1. The contest asks for our best dirt cheap recipes, yet Amanda and Merrill and the Small Kitchen ladies have been, I am sure some will agree, maddeningly obscure as to precisely what they mean by "dirt" and "cheap".
2. Sarah Shatz's typically perfect photo, on the other hand, adds up to exactly 78 cents. Now that's something I can work with.
3. I love beans. They are almost the perfect food. I stockpile them both canned and dry, in colors black, white, red, and anything others that look interesting (and since the Bulk Bin project, many more look interesting). And I love garbanzo beans especially. On a salad, smashed into a hummus, in a soup.
4. With 78 cents to work with, I looked around the kitchen to see what I had to work with. The results turned out to be perfect for a rainy spring evening.
Let's stipulate some things first. Homemade vegetable or chicken stock are free, okay? So are salt and pepper. And the electricity or gas to cook with, the water to wash up afterwards, and the lights - consider them overhead costs - so you're not cooking by candlelight. Besides, candles aren't cheap.
Heat a small soup pot. Add enough olive oil to sauté half an onion fine diced (you'll use the whole half, but only eat half the soup: 12.4¢). Add a touch of salt and sauté until onions (1/2 of 1/2 half onion = 6.2¢) are softened. Open the can of garbanzo beans (you'll use the whole can, but only eat half the soup, so 1/2 can out of a 6-pack = 35.75¢) and add them, liquid and all. Add about a cup of vegetable or chicken stock (free!). Shave off a piece of orange zest a good inch wide (as good as free because when you eat the orange for dessert, which it must be noted is technically NOT dinner, you'll peel it and either compost the peels or not feed them to the rabbits). Carve it into a fan with your sharpest knife, keeping it attached at one end. Drop it into the soup. Bring to a nice, gentle simmer. Let simmer for 15 minutes or so to concentrate some flavors. Trim the stems off your spinach leaves (about an ounce, 22.6¢). Compost them or feed them to the rabbits.
When it tastes about right, drop in spinach leaves. As soon as they wilt, season soup to taste with sea or kosher salt and pepper (free). Pull out the orange peel. Fill a bowl. Shave some lovely Parmesan over the soup. Step over to the chive or Italian parsley plant growing in the window and cut some to snip over your soup (free!). Total cost: 54.3¢, which gives you an allowance of 23.7¢ to cover the cost of your olive oil and Parmesan cheese.