"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ten Dollar Food Challenge

NPR recently did a series in which they asked chefs to create a family meal for four for under $10 total. There were a number of interesting creations, and the series is well worth listening to: even more enlightening is reading the submissions from readers at the web site. There are literally hundreds of recipes. Some, of course, are either facetious (boxed mac'n'cheese) or just plain terrible, but there were a very large number of delicious sounding ideas.

It occurrede to me that as a budget-concious housewife, many of the meals that are part of my weekly rotation are probably cheap enough to qualify. I did a little bit of quick in-my-head estimating, and came up with several. Of course, most of thrift is foresightedness: do you have frozen homemade chicken stock in your freezer? I do. Leftover cooked white rice or plain pasta? Yup. Cooking in bulk - when appropriate - is a great way to save money as well as time.

Here are a couple of my favorite cheap recipes:

Mexican Risotto

Risotto always feels luxurious, but it is actually cheaper than dirt to make, unless you are using fresh morels or something like that (oh ho! But I trade for my morels!).

1.5 c arborio rice
1 big yellow onion
2 fresh pobalno peppers
a little bit of white wine, if you have an open bottle
olive oil
cumin seed
chicken stock

chop and sautee the onion and poblano peppers with the garlic and cumin seed. Add rice, stir with a wooden spoon to coat. When rice grains begin to turn transluscent, add wine (if using) or a little bit of hot stock. Keep adding stock in 1/2 cup increments, stirring frquently, until rice is creamy and just barely al dente. Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Serve with heated corn tortillas and a little bit of crumbled queso gfresco on top. If you wanted to be fancier and more authentic, roast and peel the peppers, slice into strips (rajas) and add them at the end.

Summer Tabouli

this is cheapest in the summer, of course. It might not come in under ten dollars if you don't have a vegetable garden, but it would still be cheap.

1.5 cup fine bulgar
olive oil
lemon juice (1 large or 2 small lemons)
green onions
(the more herbs the better)
1 cucumber
1 or 2 tomatoes
(note: really, you can use whatever herbs and vegetables you have. Got a beet? grate it fine. Ditto a carrot. No green onions? Okay, use a finely chopped white or red one. The only must haves are parsley and mint.)
some kind of cheese - feta is best
some kind of olives - kalamatas are my favorite
1 can garbanzo beans

In a very large bowl, pour boiling water over the bulgar. Let sit while you finely chop all your vegetables and herbs. If this takes you twenty minutes, your bulgar will be soft and ready. To the bulgar, add at least two tablespoons of olive oil and the lemon juice. Then the drained and rinsed can of garbanzos. Then the olives. Make sure the tabouli is cool before adding the crumbled cheese and the herbs and veggies. Taste before salting: cheese and olives are salty. Add fresh ground pepper to taste. Other good things to add: chopped pepperocinis or jalapenos; basil; capers; baby spinach

Oh and here's an easy recipe: use the same salad ingrediants but use toasted bread cubes as the base starch: presto, bread salad. Good way to use up your old stale bread. For bread salad I like to use a lot of tomato and maybe some anchovies.

Quick and Dirty Chilaquiles

corn tortillas are one of the best, cheapest staples around. A giant bag of fifty costs about three bucks. Just make sure they are fresh. But here's what to do with them when they get stale.

On a cookie sheet, place twelve to twenty corn tortillas -separated- and bake until dry and not very flexible. Turning them once helps. Then break them into pieces and place them in a large baking dish, like a lasagna pan. Set aside.

Drain and rinse a can of black beans. scatter them over the tortillas.
also scatter one chopped yellow onion.

In a blender, blend 1 large can of tomatoes with a small can of pickled jalapenos. Or a half a can.

Pour this sauce over the tortillas and let soak in for about ten minutes. Top with sliced mozzerella or jack cheese and bake until cheese is bubbly. Yum.

I could easily come up with another three or four super cheap recipes - even before I get to soup!

How about you all? What do you feed your families when the cupboard is bare?


AnyEdge said...

1 Can Garbanzo beans.

1 tsp curry powder.

8 oz stock.

1 tbsp tomato paste.

Salt, pepper to taste.

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (or use dried chilis).

Mix in pan, reduce to a thick sauce.

Serve over white rice.

Total: about $3

AnyEdge said...

For another dollar (from the grocery store) chop in a potato and a large carrot or two.

Double the stock. Serves 4 nicely.

Penelope said...

sauté one chopped onion and a few chopped carrots and a few cloves of chopped garlic in some olive oil, after a couple minutes add red lentils (cup and a 1/2? I don't measure) in one more minute add a few cups of water salt to taste and lots of pepper. Boil for about 45 min adding water as necessary. When done add juice of one full lemon, depending on your chosen consistency spoon over rice or serve as soup. Can feed as many or as few as you like without much change in cost. About $2-$3

Penelope said...

ps kale makes a nice addition, it's free if you grow it :-)

penelope said...

for those of you that don't know Any Edge's real name is beanzo, or dr beanzo these days, dubbed that as a child for his love of garbonzo beans, not surprising at all that he chose a dish with basically nothing but garbonzo beans in it. :-)

AnyEdge said...

Penelope is a dirty liar.

Aimee said...

My kids know him as Uncle Beanzo.