Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Catherine Lamb shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.
Today: How to make a filling, dare we say exciting meal that will only put you back five dollars.
Five dollars: the amount of money you impulse-spent on an underwhelming lavender latté; the amount of money you probably paid in shipping and handling for your last online shopping endeavor; the amount of money you spent on two subway rides or parking downtown.
And also, the amount of money that, when paired with a little strategy and some discerning recipe selection, is all you need to cook a wholesome, guest-worthy meal.
Today, let's tighten the purse strings and explore meals that, if you don't already have all of the ingredients already, will cost you five bucks and the gas to the grocery store.
A few tips for sticking to your purchasing limit:
- Make the most of pantry staples, especially canned ones. When you're in need of cheap protein, canned beans and fish are waiting in the wings to do some heavy lifting.
- Carbs are a budget chef's friend. This is not the time to shy away from rice and noodles. You might not want to throw a tablespoon of butter on spaghetti and call it a night, but remember that carbohydrates are cheap and versatile building blocks for your weeknight meals. Let's embrace them together.
- Turn to un-trendy vegetables that stretch well—no microgreens or leeks, which, while wonderful, will eat up your budget before you can say "locally grown." Stick with brawny, humble vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, and sweet potatoes. When in doubt, go for the brassicas.
- Avoid expensive meat, nuts, and cheese. You can even call it a vegan night and leave it at that.
- But if you're not going vegan, choose eggs for victory. Every time.
If you need a jumping-off point, here are a few tried and true recipes for any occasion:
For a casual date night in (you might want to spend the extra change on napkins): James Beard's Braised Onion Pasta
When you're cleaning out your pantry and you start to get hungry: Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
For when you want something a little more elegant than scrambled eggs for dinner: Andrew Feinberg's Slow-Baked Broccoli Frittata (feel free to omit the Parmesan)
For when you actually plan ahead for tonight's dinner (any beans will do): Stewed Cranberry Beans with Kale
For when you only have a head of cabbage and cannot stomach the thought of a salad: Marcella Hazan's Smothered Cabbage
More: This umami-rich pasta dish is a good option, too.
For when you want takeout but your budget will not abide: Fan Qie Chao Dan (Tomato and Eggs Over Rice)
For the quickest, easiest dessert that's still cheaper than a bar of chocolate: The Kitchn's One-Ingredient Ice Cream
You think making a meal out of five dollars is tough? Try spending only $1.50 a day—visit Live Below the Line to learn more about their campaign to end world poverty.