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Simple, cheap, and farmer's market accesible

I'm a recently unemployed student with ample access to farmers markets looking to expand my horizons, and not my budget. When I was employed, I dined out half the week and the other half cooked whatever I felt like it ignoring expenses. I generally shop TJs for most staples, but do have access to a limited south-east asian market for specialty goods, as well as tons of chain grocers.

Mainly, I'm now looking for cheap, relatively healthy, foods/recipes for what I can get cheap and fresher at the local farmers markets. High calorie is also somewhat appreciated, since I tend to be underweight.

My current staples, and literally all I get, is as such:
Potatoes(bake in quarters or boil and saute)
Kale(saute)
Green Beans(boil)
Spinach(throw into scrambled egg whites)

I would really like to get farther than just this, without breaking the bank now. I live in southern California.
What tips or simple recipes do you guys have for bang-for-your-buck farmers market veggies?
I'm very open to explore, except asparagus(eww), I just need to keep things simple and cheap.

Thanks a lot.

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  1. Are you in L.A.? I can recommend a middle eastern market that is very large and extremely cheap. Not organic, but you can't beat the prices, and I think the quality of the produce is good.

    2 Replies
    1. re: critter101

      I agree. I used to go to a few Persian markets in LA that had great prices, and relatively good quality fruits, and vegetables (including those delicious little Persian cucumbers).

      1. re: critter101

        Sorry, I should have clarified. My location is in Santa Barbara actually. I know most of the ethnic markets, and the one I mentioned and an Indian one about 20 minutes away are the only ones that seem to have fresh produce/spices.

      2. Consider making Masamba (based on a dish from Malawi). Steam the potatoes (we use a pressure cooker) cut the kale into ribbons (removing stem/spine if tough/thick) and steam. Top with mixture of salsa and peanut butter.

        Someone posted a green bean/potato/dill recipe on another thread recently.

        1 Reply
        1. I have a similar problem. A good tip is to go to farmers markets and buy stuff from the "seconds" boxes...these are typically damaged tomatoes, peaches, or whatever. They are much cheaper than the "normal" stuff and are actually better for cooking/baking purposes. Also, in general, its good to buy in bulk and cook stuff in big batches. If you buy a ton of squash or green beans or eggplants the price per pound is often discounted.

          Truthfully, though, if you want to revolve your diet around seasonal and locally produced stuff it is going to cost you some money. You just have to make it a priority and cut back on other spending if you really care about it that much.

          2 Replies
          1. re: CoconutMilk

            I do buy bulk in dry stuff and as far as seconds, I've never noticed boxes labeled as such, but will ask in the future. Good tip.

            1. re: Shortsord

              Sometimes they don't necessarily label them as such, but will slash prices as the day wears on. We make a habit of going to the local farmer's market that closes at 1:30 at right about 1:00..there's one seller who slashes all her $2.50/lb peaches to $1.00, another that slashes all squash (inc. zucchini, ets.) to $.50 a pound...it takes a few trips to figure out where to get what, but we now get most of our produce cheaper than at the grocer's, just because most farmers don't want to have to bring it all back home with them.

          2. Can you get eggs at your farmers market? I buy the frozen brown rice at TJ's and make stir-fried rice with whatever veggies I have on hand and eggs.

            What don't u like? Are you a vegetarian? Forgive me but with a diet like what you described above it's not surprising your underweight. Why just egg whites?

            How about fish tacos? TJ's has plenty of flaky, white fish. Marinate it with some lime juice, olive oil, cumin, chili powder. Grill it and serve it on tortillas with shredded cabbage, red onion, jalapeno, lime juice sour cream and salsa. You can also add black beans, cheese, whatever.

            1 Reply
            1. re: lynnlato

              I'm underweight due to a new medicine I'm on. I eat meat but try to limit the amount of red and just am generally trying to eat a more veg based diet. Egg whites only because I'm sensitive to yolks, can't handle more than one at a time if that. Stir frying is a great idea, too, I can throw just about anything in and already have a rice cooker. Thanks.

            2. Any chance you can barter (help set up/tear down booths maybe) at the farmers market for some produce?

              1 Reply
              1. re: lgss

                Great idea! I've done this. I got to know a local organic farmer and I worked their booth in exchange for pork. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to helping out more.

              2. try adding in lentils or dried beans for bulk and protein.

                at the asian grocer, garlic and ginger should be cheap and will add tons of flavor to simple veggies.

                zucchini and tomatoes are ready now and can be eaten chopped and raw, or sauteed with some garlic and olive oil.

                carrots are cheap and filling.

                fruit is in high season, especially berries, eat them with fresh mint and yogurt.

                each week, buy something you have never had before. do a search on the net and experiment. your list above is a very limited selection of fresh food.

                2 Replies
                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  >each week, buy something you have never had before

                  I would expand this to say, "find something new at the market each week that looks vibrant and healthy", buy it, and then google to find ways to prepare it. I have been doing this over the past year. Sometimes it expands my repertoire of items I love. But, I risk making something that I genuinely dislike. However, when the item is in season, the money invested is pretty darn small.

                  1. re: smtucker

                    I have found that the vendors selling the items that are new to me are usually more than happy to discuss the different ways to prepare them. Just ask!