On the Cheap

The $1.89 Lunch Our Editor-in-Chief Swears By

May  7, 2018

I’m not one to go on about the power of The Universe, but certain things are clearly meant to be. Like meeting your best friend, or your true love—or a humble yet oddly compelling little sandwich. (Just me?)

I can’t with total confidence tell you how this sandwich came into my life (that Universe thing again). But I do remember a recipe mysteriously appearing on my desk at work a few years back: a single torn-out page from The Oz Family Kitchen cookbook, about a curried chickpea spread. Deeply acquainted with the Oz oeuvre I am not, but I’ve never met a chickpea I didn’t like. And so I thought, “I should probably try that sometime.”

A few weeks later, I did—and then again, and again, until I’d made it maybe a hundred times. Fast forward nearly three years, and I’m still making that sandwich.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

The reason is simple: I can’t get over how good it tastes, considering how easy it is to make. The way it comes together reminds me of what I like most about tuna fish or egg salad sandwiches: basic ingredients yielding a totally satisfying—and endlessly riffable—result. You combine chickpeas with tangy red wine vinegar and creamy mayo. Add celery’s crunch and a little zing from shallot, along with some earthy-sweet curry powder and turmeric, plus parsley for brightness, and boom: You’ve hit the savory-tasty-filling trifecta.

Shop the Story

I didn’t start off making this sandwich because it was cheap, but along the way I realized how very cheap it is. Which I thought was pretty great—because life is expensive, and by life, I mean lunch. A pound of deli turkey can set me back $19.99 at the unapologetically bougie market in my neighborhood, and $10 equals an only-okay salad near my office. At least a couple of days a week, this sandwich makes for a better, thriftier option all the way around.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“for a bunch of celery and $4.99 for a bottle of red wine vinegar? Ye gads! Surely, SOME ONE in town offers cheaper prices. My heart goes out to you.”
— Sharon

Here’s how the math works out on that $1.89 (numbers are based on my most recent grocery run, but they’ll obviously vary by store). There are some startup costs in the form of spices and such, which could be something to consider if you’re only planning to make this once...but you probably won’t only make this once.

$2.58 worth of canned chickpeas (2 cans @ $1.29 each)
20 cents’ worth of celery (1 bunch @ $2.99)
20 cents’ worth of shallot (a single wee one)
$1 worth of mayo ($4.99 for a 15 ounce jar)
15 cents’ worth of red wine vinegar ($5 per bottle)
30 cents’ worth of curry powder ($3.99 per jar)
30 cents’ worth of turmeric ($3.99 per jar)
50 cents’ worth of parsley (99 cents for a small bunch)
$2.32 worth of sliced fancy bread (a shocking $6.99 per loaf at my neighborhood market—but that’s a whole other story)

Total for four servings: $7.55...making the total cost per serving a pretty surprising and gratifying $1.89.

The recipe calls for greens and tomato, but I'm just as likely to sprinkle on some salt and pepper and call it a day. More advanced types might zhush things up with grated carrot, pickled jalapenos, olives, and/or pepperoncini. The book suggests serving it in a pita, but I also like it open-faced on toast, with crackers, or plunked atop mixed greens. The chickpea spread keeps in the fridge for up to three days, so you have a few chances to experiment. My husband has gotten into it, too—we now bring matching sandwiches to work pretty regularly. (Aren’t we romantic?)

Last Sunday, I was (theoretically) gearing up to go to the grocery store but (really) dawdling around on Instagram, and our conversation meandered into “What should we have for dinner this week?”-territory. You know how it goes: Chicken sausage or chicken thighs? Tomatoey pasta or lemony pasta? Who has time to cook, and who’s working late? Should we just go out to eat instead?

When it came to lunch, at least, I didn’t even have to ask.

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Anne Cook
    Anne Cook
  • judy
  • Nessaleah
  • Loretta Borko
    Loretta Borko
  • Jade DaRu
    Jade DaRu
SVP Brand, Food52


