Recruiting All Ideas for Cheap Homemade Dinners!
Well, with the economic climate the way it is (and knowing that it is not to noticably improve soon), we all know that many of us are pinching pennies like we've never pinched before. My sister and I are on food stamps, and frequently find it hard to make them last till the end of the month.
So, here's your challenge, 'Hounders! What are your best penny-pinching, yummy, go-to dinners?
Mexican black beans over rice. I love this recipe and have made it several times. I tweak it though, by starting with a chopped onion and adding more cumin and jalapeno than it calls for and dried chilis to ramp up the heat. The lime juice is crucial. Also, it's important to take it off the heat while it still seems too watery. It really thickens up a lot once it starts cooling.
Pasta. At about 1.09 a box, pasta is a great buy. I load it up with lots of veg. Spinach, mushroom, broccolli, red peppers, a touch of olive oil, little bit of garlic and you have a cheap dinner. Also, this is what I've been doing lately.
Another one that I love is taking a flatbread, spread a bit of mustard on it. Open a can of sardines. ( I like the ones in mustard). Slice tomatoes and red onion very thinly. Place them on the flatbread and top with the sardines. Cheap and extremely good for you.
Also.Eggs. Cannot go wrong with eggs. We have eggs for dinner on the average of once a week. Fried, scrambled, omelettes....a good deal.
The above for the beans and rice is a very nutricious and inexpensive meal as well.
Ditto the pasta and eggs suggestion. Eggs are very nutritious and cheap. A simple but tasty -- and inexpensive -- main dish in our house is as follows:
Buy a bottle of fat-free (water-based) Italian salad dressing and a couple of chicken breasts. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Pour half a bottle of well-shakened dressing into a saute pan. Saute chicken until done and dressing has evaporated, leaving the meat coated with spices from the dressing. So good, easy and cheap.
Mostly home-made everything. Saw a box of frozen naan in the store: 3 for $3.25. Heck, I made a basketful for probably less than $1.50. I make less meat, but buy good cuts and supplement it with bunches of vegetables and spices. Cheap eats doesn't have to mean peanut butter and jelly and boxed mac and cheese. Even the dollar store has good deals on fresh produce.
Tuna casserole- all you need is pasta, cream of mushroom, tuna cans, frozen peas and some cheese. Tends to last me a few days.
Also, go to any local indian or Asian store and stock up there. Prices are much more reasonable.
When I'm skrimping at the checkout, I tend to buy large, inexpensive cuts of meat that I can get several meals out of. Like a whole turkey - roasted the first night, open faced sandwiches the second, pot pie the third, then use the carcass and scraps for soup on the fourth. The same with a pork shoulder or picnic ham - first roasted, then fajitas, then hot roast pork sandwiches, then use the bone for split pea soup.
Loved the other ideas so far. I'd add bread pudding to go along with the eggs. You can make a great savory bread pudding for dinner using dairy items you probably already have on hand, like eggs, milk and butter. There must be a ton of recipes out there.
This (Whinerdiner's) is the best recommendation I've read. Beans and rice and eggs are great, but learning to stretch one bird into 3-4 meals is what economy is all about--and it's how our great grandmothers did it. When you use the bones, you can skip buying useless processed items like prepared stock.
Split peas, dried beans, barley go a long way and they're very nutritious. Just remember if you're forgoing meat, to combine carbohydrates that will make protein. Other suggestions like pasta are great, too, but learn to wipe out the unnecessary items so many of us have grown accustomed to in this country, that really gouge us at the register:
flour/sugar/butter to make your own, if you have to have them
Just be careful not to buy into cheap things that really have no food value and carry more salt and empty carbs than anything else--like ramen noodles. Complete garbage. You might was well try to live off saltine crackers.
Buy what's cheaper: kale vs. spinach and grapes vs. cherries (usually, but not this week at my grocery store--which is why you should eat what's in season, especially things like asparagus and fruit, which can have hugely fluctuating prices). Buy pizza crusts and use your leftover spaghetti sauce a few days later (it will stay good for several days) on it rather than throwing that last little bit away.
Make dishes more vegetable-loaded that you used to make with more meat (like chili or a stir-fry or a stew). If you do it often enough, you'll find that a little meat goes a long way and you might even grow to prefer it with more vegs. I know I have.
Anything on toast like eggs, beans, hell we Brits even eat Heinz spaghetti hoops (O's) on toast.
what's your budget per meal per person? Under $5 you can easily make pasta with meat sauce - 1lb of hamburger and a can of chopped tomatoes and the pasta, or replace the pasta with mashed potatoes and make a shepherd's pie. Cheap ends of meat and root veggies make a great stew.
A homemade quiche with leftover ends of cheese and vegetables, loaded baked potatoes, rice with fried vegetables and a can of tuna.
I think one of the first things to get scratched is meat, but I'd say keep the "less desirable" cuts in mind and how to make them great.
Beef shank might have been cheap years ago, but because of its popularity, prices are ridiculous. Why not pork shank (AKA pork hocks). OK, not the same flavor profile, but you can do some great things with hocks and they're cheap to boot.
Same with blade roast when it goes on sale. Not the best cut, but make a long-braise pot au feu, and you got one hell of a dish.
Sometimes oxtail is on sale at ethnic markets (otherwise they can be expensive) and you can make some good eats.
Might also think along the same lines with fish. Sure fresh tuna or marlin can be expensive. Skate, on the other hand is usually dirt cheap, and skate is tasty.
I like xena's idear of trying asian markets. In my area, many fish and meat items are much much cheaper at asian markets over the mainstream supermarkets.
"Skate, on the other hand is usually dirt cheap, and skate is tasty." Depends on where you buy it. Fish King in Glendale would call me when they had it - nice service, but theirs was $15/lb. The Asian stores sell it for more like $5; it usually needs skinning there, and after trying it myself once I'm resigned to paying for a skin-on one and then letting them do that. Of course it also may have a lot to do with where you are; Bay Area markets used to have it really cheap, and the East Coast might be different too.
re: Will Owen
Yeah, $15/lb is steep.
I was in Montreal's Chinatown on the weekend. I don't recall the exact price of skate, but I do remember it was a toss up to pick some up, or the fresh, whole white bass. I'm pretty sure the skate was going for $4/lb (same as the bass).
Also bought 2 beautiful pork hocks at $2.39/lb - they're in a cure right now.
