If you roast up a whole chicken the up front investment may be big but it can provide the basis for several meals and a whole chicken costs under $10. Leftovers can make chilils, soups, quesadillas, chicken salad, sandwiches, pastas, casseroles etc.
Marcella Hazan's Lemon Chicken recipie is a good one. Wash and dry a whole chicken. Season inside and out with salt/pepper. Take two lemons. Roll on counter to soften them up. Poke a dozen holes in each with a skewer. Put inside the chicken. Loosely tie close (I use the skewer to close it up.) Put chicken in roasting pan breast side down. Roast at 350 for 30 min. Turn chicken over. Roast for 30 min. Turn oven up to 400 (don't need to turn it over). Roast for around 20 minutes until done (internal temp 165. juices run clear.) Total cooking time around 20 minutes per pound, so adjust accordingly.
The lemons keep the inside juicy, which makes it resistant to over-cooking. Excellent as leftovers.
The great thing about roasting a chicken is the versatility of the leftovers. I'll take the leftovers and make korma or saag and eat it over pasta. I also throw it in with kidney beans and taco seasoning for a burrito. Also, don't count out hearty bean soups even though it is summer. Also, don't be afraid to barter. I once had a friend with a HUGE veggie garden but she never had time to cook. We worked out a deal where she would supply the veggies, I would make ratatouille, pesto or pasta sauce and give her half back.
-Anything that is bean-based is usually pretty inexpensive. Summer is not really the best time to get a hankering for chili, but that is pretty cheap.
-Maybe some sort of Latin-American meal that features beans & rice with some fresh veggies, maybe a small amount of inexpensive cut of meat.
-Pasta & sauce are always cheap as well - esp if you make your own tomato sauce with homegrown or even a big can of tomatoes
I've never been a huge salmon fan, but I've been giving it another chance lately (generally, I've been grilling it with indirect heat on a cedar plank).
One thing that I've noticed about it is that it's pretty economical. You could get a huge slab (or whatever it's called) for about $8-10 and eat on it for at least 2 days if you don't mind leftovers. A starch and some veggies to go along with it shouldn't cost much either.
obviously any pasta dish - spaghetti with tomato sauce which you can make yourself with onions, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic and herbs.
pasta tuna bake - something short like ziti or bows, make a white sauce add a can or 2 of tuna (cheap if you can find 2 for the price of 1) maybe a can of corn or peas, mix together and bake (add some cheese to the top) until crispy. you can do the same thing with cooked chicken.
cheap cuts of meat or chicken, lots of root veg, some stock and cook slowly in the oven. serve with mashed potatoes. Braised oxtails?
baked potatoes with tuna salad or cottage cheese mixed with celery.
soups - homemade, add beans and very small pasta or barley - gets thicker and is very filling, use root vegs.
Down here, salmon is usually $6 to $8 a pound on sale. Too expensive to be considered inexpensive, but then, I'm cheap. I mean, frugal. I still buy it, but it's not a choice when I'm pinching pennies, especially since I can eat half a pound of salmon by myself and still be hungry for more!
I second the recommendation for beans. I buy dried and canned -- the canned make it easy to whip up a spicy quick chili (which is a summer dish down here) in a half hour or so, while the dried are nice to have on hand for more complicated and time-consuming dishes.
Here's a favorite of mine, and very inexpensive this time of year (especially if you use other peppers in place of the red and yellow ones), paraphrased from the cookbook American Brasserie. (And it's forgiving -- you can mix and match similar veggies.)
Roasted Vegetable-White Bean Chili
1/4 c. garlic oil OR olive oil with 3 minced garlic cloves
1 med. onion, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 med. carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 yellow bell peppers, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 yellow squash, diced,
2 zucchini, diced
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. chili powder
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 c. cooked white beans OR 1 19oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
Preheat oven to 425'. In a large, oven-safe pot (I like to use my dutch oven), heat the oil over medium-high heat, then add everything except the tomatoes, cumin, cayenne, and beans, and cook just until softened (about three minutes).
Put the pot in the oven and roast for 25 minutes, until veggies are tender. Stir after 15 minutes. Put the pot back on the stove over low heat, add the rest of the ingredients, and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
The recipe calls for finishing it with two tablespoons butter, then assembling in heat-proof bowls, sprinkling with cheeses (parmesan and cheddar) as you would french onion soup, and broiling, but I've never tried that; I just serve with the traditional chili fixin's on the side.
And I always use two to three times the suggested amount of chili powder (we like Penzey's hot chili powder). It makes a huge amount, easily enough for several meals and to freeze. And you can stretch it by adding a pound of browned ground pork, chicken, or turkey during the simmer stage.
Another cheap-but-good dish, and embarrassingly simple (it's the first dish I ever learned to cook) is chicken in the pan. Line a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with foil. Take a 1lb package of chicken thighs (8 - 10 thighs), skin and bone on are best (but I like to debone the chicken because it makes it easier to eat later) and arrange on one half of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, a mix of herbs (rosemary, oregano, basil, thyme), or your seasoning blend of choice (I like Penzey's Italian dressing mix).
On the other side of the pan, put assorted veggies, chopped into large (two-bite-sized) pieces. I use whatever is in season and on sale -- zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, red or green peppers, onion or tomato cut into wedges, mushrooms (you need about two medium of each item). Sprinkle with minced garlic, and pop in the oven at 425' for thirty minutes to an hour (until the thighs are cooked through and the veggies are soft).
Note, I've heard people say they needed to cook the potatoes longer than the chicken, (or to parboil them first) but my very old, very pitiful oven is inaccurate (and probably not as hot as it should be) enough that everything is usually done about the same time. So watch the chicken and remove to a platter if it cooks through first.