Anne C. November 25, 2018
Based on prices in Lowell, Ma., it's even cheaper than what I'm guessing are NYC grocery prices. Here it's .75 for a 15 oz can of chickpeas, $3.19 for a 15 oz jar of Hellman's mayo, $2.49 for store bakery bread...
Anne C. November 25, 2018
I am a total chickpea fan. Even chickpea flour used in Indian cooking. I can't wait to try this one!
judy August 5, 2018
Thanks for this recipe but since I purchased an Instant Pot pressure cooker I don't use canned beans anymore. Cooking beans or legumes whether soaked (preferred) or not I'd much more nutritious and cheaper than buying canned.
Nessaleah August 5, 2018
I didnt see the nutrition info. Can you tell me how many grams of carbs per serving? I’m a diabetic:-)
Loretta B. June 28, 2018
Not a fan of mayo... any suggestions for a substitute? Otherwise, sounds great!
Michelle August 28, 2018
I used half mayo, half greek yogurt and it's delicious - I might do all greek yogurt next time!
Renee May 1, 2019
I loathe mayo, and I just made this with a mix of hummus and Trader Joe's garlic spread.
Jade D. May 22, 2018
I am having this today for lunch and it is super good. Today, I followed the recipe to a T but I see room for experimentation. Thank you for this awesome recipe. It was just what I needed today.
Author Comment
Suzanne D. May 22, 2018
You're welcome! So glad you liked it.
Meghan L. May 15, 2018
So - where is the actual recipe? Or is it a "feel it" kind of thing?
Joanna S. May 15, 2018
Here's the recipe! https://food52.com/recipes/76763-curried-chickpea-sandwich
SueEllen R. May 14, 2018
Let's not forget the treat much loved by children of the old hippies of my generation: mash the required amount of cooked or canned, well-drained garbanzo beans to the degree of smoothness desired. Add some tahini, almond, cashew, or other nut butter, just enough to make a spreadable paste. Add a bit of sweeteness -- honey, molasses, maple syrup, sorghum or brown sugar, and a touch of complementary spice or flavour -- think cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, or finely grated orange zest. A few tablespoons of chopped nuts can be added for textural interest if you like.
This simple combination is easy to put together, fairly nutritious, and easily customizable to your family's preferences, as well as the contents of your pantry. It is quite delightful when made into sandwiches, slathered on toast, or spread heavily on a thick slice of home-baked whole wheat bread and run under the broiler until bubbly, browned and delicious!
Author Comment
Suzanne D. May 17, 2018
As the child of two hippies, I'm sad to report that I've never gotten to sample the treat you describe—but I'm totally intrigued and ready to try it. Thank you!
Sharon June 28, 2018
Sue Ellen, this is a new one. As a third generation San Franciscan and a bonafide member of the hippie baby boomers, I've never heard of, or tasted this. I'm with you with the tahini, cashew or almond butters, but the addition of those "cinnamon bun" spices and orange zest is where it drops off the map. No, WAIT! We DID have a roommate back then who used to whip up concoctions like this when it was her turn to make dinner. If I remember correctly, we relieved her of her dinner duties! :)
Sharon May 13, 2018
I love garbanzo beans any way I can use them. Ina Garten's Mediterranean Vegetable Salad is a great one, also, and my hands down favorite. It complements just about anything on a plate. But, what I want to know is where on earth do you shop? Those prices you quote are through the roof! $2.99 for a bunch of celery and $4.99 for a bottle of red wine vinegar? Ye gads! Surely, SOME ONE in town offers cheaper prices. My heart goes out to you.
Author Comment
Suzanne D. May 14, 2018
Haha—those are indeed the prices at the market that's closest to my apartment. Sometimes I make the effort to shop at a cheaper place, but convenience wins out at least some of the time! Anyway, hope you enjoy the dish if you end up making it.
The P. May 13, 2018
I never met a chickpea I didn't like (except the ones from Aldi as they're the consistency of pea gravel).

Definitely a pita-stuffer. Definitely going to try this.
Author Comment
Suzanne D. May 14, 2018
Would love to know what you think once you do.
Adrienne May 13, 2018
This is on my list of this week! I'd love to see more simple and thrifty lunch options featured!
Author Comment
Suzanne D. May 14, 2018
Happy to hear. And we'll keep 'em coming!
Ttrockwood May 8, 2018
Oooh! I’m totally making this!
I actually make a similar chickpea salad- semi mash a can of chickpeas, add 1/4c roasted sunflower seeds, some dijon, a little celery and onion, and some tahini. I put a big scoop ontop of salad greens or i use slices of cucumber and bell pepper to scoop it up. So delicious and i’m full for hours from the great protein/fiber/fat combo
Author Comment
Suzanne D. May 9, 2018
That's an interesting combo too! And yes, I love how filling this kind of sandwich is.
Eric K. May 8, 2018
It is a very delicious ’wich and my wallet thanks you.
Author Comment
Suzanne D. May 8, 2018
Joanna S. May 7, 2018
this is less than a fancy cup of coffee!!
Author Comment
Suzanne D. May 8, 2018
SO much less than a fancy cup of coffee!
Hana A. May 7, 2018
The secret is OUT! So excited to make my lunch like Suzanne this week. ;) Thanks for sharing!
Author Comment
Suzanne D. May 8, 2018
Thanks, Hana!
Kim G. June 28, 2018
Thank you so much, I just prepared this and I LOVE IT!!!!