You can hit the "mark down" section in the fresh produce section and make stir frys. Boil some rice or pasta and voila, dinner and leftovers on the cheap. I also cut my meat portion down to 1/3 of what I was consuming prior to 6 months ago. Now, one half of a grilled chicken breast, gets me three meals. (About an ounce per meal)
Ramen. I usually add ground whatever is on sale that I have browned with sricacha sauce, through in some veggies, cilantro and lime and beansprouts and I make a pho (ish)
omelets. veg curries, dal and rice. pancakes. cuban black beans & rice. hummus. mussels in their broth w bread, or pasta. mixed veggie tacos, choucroute, french toast. tofu dishes. sandwiches, w or w/o cup of soup or chili. chili/cornbread. pot roast. loaded baked potatoes. pasta w any type sauce. rice noodle salads. miso soup. meat balls w ____. couscous w spices and vegetables, chicken & dumplings. stews w rice, bread, pasta, potatoes, or polenta (buy reg cornmeal/masa/grits). hash w fried egg. whole grain stuffed baked vegetables.
roast chicken (whole) 1st night, second night have pulled chicken tacos, chicken salad, etc and make stock out of the roasted carcass, 3rd night have chicken soup, plus keep some stock on hand for other recipes.
shop smart: veg in season, fruit seconds, buy turkeys on sale after thanksgiving. etc.
get SNAP benefits for your local farmer's market veggies, contact wholesome wave if it is in your area for fresh produce http://www.facebook.com/wholesomewave
A pot of beans made from dried. If you buy a whole chicken, roast it, and save the bones, you can make a thin chicken broth. Use the chicken broth to make the beans. Add seasonal greens to the bean dish at the last. I also like spinach and lentils or baked potatoes with a simple salad. If you have access to surplus cheese, you can make mac and cheese. Save any leftovers in the fridge or freezer, and make soup at the end of the week.
Consider finding a local food pantry for help to supplement your diet. And government surplus foods are distributed monthly to certain community food pantries. "Government cheese" for instance.
Fried rice with all of your leftovers. You can also get a tiny bit of different veggies at the salad bar.
You can bump up protein in a lot of things by adding an egg or two. Roasted veg (whatever is on sale) with fried egg on top is delicious. It's also good on cubed potato fried in olive oil with seasoning of choice. Add some frozen peas or a green salad for a side. Peas are pretty much the only frozen veg I like (there are a few more I tolerate). Pasta with peas thrown into the cooking water for the last minute or two, then tossed with cottage cheese and black pepper is cheap and tasty.
Frittatas are inexpensive and a good way to use up odds and ends of leftovers.
How much time do you have for cooking, and what kind of stuff do you like? Do you have a slow cooker?
Dried beans are one of the cheapest (healthy) foods around, and now that I'm used to making them I wouldn't want to go back to canned. We make chili with dried beans and canned diced tomatoes (we put in ground beef or turkey too, but you don't have to), beans and rice, bean tacos, etc.
We also make 'pasta with lentils' which is basically whatever pasta and/or vegetables are available, tomato sauce or diced tomatoes, and lentils cooked from dried. Another favorite, along the same lines, is what we call 'dirt soup'. It's basically a soup made from whatever we have around, which is usually dried beans, some kind of grain/pasta (rice, barley, orzo), and whatever vegetables are left over. Depending on what goes in the 'dirt soup', we make the broth from chicken stock and add either 'asian' flavors (soy sauce and ginger) or maybe some canned tomatoes and dried herbs. It's dirt cheap and it uses up whatever's left over in the pantry or on sale that week. It's definitely easy to lose food money on 'waste', like half an onion or the leftover bottom of a bag of rice if you aren't careful.
What type of meat are you buying and how much? If you have some freezer space available, I definitely recommend buying club packs (marked down, if possible) of ground beef, chicken breasts, etc. and re-freezing it in 1 lb. portions. Another thing we do when we are trying to save money is to stick with the large containers of yogurt, rather than individual sized.
If you want to make main dishes (or breakfast!) with eggs, odd-sized eggs (e.g., 'medium' or 'jumbo') are usually pretty cheap, since they aren't the exact right size for baking recipes. Also, at our store frozen vegetables go on sale for 1$ per bag all the time, and they are good to have in a pinch (or for 'dirt soup') if you are low on vegetables at the end of the month.
I just realized that you asked for recipes rather than shopping advice, but . . . that's what I've got!
You can do all the same things with pintos :)
I used to not care for the look of black beans, but I've mostly gotten past it ... I think they taste much like other beans. But any bean you like will do ...
I just made a big pot of beef-vegetable soup, which could be done without the beef as well of course. I used 1.25 lb of stew beef, and of course ground beef works too. A large potato, a turnip, frozen corn and green beans, 4 carrots, the heart of a bunch celery (and you can always cut and freeze the rest of the bunch that you don't use for the next batch), onion, a can of diced tomatoes and the juice, chicken broth (but water works too), half a dozen whole cloves of garlic (I smash them after cooking if they don't drift apart on their own with stirring). Italian spices, salt, pepper, cayenne, soy sauce, a little molasses, garlic salt, celery salt, thyme ... whatever's in the cabinet. This made about 3 quarts. I'll be eating this for days, and will freeze the rest when I get tired of it for another time ...
Thanks LabLady, I'm looking at "what you've got".
We do use dried beans in recipes already.
I like the idea of using leftover veggies, etc., for soups and such, is great - we don't do that enough, and often fnd ourselves tossing wilted lettuce, or whatever, at the end of the week, when we could have used it for something.
I wish we did have more freezer space, sorry to say we dont'.
I never thought (or noticed) about the odd egg sizes, I've got to check it out!
Thanks for all the input!
I've been doing some more thinking about your question. If you have an Aldi's or similar 'value' grocer, I'd shop there for as much of what you eat as possible. When you visit a regular grocer, see if you can find a shelf of discontinued items. You might find a bargain or two there. You can have breakfast for dinner. Make pancakes or biscuits with an egg for each of you. I want to wish you both good luck.
Thank you, guys, but I live on the West Coast, and I don't even know what an Aldi's is!
: ( Sorry.