This makes enough veggies and chicken for a meal for the two of us that night plus lunch the next day, with half the thighs left over for other purposes.
But my absolute favorite inexpensive meal? Penne with Sunday gravy, french bread, and a big salad. I make the gravy all day on a day I'm free and make a huge batch. Then I freeze several 1 cup bags (that's two servings, just right for the two of us) and use the rest for other meals and dishes.
Make chicken spaghetti...it usually makes two casseroles
Red Beans and Rice
Make Chili...Serve it over cornbread, rice, spaghetti
Make a big pot of beef and vegetable soup
Make a tuna casserole, or like the previous poster said, any casserole can be very inexpensive and go a long way
when i've been really broke but not food-shelf broke, i've made large vegetarian curries & dal, hummus, bean chilis/cuban black beans/redbeans&rice dishes, and lots of pasta. roasting a whole chx and then using it for several meals & stock for soup is another good tip. soup in general is satisfying and sometimes it can be astoundingly cheap to make-- & you get many servings from a few basic ingredients.
here is a good thread on this, lots of ideas:
I am huge on eating well and inexpensively. Some suggestions:
-bake your own bread! You get an incredible loaf for about 50 cents. I recommend the no-knead bread recipe that has been written up on every food blog on the internet
-bean soup! mexican black bean soup, white bean and roasted garlic soup, lentil soup...this is probably the cheapest food you can make
-shop at mexican or asian grocery stores, or even in the international aisle of your big supermarket. Goya rice and beans, for example, are half the price of any other brand
-bananas are the cheapest fruit
-buy cheap cuts of meat in bulk. I just several pounds of sirloin tips at $2.99/lb. I sliced them thinly and froze them in 3/4 pound portions, which I can then use for quick asian-style stir-fries, and I coooked up a beef stock from the trimmings!
-I second buying a whole roasting chicken, but instead of roasting it whole, you can make 2 quarts of chicken stock from the bones, back, and wings, a tomato-based stew from the thighs, and use the breast meat for anything from a stir-fry to a salad. One chicken usually gets me about 8-10 meals!
While not summer food- although we eat it all year- greek bean soup is easy and very cheap. Serve with crusty bread, some cheese,olives and a salad.
Soak 1 lb of pea beans or great northern beans overnight.
Rinse and put in large pot with about 12 cups of water, 2 carrots, sliced, 2 ribs of celery, sliced, 2 onions, chopped, and about 8 cloves of garlic, sliced. Bring to a boil then simmer about 1 1/2 hours until beans are almost tender. Then add salt and pepper to taste, 3 tbsp of tomato paste diluted in hot water, and about 1/2 cup olive oil. Cook apprx one more hour until beans are tender. Adjust seasoning.
Lentil stews/soups with rice
Quinoa and couscous salads--i'm addicted to the combination of seasoned rice wine vinegar, lime juice, a little olive oil, sundried tomatoes, currants, pearl onions, and basil with couscous
Split pea or Navy Bean soup with a nice hunk of bread
Frittatas, quiches, omelettes, egg salad
Spaghetti w/ butter and parmesan (so simple and so good, even add garlic)
Miso soup broth simmered w/ a variety of greens (kale, mustard, collard, bok choy), mushrooms, asparagus, garlic til cooked through, and later add tofu or beaten/seasoned eggs streamed into a bubbling broth
Big batch of rice goes a long way... arrancini, fried rice, rice pudding, etc.
Chicken Cacciatore w/ chicken thighs on sale
stop shopping in supermarkets... Go to your local asian area and shop there. Last night I got ALL the ingredients for a curry that will feed 3 of us for 2 nights, for $15 INCLUDING the pork.
I know it's summer in the US, but here is my all time fav money saving recipe.
Roast 1 lamb shank per person (and one for the pot) in a hot oven, over a rack until brown. Place shanks in saucepan in which you have browned some onions and garlic and celery Add some tomato paste/sugo (I bottle over summer, but again you can get a huge jar of sugo from an asian grover at like 1/2 the price of a supermarket) Add some Wostershire sauce, whatever herbs you have laying around, some diced root vegies (carrot, parsnip) and some and simmer for a couple of hours, until meat is falling off the bones.
Serve one shank each over couscous or rice.
flake meat of the extra shank from last night. Return to pot and reheat. Add a can of cheap red beans and some water or stock and call it soup.
Use any leftovers as a basis for risotto,
Thicken any left overs with some mashed potato and cheese. Spoon into a baking dish and bake.
Call it meatloaf.
Coat any remaining leftovers in eggwash and panko/breadcrumbs and shallow fry until golden.
Call it whatever you want.
I usually chage the flavour profile by adding further herbs and spices as I go, but as the dish matures, the flavours marry and change anyway, so it's not quite as boring as it sounds!!!
I'm making lion's head meatballs tomorrow--that's Shanghai meatballs in a savory sauce. I got my butcher to grind up pork shoulder for me, and for 2 and a half pounds, it was only $5 and change. This will make 16 golf ball-sized meatballs, which for me, is about 8 meals because they are very rich. The other ingredients are Chinese pantry items like Chinese sherry and soy sauce, which only cost a dollar or two, and fresh items like ginger, scallion, and cabbage, which also only cost a dollar or two.
I actually feel a lot of Chinese meals are cheap to make, as they use the same pantry items in different configurations. Maybe check out Fuchsia Dunlop's recipes here on the site. Once you have all the ingredients, the ma po tofu is really easy to make, budget friendly, and delicious. Then you can also make kung pao chicken with more or less the same pantry items plus chicken.
Another inexpensive ethnic route would be middle eastern --like lentils and onions (mudhadaraj?), tabouli.
Also, Mexican. It's so cheap to make your own salsas and make breakfast burritos in corn or flour tortillas.