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Jan 11, 2009 11:39 AM

Healthy Recession Meals?

We've been cooking a lot lately and need some new ideas for healthy recession meals. We've tried stir fries (Chinese style-stir fry), mexican with low-fat refried beans (chile verde, ancho steak), Mediterranean (chick pea stews, olive-feta-chicken), curry chicken. What are your healthy recession meals that makes sure your family gets all the right nutrients at bargain prices?

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  1. I rely on beans, grains, and cheap veggies (potatoes, frozen spinach, cauliflower, cabbage) a lot during tight times, but I find I don't miss meat when I have to skip it, as long as my meals are just as flavorful and rich-tasting without it! Hummus, falafel, whole wheat pita (all homemade), brown basmati rice, dhals, aloo gobi, spicy cabbage stir-fries, mmmmm...

    I'd say that some variation of lentil dhal is my go-to dish for something quick, flavorful, comforting and inexpensive. It's basically onions, garlic, and ginger, plus lentils (I like the red variety), spices (whatever I'm in the mood for -- usually coriander, cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric), and water. Couldn't be simpler. It only takes 20 minutes, and is easily adaptable to whatever I have on hand. Frozen spinach? Sure! Fresh cilantro? You bet! A little yogurt at the end? Creamy and delicious.

    1 Reply
    1. re: LauraGrace

      Yes, anything but carrots! Carrots turned my most recent dhal attempt into boring hippie food (and I love hippies). You want to make sure that whatever you add doesn't steal the show from the Lentils and Onions I guess.

    2. LauraGrace is right about the lentils...they are so cheap but pack HUGE nutrition and they cook more quickly than other dried beans/legumes--no soaking necessary...pair those little suckers up with some frozen spinach and some brown rice, you have one awesome meal! I've been buying what I call "bag o'spinach" --Pictsweet's 28 ounce bag of frozen spinach for close to $2.29 at the Target Super Store. Also, don't forget your black beans paired up with corn or any other grain for a complete protein. Cabbage is a great buy pretty much anytime of year but especially in cabbage packs in even more nutrition. Misseatalot...will your family eat canned salmon (wild-caught only)? That goes on sale where I live (FL) every now and then...very good nutrition there, too! Buying fresh produce in season is really important...oh, fresh strawberries are $2.48 for a box here right now...just so awesome! Watch for great sales on whole chicken or leg quarters...I'm not seeing $.49 per pound like I USED to...(grrr!) but have seen them for $.79 per pound at various stores. AND WHAT GIVES??? Gas prices have come down, but not so with food!!! I remember when the food prices started going crazy, all the stores said "oh, it's because of the gas prices." Well, how come the opposite isn't true??

      8 Replies
      1. re: Val

        Thanks, Val! I forgot about canned salmon and my mother use to make that with some fried onions on top after steaming the salmon. I've been meaning to make dhal. Have a bag of red lentils at home but tried to buy the Indian spices that goes into that recipe and the price of getting all the spices are a killer. Thanks for the recipe, LauraGrace. I've been thinking about skipping out on the meat by eating bean burritos for lunch to stretch out our food budget. Will try your dhal recipe.

        1. re: misseatalot

          Is there an Indian store anywhere near you? You can buy small amounts for not much $. Latino markets have good prices on spices, too. Near a Cost Plus?

          1. re: walker

            I've gone to one Indian store in Duarte outside of LA and their spices were in a large pack and for all the spices I was going to buy to make chick pea curry it was going to cost me more than 10. The problem is that I would probably make the chick pea curry once a month and I didn't want the large packs and I wanted to spend $5 for all of the spices. I'll stop by the Mexican market since I think I did see Turmeric for $1. Thanks!

          2. re: misseatalot

            I'm with Walker! If you're near an Indian grocery, or the next time you ARE near one, you can pick up everything you need for just practically nothing. I got four 4-oz bags of spices and a pound of red lentils for eleven bucks. Eleven!! Compare that to buying a 1-oz jar of garam masala, for instance, which runs in the $5 range at my local supermarket.