But we DO have things like Food4Less, where you get lower prices in return for bagging your own groceries, that kind of thing. I have just discovered Food4Less, and I am fast becoming a fan. : )
Wife and I just recently made Mexican caldo de res, and I think it's going to average out to about 0.50 cents a serving. Simmer a couple of beef shanks in a half pot of water with a couple of cloves of garlic for about an hour. Add some carrots, celery and onions, and let that simmer for half an hour. Add some cabbage, potato, and maybe some corn or summer squash, and let that simmer for another half hour. Make some Spanish rice (garlic cumin, pepper, tomato sauce), and dump it in your bowl. Spoon soup over, then squeeze a little lime on top. Serve with corn tortillas. I know it sounds like a lot of ingredients, but it really does go a long way.
I bought a small ham last week - 6 pounds of ham for $1.49 a pound. I cooked it up with a can of pineapple and we had ham and pineapple with mashed potato for dinner, then the next day I chopped three pounds of it up and put it into the freezer in baggies so I have fodder for ham and eggs and mac-and-cheese with ham... we've eaten the rest of the ham during the week (ham sandwiches and ham-and-eggs) and I made a pot of corn chowder today to use up the remainder. That ten dollar ham is going to go a long long way, especially when you consider that the deli price is six dollars a POUND!
Lots of good ideas here already. I would add pork shoulder as well. If you have a crock pot you can put it on top of a bed of sliced onions, pour water or beer over and cook on low until shreddable. From there you can add sauce for pulled pork sandwiches or use it as a filling with beans and rice for burritos, etc.
I'm in a similar situation, with very limited resources when it comes to food money. I've actually found that where I shop makes more of a difference that what I make. I'm not sure where you live (I'm in Fresno), but I've had really good luck shopping places like the 99 Cent Only store (they have a really decent produce section and I've found a ton of random closeout items that are usually way way more expensive at a regular grocery store) and Grocery Outlet. I've also found a really cheap Asian market not so far from my house and have been having fun learning how to cook with ingredients I'd never even seen before. As far as more mainstream grocery stores go, I've found that Winco has (by far) the best store-brand coffee and the best meat section and a great bulk section as well.
Whenever you find something at a crazy closeout price, buy a bunch and freeze the leftovers. I'm a big fan of whole chickens -- they're cheap and you can roast em whole or cut them into pieces. And then you have the carcass to make stock.
Find local farmer's markets that take EBT -- a lot of them do and their fruits and veggies are often cheaper and almost always better than what is at the supermarket. And keep an eye out for things such as fruit trees and rosemary bushes in your neighbourhood. So many people just let their fruit rot and fall to the ground, and most are happy to let you pick a bag if you knock on their door and ask.
Homemade pizza is also surprisingly cheap. The dough recipe I use makes 4 large pizzas and the extra can be frozen in single-pizza-sized blobs. The great thing about pizza is that it can have as many or as few toppings as you want. If you can't find any good toppings on sale, do margherita pizza and a salad.
I also always try to have baking basics on hand like flour, eggs, sugar, oil etc. They're cheap and really versatile. I make lots of cakes and muffins and pastries out of fruit that is about to go bad and then I have something good for breakfast.
Soup! Split pea, navy bean are heavy hitters for very little $. If you can throw in a smoked pork neckbone it'll add flavor. That and coleslaw and cornbread will make you happy for very little output. I'm a big fan of soup for breakfast so it can fit any meal. Also a big fan of beef barley -- you might just use beef stock and a whole lot of barley and veggies (carrots, cabbage.) I made some just this week and it actually came out more like a stew -- one bowl will you you going for hours.
I wholeheartedly second the 99 Cents Only store if you have one in your area. The one in my area stocks on Saturday mornings and I can count on them always having baby carrots, mushrooms, green onions, various salad blends (Dole usually, sometimes other name brands also,) bags of spinach, bags of potatoes, fresh ginger, fresh garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, bags of lemons, bags of limes, bags of fruit, etc. all for 99 cents an item. They also have huge cucumbers 2 for 99 cents, red pepers 2 for 99 cents, etc. They frequently have a lot of organic produce such as Earthbound Farms and when in season I've found blueberries, raspberries, etc. A nice treat for 99 cents a container- sometimes the BIG containers. They have tons of melons right now- cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew and a few others.
In the refrigerated section I can usually get Queso Fresco, 16 oz containers of sour cream, cottage cheese and hummus, heavy cream, half and half, sometimes feta, greek yogurt and well, you never know what will pop up there.
We don't eat many things out of boxes or cans but they have a ton of them as well as pasta, dried beans, etc, lots of the same name brands as any grocery store, far less expensive.
Saving a bunch of money there allows me to buy good cuts of meat and fish and still stay within an insanely low budget. We eat very well and average $40 a week on groceries, sometimes less. More usually only on weeks where we need to stock up on pantry basics or if there is a killer meat or fish sale and I'm stocking up.
This was my experience too, before moving to California. I thought my boyfriend was crazy when he suggested picking some food up at the 99 Cent Only store, but it is truly quite wonderful. This past weekend they were selling 2 lb containers of Kraft ricotta and cottage cheese, and Mountain High yogurt for a buck a piece. I've found some crazy deals there in the past -- Dagoba chocolate, six packs of this amazing mineral water imported from Germany, real vanilla extract, 2 lb bags of plums or nectarines or limes... they usually have a number of organic produce items too. It's pretty amazing. I wish it was closer to my house though. I don't have a car and there aren't any buses that go directly there, so I end up walking an hour home with bags of groceries slung over my shoulder.
Stracetti di manzo, very fast and frugal. We love this; very thinly sliced beef sauteed quickly with lots of garlic and oil and placed on top of a plate mounded with arugula (sometimes other greens are used and rosemary is often included in the saute which I omit). Deglaze the pan afterwards with a very quick saute of shallots and a bit of vinegar and pour over the steak, it should make a tiny bit of sauce, delicious to sop up with fresh warm Italian bread. For an idea of quantities and method:
I use thin cuts of boneless sirloin steaks which I can get for about $4 and will roughly serve 2 in this dish, but I always make more. Since the steaks are already thin I slice away from me at an angle to the cutting board to make the most out of the meat and very thin. I haven't tried it yet with any other cuts since I keep this on the frugal side but the sirloin is always soft, tender and juicy. Don't be afraid to use lots of garlic; sometimes I leave it in while sautéeing the meat and discard afterwards, being careful not to let the garlic brown too much.
Again, I want to thank everyone for all your input!
Don't be upset if I don't try all ideas, or right away -
All these imaginative dishes are going to take time to go through!
