nutritious but not inherently revolting. And we pointed out that many children in our own town don't even get that every night. The casserole, despite not being her favorite meal of the week, was something to be grateful about.

I so felt like I was about to channel the late-40's mantra of "There are starving children in China..."

But the conversation morphed and turned and she also talked about how she wants to be able to do more independent things like walk the dog around the block without supervision and other life matters which are critically important to a nine year old girl.

Readers, it's hard to be a nine year old girl. It's even harder when you're rationing.

So after amends were made and Sissy had a stomach full of cottage cheese as a dinner alternative, we settled down and managed to enjoy the rest of the evening.

And in acknowledgment of how hard it is to be a nine year old girl, I promise that next week's beans will be soft and black and encased in a gooey layer of cheese between two tortillas.

I promise.

--Rational Mama


  1. Poor girl! Glad you all survived.

  2. Aw, I completely understand. I have an about to turn 8 year old who you would not even get a bite into (he has sensory issues, possibly aspergers). He would literally starve before eating something he did not want to eat (and there is a LOT he will not eat!). I commend you for your efforts :)

  3. I'm with Sissy on this: beans are the devil's work. I can just about cope with them well disguised, but the worse thing in the world for me is baked beans in tomato sauce. It's like eating cotton swabs in ketchup.

  4. I adore how you resolved the situation so sensitively and patiently!

    We love beans here, but I'll admit soybeans are very low down on our list!

    btw - I have that same cookbook!! :)

  5. Funny how sometimes those moments of extreme upset can reveal so much.

    Good for Sissy that she at least took the required bite. That is more than some other 9 year olds I know.

  6. Jamie - your comment (as usual) made me giggle. I shared it with Sissy, thinking she would immediately identify with the "cotton swabs in ketchup" description. From her reaction it seems she thinks your attempt at metaphorical bean horror didn't go far enough. What am I going to do with this girl?!?