            And the giant bag of spinach is a must for me, and something I always have in my freezer. Buying fresh spinach is fine for salads, but if I'm going to cook it anyway, a 24-oz bag of spinach costs a buck. Can't beat that.

          3. re: Val

            Another cheap, healthy lentil dish - Mid Eastern "mjadra
            1 part lentils, 2 parts brown rice, 1 tsp salt per cup of the dry ingredients, 6 parts water.Stir rice & lentils in 2 tsp oil to coat over high heat. Add water & salt, when water boils, turn heat down to low, for 40 min., saute onions to caramelization & mix in w/ rice/lentils. Top w/ laban, a mix of yogurt, garlic, mint & cucumber.

            1. re: Rmis32

              That sounds fabulous, Rmis. Mmmmm...

              1. re: LauraGrace

                I ate this every Thurs night growing up.. and I still love it. Make sure you cook the onions until they're really dark (almost burnt). I use 4 or 5 onions in a giant skillet and saute for an hour or longer. Extra onions can be frozen in a small ziplock baggie.

                1. re: cheesecake17

                  Yes! Thursday nights! Yes, plenty of onions, almost burnt. Brooklyn SY?

          4. I usually buy meat and seafood only when it's on sale. you can save quite a bit this way.... especially if you have two or more markets to alternate between.
            when turkey thighs or drumsticks are on sale, I cook them in the crockpot (season, but no liquid necessary), then use the meat for casseroles (turkey tetrazinni), salads, and chili.
            I always cook as many vegetables as I can when my oven is on.....roasting them. Use some for the current meal, and some for future meals when you're rushed. (again, I'm lucky in that I have two nearby markets, so I can alternate and get the sale price on each)
            for grains, polenta is cheap and you can make a lasagna- type dish with or without meat, and some veggies and cheese. (chill the polenta on a cookie sheet , then cut into pieces and use like lasagna noodles.)
            also you can stretch protein like making salmon (or fish) cakes.

            1. I made this soup tonight. Based on Manhattan grocery and utility costs (2-3 times everywhere else in the US), it comes out to about 85 cents a serving. YMMV:

              ¾ cup brown rice (w/ 1 1/2 cups water)
              1 cup lentils
              1 cup split peas
              1 1/3 cup chick peas (pre-cooked or canned)
              2 or 3ish carrots
              ½ a big onion or 1 small one
              5 vegetarian bouillion cubes
              11 or so cups of water
              2 tbsp flour
              1 tsp coriander
              1 tsp black pepper
              2 tsp tumeric
              1 tsp chili powder
              a few shakes of garlic powder
              1 ½ tbsp olive oil

              Set rice to cook in water in its own small pot. Dice veggies. Place spices consolidated in a bowl. In a large stockpot, pour olive oil. Smear little on sides of pot. Heat oil in pot and add onions and carrots. Let veggies cook for about 10 minutes until onions are more translucent and carrots are softer. Add water and bouillion cubes. Cover and bring to a boil. Add lentils, split peas and spices. Once heat is back up, let simmer for 15 minutes. Add rice with any remaining liquid (it should be at least 70% of the way done). Let simmer about 30 minutes. Add chick peas. Dilute flour in water and add to pot. Stir vigorously and let simmer for 15 more minutes. Turn off heat, uncover and let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving.

              It freezes just fine, so you can make it whenever you have time around the house and use it throughout the week. Soup is the cheapest way to eat well.

              1. I eat a LOT of soup- it's healthy (assuming you skip the cream) and you can make it with whatever's in your fridge/pantry. I recently made a huge batch of cheap wild mushroom soup with a bag of quick-sale mixed mushrooms from the grocery store, plus leftover cooked rice.

                Cabbage is your friend. I like it braised or sautéed - Indian recipes are great - or with noodles.

                Don't forget eggs - a fried egg is a perfect topping for almost anything - and polenta.