But I think all of them are great, can't wait to try a lot of them, and I'm glad these ideas are being shared with others.
And I will try to post as I try them out.
have you seen the "poor girl gourmet" blog? it's got great chowhound-worthy, frugal recipes. she's got a cookbook by the same name which is really well put-together, maybe you can pick up a copy at the library or used book store. most meals (serving 4 people) come in under $10 total, and she costs out the recipes, including the oil and spices etc so you can really stick to the budget.
I echo everyone's comments about the farmer's market, if you can do that. My boyfriend and I are on an extremely low budget for food (not on food stamps, but we probably could/should be)...we buy all of our fruits and veggies at the farmer's market and about 95% of everything else is bulk. Buying in bulk is so much cheaper than prepackaged things! You don't have to pay for all the labor and materials for packaging so you save a lot. As someone mentioned above, dried beans are incredibly cheap, and so much tastier than canned. We get a lot of beans, rice (really cheap, especially from Asian markets), cornmeal for polenta, lentils, other grains, etc. Steel-cut oatmeal is cheap in bulk and really filling! I don't eat non-fish meat so I guess in that sense it's easier/cheaper but I do buy canned tuna, sardines and salmon sometimes, they're all inexpensive. I made some really yummy salmon patties today that only included a can of salmon, an egg, cornmeal, and an onion. They were really good and easy and cheap!
I think the main thing is to not buy pre-packaged things because it will always always be cheaper to make them yourself. Even if it's a 99¢ can of soup or whatever. (Unless it's a tomato product, I have learned, but that's because we eat tomatoes out of season.) Try not to give in too much to convenience food because if you spend some time, assuming you have any to spend, you'll save money by making it yourself. I've been living on $5/day for all three meals which I think is pretty good (?) considering I eat fresh, whole grain stuff every day...but I don't really know the average. Good luck!
I, recently, tried steel-cut oatmeal and I liked the texture better than rolled. What I was really surprised at was I paid 69 cents per pound at the bulk section of my grocery store. Quacker Oats in the familiar red and blue box was more than twice that.
Oh and I saw a box of Irish steel cut oats for $4.53! I don't know what they are doing in Ireland with oats.
I'm a fan of Spaghetti Alla Foriana as a no-red-sauce pasta option. I like it hot, the day I make it, and at room temperature later, so I often make a full pound of pasta, which leaves me lots of left overs. The better the noodles the better the dish, so fresh pasta (home made or bought) is my preference. http://favini.blogspot.com/2005/12/sp...
If you can bike, bring a large back pack, and a bike basket, and head over to Economy fruit (fruit and produce, and a couple of canned items). It's unbelievably affordable. I've walked out with 2 grocery bags full of fruit and veggies for $5. It's just west of Dufferin on Bloor. Don't let the initial look of the place throw you, as it's doesn't look like much, just remember, you can wash everything. It's a little hole in the wall, very easy to miss, across from the high school. $10 will go a long ways there. I like to buy an entire bag of onions and I can make onion soup numerous times. It's fabulous for stocking up, and freezing the extras. Otherwise, I go to bulk food stores, the Nut house just up the street from me is excellent, and buy only what I need, or keep a stock of beans ect. for soups in the crock pot. I also make my own bread in a bread maker, putting in a little honey as a presevative, and tying it up in 3 plastic bags, and storing in the fridge. It stays fresh for a week. But it's usually gone by then....
Our favorite cheap it is Potato Pasta if you like garlic you are in! Bake 2 med baking potatoes have them a little undercooked. Split lenthwise let cool a bit then cut into 1/2 moons little over 1/4 inch thick. Heat 2/3 cup olive oit in saute pan and brown potatoes on on side then flip them. Add 12-14 minced garlic cloves around potatoes and 1-2 crushed dried hot pepper. Cook 2/3 lb of pasta-we like angle hair. Its a litte tricky to get potatoes browned with out burning the garlic a bit dark on the garlic is ok. Drain pasta-hot rince-then back in pan dump potato garlic oil in with pasta stir add bout 2/3 cup grated cheese and enjoy.
I live in Covina and work in Pomona, so I am not too far from you. When I am budgeting on a serious level I do as others suggest; eggs, beans & rice; soups, pasta. and the farmer's market.
Do you have a Fresh & Easy nearby? They markdown everything and have a special section, people check it every day, sometimes they even know when the hour is that it will be "restocked" and check several times while they are in the store. I don't buy the convenience items that go on sale, but eggs and produce and meat often get marked down.
Also, Stater Bros. marks down unsold deli items, usually after 8 p.m.
Albertson's (in Claremont) and Ralph's (in Covina) used to mark down meat that was close to sell by date early in the morning, so the early bird got the worm so-to-speak. I used to buy hot dogs w/casings at Ralph's when they were marked down, otherwise too $$$$ for hot dogs and I really only like them w/casings.
A bag of pasta, some jarred sauce and good grated cheese can make a meal. I like to throw in frozen petite peas or sauteed zucchini. Or garbanzo beans. or a can of lentil soup. Or spinach.
Take the polenta, prepared it and pour into a loaf pan. chill and then slice. Brown the slices and top w/meat or mushroom sauce.
Fried egg sandwiches.
Baked potatoes w/cheese sauce (which you make yourself) and broccoli
Or baked potatoes with taco fixins'
Bean and cheese burritos; make from dried pintos
Cottage cheese as protein w/fruit or veggies
Toasted cheese sandwiches w/tomato slices
Make your own salad dressings, great money saver.
Have soup or broth before meals ~~ and/or green salad w/your own dressing.
A bag of Maseca will take you far. Fresh homemade tortillas for cents a dozen. It does take a little practice but they're unbeatably good. You can also make tamales, gorditas, sopes, anything. Use leftover tortillas for chilaquiles w/eggs or fry for chips. Dried beans and a little squash or whatever, you're good to go. It is easy to make salsas out of canned tomatoes from the dollar store plus garlic salt and jalapeno, or cheap tomatillos from a Latino market. Also, making your own fresh cheese is such a good deal and easy. Whether you use it like queso fresco, ricotta, or paneer, all you need is milk and vinegar, boil together and strain through a clean cloth napkin. That's good for pizzas or on tacos, or make some dal (lentils are cheap) and paneer in tomato yogurt broth. Making yogurt is pretty easy too if milk is cheap where you are. You can even use the whey from yogurt or cheese to add protein to cooked grains. Sometimes I sub it in for buttermilk if I'm frying okra or green tomatoes. I def. second grits and if you do the artisan bread in 5 mins a day method, you can have fresh bread easily and cheaply. For me, having hot fresh bread/starch can elevate a meal when I'm feeling down about not being able to afford some of my favorite treats.
ok. I'm officially overwhelmed.
Being the chowhounds that you are, I know this thread is going to continue indefinitely, but that is the charm of Chowhound.
I really DO appreciate, and will use, a lot of these suggestions.
All I can say is, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I will try to report on any ideas that I use.
Guys, in case I didn't tell you, I used the idea of a whole roast chicken, then chicken sandwiches, chicken tacos, and chicken noodle soup -
NOTHING was left of that thing! : )
AND, a heads up, in case you haven't seen the circular -
- For those of you in the states with Albertson's markets, they just came out with their circular -
- Your choice of Beef Chuck, Chuck Shoulder, Cross Rib or Bottom Round Roast or Farmer John Pork Loin Roast for $3.99 a lb., 3 lbs. minimum, PLUS you get:
- 5 lb. bag Russet Potatoes
- 1 lb. bag Farm Stand Whole Carrots
- 1 pkg. Farm Stand Celery -
Just thought I'd let everyone know -
I didn't see the Albertson's one, but I did get one from Food Maxx (I think) that offered a ton of free items with any purchase over $25. Eggs and potatoes and toilet paper and bottles of soda, if I remember correctly.
Now, to find out where the nearest Albertson's is...
Ooh, and I have another good shopping tip that we discovered last year. Wait until a day or two after Thanksgiving, and then go shopping for whole turkeys. Bigger than chickens and every bit as versatile, and I've seen them as low as $0.30/lb the week after Thanksgiving.
Some of the cheapest dishes I routinely make are:
Arroz con Pollo
Broccoli and Macaroni (cook broccoli in boiling water, take it out of the water and set aside, cook pasta in the broccoli water. Toss broccoli, pasta, garlic and EVOO and a bit of the pasta water together.)
Peppers and Eggs or Potatoes and Eggs
Beef & Barley Soup
Ratatouille (summertime staple)
Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry
Lentil & Pasta Soup
Sausage Gravy over Biscuits or Potatoes
Sausage and Peppers over Polenta
I recommend Ham Hocks and Beans. If you're from the north and think that sounds too crude, you can call it ham and bean soup.
Ham Hock and Beans
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 smoked ham hocks
2 cups chopped onions
1 pound dried great northern white beans
2 bay leaves
6 cups water
Either presoak the beans for 24 hours in a covered pan or put the beans in water and boil for two minutes then take the pan off the heat and cover for 2 hours.
In a Dutch oven with a lid, over medium heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, sweat the onions. Season with pepper. Saute for 2 minutes.
Stir in the beans and bay leaves. Season with pepper. Saute for 1 minute. Add the ham hocks and water.
Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 2 hours, or until the meat falls of the bone and the beans are creamy. Remove the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.
Notes and Variations:
This is good with bread and butter but it is great with corn bread. Jiffy muffin mix is good homemade even better.
Half chicken stock half water makes it even richer.
You could have the butcher cut the hocks and then make a stock with them and use that instead of water.
You can use any kind of bean you like. Lots of Texans would never dream of using anything but pinto beans. I have even heard of people using lima beans. I suspect these people need help, but whatever floats your boat.
You could use any kid of sausage you like instead of ham hocks.
You could use one of those ham steaks you can buy at the store and cut it up.
You could be a real poor person and use the left over bone and scraps of ham after several meals eating the rest of the ham.
Add some carrots for color.
With more ham or ham hocks, you could use more water.. up to about 10 cups.
Study poor societies and their cuisines. They are based on rice, corn, pasta (wheat), potatoes and beans. Meat is more of a condiment than the main ingredient. Because these ingredients are fairly bland, these cuisines feature bold spices and herbs. Rice and bean dishes are particularly good for left overs and store very well for a long period of time without spoiling.
Learn to stirfry. the whole purpose of this technique is to use up left overs and use very little meat, in deed, whatever meat is available.
Learn how to make a rice pilaf like jambalaya, or mexican rice. There are unlimited combinations that can be used.
Learn how to make beans and whatever meat is available.
Learn to make several pasta and polenta dishes.
Learn to use the incredible edible egg. It is cheap and nutritious.
Don't get too hung up on organic and natural foods and try not to commit yourself to being completely vegetarian. These are admirable commitments but they tend to be expensive. Poor people are versatile above all else. We are the perfect omnivore. If you want to eat more naturally, grow a garden... even a small hydroponic one.
Grocery stores usually sale-price their meats on a particular day/time; ask your meat man, and tell him your goal, same with the produce manager. Only buy sale items & plan your meals around them. Use WalM's cost matching policy. Most store brands are made by the Brand-name producers. Internet research will guide you. Dried beans are your friend; Meat is a luxury. Make everything you can homemade. Bread is $2/loaf; make your own. Homemake yoghurt; drain for cream cheese substitute & use the whey in your bread. Put leftovers in the freezer until you can make soup; make soup a lot! Use spices for change-ups. Mother always wrote her month's menus out and shopped monthly; switch around when you have sale items. Home can when you get a windfall.
Hard times all over, Aurora. I'm glad you have stamps to help out.
Ok. Always, with any beans, brown rice (nutrition value) and cornbread. (complete protein.)
Pasta. Pasta tossed with a little oil and all the sauteed fresh in-season veg. you can find. I know parm's a luxury right now, but if you can stretch, it's a nice add.
Pasta again, with tuna and any beans.
Big batch of veg soup
Different ramen preparations. It's not the healthiest option due to the salt content and the deepfried noodles (at least in American Ramen) but you can "up" the value by adding protein and vegetables to it and adding your own seasonings to it.
A roasted chicken with a ton of veg will make two meals for you two, and provide the frame for some delicious soup.
Consider a meatloaf. You can REALLY stretch this, with sauteed minced veg: onion, bell peppers, garlic, even minced zucchini, and carrots. Oatmeal is a great binder. One pound of meat stretched in this way will make a huge meatloaf that will serve you both for several days, with the bonus of lunch sandwiches.
Fried rice is awesome for cheap eats. Cook the rice ahead of time, and let it chill; scramble a couple eggs and set them aside, and then stir-fry every veg you can get your hands on. Bacon is nice in this and needs only 2 strips or so, crumbled in. But veg. alone is delicious too.
Good luck to the both of you, dear.
As far as meatloaf ... just wanted to note that I use (per my adaptation of a recipe in a church cookbook I worked on as a teenager) 2-3 cups freshly made wheat breadcrumbs (I just pull apart the bread with my fingers), which I then soak in milk + egg (and some sour cream if you have it). This really disappears into the loaf and makes it so nice and light. I also use a ton of veggies in meatloaf (onion and celery with as many leaves as possible)--I like it better that way. It doesn't stick together as well, but it will end up in bite size pieces quite soon anyway :)
My mother always put rolled oats in hamburgers as well as meatloaf. It was some time before I could get used to the texture of hamburgers made without them!
One of the best meatloafs I ever had and made had a bunch of raw shredded zuchini in it. The meatloaf was tender and moist. Great for those who grow zuch's. I 'spent' half the garden on it one year and only got about 4 or 5 zuchs. What the hell is wrong with me?? Father was an agronomist, and I can't grow zuchs????
Aurora, I haven't read all of the thread yet, so I may be repeating suggestions, so fair warning!
Some of the dishes I started making during hard economic times and still use today simply because I like them are:
"Hot Naked Spaghetti" At least that's what it was called way back in the '50s at The Old Spaghetti Factory, on Nob Hill, in San Francisco, loooooong before it became a chain. Cook your spaghetti al dente and drain. In a large sauté or frying pan, heat a fairly generous amount of full bodied olive oil and toss in some sliced garlic and toast lightly. Add the well drained spaghetti and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sometimes I let some strands of the spaghetti get a little browned for added texture. Turn off the heat and add grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano (my favorite), or when the budget is tight, ANY Italian style cheese, even the round green box. Don't add the cheese when the burner is still on. Some cheeses burn easily. Serve hot with a big tossed green salad and a cheap loaf of French bread heated in the oven until the crust is crunchy.
Another fairly cheap pasta sauce I like is made with fresh raw tomatoes. You simply dice fresh tomatoes (your choice whether you peel and seed them or not). You'll need at least a couple of cups full for two fairly hungry people. Do NOT "chop" the tomatoes in a food processor or a blender as that will turn them to a pink bubbly mush, expecially the blender! Put them in a large bowl. Add some minced or crushed garlic to taste. Add about a half teaspoon or so of dried (or fresh) oregano, some dried or fresh thyme (more oregano than thyme), a generous splash of fragrant olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and check for seasoning. You can add some Italian style grated cheese of your choice at this point, or you can just serve the cheese at the table. Let the flavors blend at room temperature while you boil the water and cook your pasta. Any kind of pasta is good with this simple sauce, from spaghetti to penne and all between. Drain the pasta well when al dente and add it immediately to the sauce while the pasta is steaming hot. This "cooks" the sauce and brings the pasta down to comfortable eating temperature. If you want to make this sauce in advance, refrigerate it, then be sure to bring it to room temperature before you start your pasta. It's best with cheap "heirloom" tomatoes, either from your farmer's market or a nearby Asian market. "Stems on" tomatoes, regardless of their size, always have more flavor.
Any kind of quiche is always fairly cheap if you don't tuck really expensive ingredients such as morels or truffles in it. Store bought pie shells will work just fine but always read the ingredient label in the store before you head for check out! Sometime in the not too distant past, manufacturers decided to start sweetening ready-made pie crusts when I wasn't looking. I bought some without reading the ingredients, brought them home and made quiche Lorraine with it. Sweet crust with savory filling is not a good thing! In most quiche recipes, the uncooked pie shell is docked (pierced all over to keep it from bubbling up during baking), then a layer of cheese (often Swiss, Gruyere, Emanthaller, but practically any cheese will do) which is either cut into 1 inch (or smaller) cubes or course grated and spread loosely across the interior of the pie crust. This serves as a partial seal over the crust so it doesn't get too soggy during baking. But before baking, other "goodies" are added to the shell before the custard is added as the final step before baking. Some delicious additions are caramelized onions, diced ham, crisp crumbled bacon, well drained cooked vegetables (artichoke hearts are delicious, as are asparagus spears), seafood such as shrimp (a few shrimp aren't all that expensive and everybody ends up thinking they had shrimp for lunch or dinner!), firm white fish poached and cut in cubes, but I would draw the line at any sort of canned seafood, but on the other hand, I've never tried it. The final step in assembling the quiche is to mix two or three eggs with a cup or so of milk, blend well, season with salt and white pepper, and a little pinch of nutmeg is good too. Put the quiche on a cookie sheet or line the oven shelf with aluminum foil, then pour the egg/milk mixture (custard) into the pie shell to a level about a quarter of an inch short of running over the top. The quiche filling will rise a bit during baking and eventually brown on top. Taking the quiiche to the oven on a cookie sheet is a lot easier than trying to carry it alone. What if you spill? Ovens vary greatly, even when set for the same temperature. For my oven, I bake the quiche at 325F for 35 to 45 minutes, then test for doneness. If you can insert the tip of a dinner knife straight into the center of the pie at a slight angle, then draw it back out and there is no custard stuck to it, the quiche is done. Remove from the oven, allow to cool a bit and serve. I cut mine into six slices. Whether it will serve six or not depends on what I serve with it.
Chicken is always always always cheaper if you buy a whole one and cut it up yourself. Somewhere on these boards (I have no idea how to retrieve it!) I wrote out explicit directions for cutting up a chicken yourself. I think it was a couple of years ago. So that helps bring down the price for fried chicken from the start. But it also gives you the option of frying some, boiling some, making chicken soup or any of the gazillion dishes that use a little or a lot of chicken. Chicken enchiladas are a fairly cheap meal, and I love Enchiladas Suiza.
There are a lot of great tasting cheap rice dishes that are real dollar stretchers. But a lot of how cheap a dish is to make depends heavily on the things you already have in your pantry. Fried rice, even with shrimp or ham in it, is a cheap dish if you don't have to go out and buy a bottle of soy sauce or sesame oil or whatever. I make delicious Turkish pilafs using either rice or bulgur. My favorites include toasted pine nuts and currants, but if I had to buy those two ingredients for a one time occasion, I'd probably never serve pilaf! Add a few new things to your arsenal whenever you can, and pretty soon you won't have to worry about whether you can make fried rice without it costing you an arm and a leg.
You don't mention how much time you have to devote to cooking. My guess from what you say and how you say it is that you don't have a lot of time. But just in case you have more time than I think, baking your own breads is both cheap (compared to store prices for the same breads, even if it's store brand white sandwich bread) and so much more delicious that even most bakeries. But caution! Home made bread will jump into your mouth and then onto your hips if you don't pay attention. Voice of experience! Kinds of breads I've made that were huge hits range from cinnamon buns, raisin bread, "French" bread, whole wheat bread, yeast rolls, English muffins, quick breads, potato bread (made with the water drained from boiling potatoes for mashing), biscuits, muffins.... Well, the list is long. Breads are well worth your time IF you can afford the time. Whether your hips can afford you baking bread is up to you!
Oh! And a cheap home made category has got to be pizza! Just remember, the more "from scatch" ingredients you use, the cheaper the pizza. And that includes the crust. I can make the curst for a huge pizza for about thirty cents. Whenever I make a marinara from scratch, I often make a double or triple batck and freeze some in large paper cups for future use as a pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, or a base sauce for more complex dishes.
A few dishes from the past, some of which are making a come-back and all of which have recipes on the internet are; tamale pie, tuna casserole, pasta salads, chicken and dumplings, beef or lamb stew... There are also tons of free electronic recipe books on line, some of which are very old but have recipes that will work today and may be really cheap to make.
Good luck, and whatever else, have fun with it!
I think my dinner last night probably qualifies for this thread ... baked a large sweet potato, topped with a little butter, brown sugar, and toasted pecans. (I notice pecans are expensive now, since the drought ... I'm sure other types of nuts would be equally good. I used to sub pecans for other nuts, but now walnuts are significantly less ... I bet almonds would be good on sweet potatoes, and slivered would give you more bang for your buck.)
Our cheap homemade uses a small can of tuna fish. It can be packed in oil or water. Bake or micro a potato and roast some vegetables. Slice the potato and lay them on a bed of lettuce. Then the veggies with the tuna on top, drizzle with some olive oil. Salt, pepper and whatever else you have. Some bread or rice can complete the meal. Serves 2.
I made a vegetable risotto this week with leftover (uncooked) veggies--onion, leek, and carrots. Other ingredients: butter, chicken broth, and optionally parmesan on top (only need a little bit), salt and pepper. A good way to use up leftover fresh veggies, as well as a few bits of chicken if you have it. Asparagus is also good.
Don't forget ham. I just bought an 8 pound butt portion bone in ham for 99 cents per pound. I made a ham dinner with mashed potatoes and carrots. I made a glaze for the ham and the carrots. I also used the glaze to make a fairly sweet gravy. (E.F. Mama wasn't thrilled with the sweet gravy.)
With the leftovers, I sliced some and put it in 2 zip lock bag. I froze one and put the other in the fridge. I cut up some chunks and put those in 2 zip lock bags. I froze one and refrigerated the other.
I put the bone and the clinging ham into a bag and will use it for ham and bean soup along with some of those ham chunks. I'll use the sliced ham for sandwiches. I'll make some ham and eggs. My mother would have made ham biscuits... not sure I will go that far.
Bottom line.. I'll get several meals out of that $8 worth of ham.
Sorry.. this is a long one.. but I hope it's helpful.
Not so much about recipes per say.. but how to keep food stocks on the cheap, which is cheaper than trying to buy for every meal. If you have some of this stuff on hand, it's easy to make a large number of cheap but yummy meals. Your library and it's cook books will become your best friend. Look up specific food recipie books, aka Lentils, quinoa, super soups ect. Of course online recipe sites are great too, but I find it hard to become focused in your search and find results.
So.. my cheap eating guide?? Mainly: Buy dried or frozen, and buy in bulk. I live in Toronto, so I'm extremely lucky to be able to price shop with tons of options. My main trick is that I try to stock up on dried goods at a bulk food store (especially those on young, or strictly bulk), or frozen goods from the cheapest grocery stores, and then try to mix things up.
As soon as you buy something packaged, you are paying extra for the packaging and the marketing. So I try to buy from bulk food stores. I try to always have dried black/red/various dried beans (cheaper than canned) and lentils, dried peas, rice, gluten free pasta, stock cubes (healthiest option is the organics vegan super low sodium in the blue box.. very little salt!), powdered cheese (cheddar and parmesan), vegan "chili" mix, nutritional yeast, brown sugar, lime leaves, quinoa, spices, dried so soya chunks, "ground" and slices (many people will think it's chicken), cashews, sliced almonds, dried fruit, walnuts, peanut butter, honey, pepper corns and maple syrup, sesame seeds and spices on hand. I get all this things from various bulk stores (the nut house, Strictly Bulk, and bulk barn). Take a sharpie with you to the bulk store, as not all have tags and you'll need to write on the bags to identify your stuff when you get home. I tend to keep and re use all glass food jars for bulk items, aka pasta sauce jars, apple sauce jars, juice bottles, maraschino cherry jars ect. Other great staples for flavoring: Mustard, Soy/Tamari sauce, Worchester sauce, oils/vinegar, tomato paste/juice, lemon/lime juice, cheap wine or beer and cornstarch or nutritional yeast for thickening.
Fresh produce and meat is usually the most expensive way to eat, even if it is also the tastiest. I buy chicken in large white plain boxes from certain price choppers. I haven't counted, but you get a LARGE number of pre seasoned, boneless skinless chicken breast for about $30, and this can last me 4 months or more, especially if you are slicing them in half lengthwise and cutting into strips.. one breast goes a really long way. I'm insanely lucky that here in Toronto, there is an insanely cheap produce place near me (economy fruit), as well as cheap Asian grocery/produce stores. Another fun thing to do is grow your own herbs. Almost any container will do.. and dirt is all around you. Start off with one or two different seed packs. Fresh parsley, chives or dill from your window sill is a lovely thing to add to all the dry and frozen food. You invest $2 for some seeds.. and they'll keep growing so long as you water them.
In my freezer I keep frozen spinach pellets (not blocks.. too hard to separate), baby Brussel sprouts, and frozen fruit. I buy curry paste in large containers from super cheap from Asian stores on Young, where you get 4 times as much for half the price. I buy large boxes of Grace brand coconut powder, and from that create my own coconut milk and cream, rather than wasting $1+ per can every time I want to make thai green curry. Also, I invested in a bread maker froma thrift store ($16), as I should be eating gluten free. I now make my own breads, cookies and crackers, as those things are simply too pricey, and the cheap breads are very bad for your health and creating spare tires! Double or triple bag all bread, and it lasts MUCH longer.
Buy whatever produce or fruit is being discounted, then chop/cut/puree and freeze it for soups, bases, smoothies ect. Buying discounted /near end of life peppers, chopping them up very fine and freezing them is a great way to add flavour to many dishes. (Note... cut peppers in half, scoop out seeds.. freeze.. then chop into bits and re freeze. Make sure pieces are loose in baggie so that you can get small bits later.. not one huge chunk).
Other things that make my life easy: Laughing cow cheese (I buy the 24 packs of the light) and Kiri Goat Cheese cubes are very versatile and melt really well into anything hot, adding tons of flavor and creaminess, but very little in calories. I love putting it in quinoa and stir fries, lentils, and any other grain or soup. I keep a HUGE bag of onions on hand, and squash makes a great buy because it lasts so long in your fridge, freezes well, and is fantastic in soups, casseroles, mixed with nuts/grains, mixed with potatoes ect. If you drink milk, buy the skim version in bags, as you can put them in the freezer. Also, ground turkey is cheaper and healthier than any beef, and cheaper than ground lean beef. The other main fresh item I always have on hand are eggs. They keep for a much longer time than advertised. If you are wary about your egg, look up the float time test.
Another tip: If you have a roommate, split on getting a Costco membership, which split is $25ish a year. Basically one person buys one, and the other person has to be able to prove they live at the same address, and they get the "spouse/family"card. Buy things in bulk, and freeze things, especially meat and cheese. FYI you DONT need a membership to get prescriptions there, which are a zillion times cheaper than getting them elsewhere. Just call them to as how much XX generic prescription will be, compared to your normal pharmacy. You can also save a mint on prescription eyewear there. Another thought: Get a crockpot. Slow, low heat cooking makes everything taste amazing, especially if you can keep a $7 bottle of cheap wine around for it. They are especially great for cooking the less desirable cuts of meat.
The best overall tip though??? Chow hound. Awesome resource!! : )
And after all that, as to the original question regarding recipes... My fav. is Thai Green Curry. It's cheap to make a number of times assuming you have some essential dried/long shelf life ingredients, which for me are:
Coconut powder, green curry paste, brown sugar, dried/frozen lemon grass, fish sauce, dried lime leaves, water, rice, so soya slices/chicken, and whatever vegetables you have lying around.
Quinoa boiled with low sodium bouillon cube, then add 2 spinach blocks, chopped mushroom, 1 or 2 laughing cow cheese, thinly chopped or julienned carrot, pin nuts or cashew bits
Couscous cooked in bouillon water then add curry powder, cinnamon, small amount of parsley, dried chopped up pits of cherry and or raisins and cashews/almonds/walnuts. Can add in laughing cow light.
Chopped onions and minced garlic fried with whatever veggies you have lying around with whichever flavorings you like.. tamari and oil
Mixed Soup: Throw dried beans/rice/whatever you have into a crock pot with a bouillon cube, water, onions, and any other chopped veggies you have. Look up online recipes for inspiration and guidelines.
Roasted Veggies: Cut up anything you have into small pieces, or into "fries". Coat in any available oil, and if you have it coat in spices (salt/pepper, cayeene, garlic, onion ect) and either bread crumbs, crushed cereal, corn meal or whatever else. Stick in oven until tender and perhaps crunchy.
I made something good & pretty cheap this week ... ham and broccoli in white sauce made with a little garlic over spinach linguine (regular is cheaper). The ham I got from the deli ... the recipe called for 2 oz. for 4 people--I used more, obviously less is cheaper. Brown the ham at the beginning for more flavor. The white sauce is made with milk, and a baby block of cream cheese melted in for richness (optional). Top with parmesan. You can cook the broccoli by adding to the pasta for the last 3 minutes or so. I added cayenne to the white sauce for more flavor. Yummy! I am not a big broccoli eater, but I bought organic and quite like this dish.
Shop at Asian or Latino markets if possible - the produce tends to be cheap, and often pretty good / fresh for the price. Looks like you're in California, so you should be within driving range of some good options. And it goes without saying that avoiding waste and coming up with creative ways to re-use the same ingredients, or put together things you wouldn't think would work together will also help. I'm vegetarian, so my suggestions are mostly in that area, not because I'm preaching, but just because that's what I know. But eating meat and fish less definitely can help your bottom line if you're not relying on convenience foods too much.
We eat a lot of Chinese vegetarian food. I don't know if you're comfortable cooking this style of food, or if you like the taste, but I'll throw out a few suggestions (usually you'd want to make 2-4 dishes total, served with rice, but many are pretty quick to throw together). A lot of them are home-cooking staples.
Garlic chives (the yellow kind is great, but the normal kind will work too) stir-fried with tofu skin (doufu pi) (dried and soaked in water, then sliced, or else frozen, sliced, and left in warm water for 10 minutes or so). Or sub tomato for garlic chives, or substitute eggs for the tofu skin (tomato and egg is a classic home-cooking dish; lots of videos on how to make it on youtube).
Potato strips - slice potato in long thin strips with a mandolin or knife. Wash with several changes of water to get rid of the starch, and stir-fry them with some salt, fresh or dried chili pepper if you like, with or without vinegar (white vinegar, rice vinegar, or Chinese black vinegar could all work). Lots of regional variations on this one (search for 'toudou si' for videos and online recipes of different types).
5-spice baked tofu (or regular baked tofu if you can't get it), sliced into thin strips, briefly parboiled and well drained, and stir-fried with fresh bamboo shoots, or with Chinese celery and chili pepper (slice all the ingredients into thin strips in either case). Season with salt, a little soy sauce.
Mung bean or soy bean sprout salad -- trim the tails if you have time, blanch or steam, season with garlic, salt, white pepper, and whatever else you want.
Wheat-gluten "intestine" stir-fried with chili peppers or bell peppers, some ginger, garlic, and scallions, salt, a little Chinese cooking wine or soy sauce if you want.
Braised eggplant or "yu xiang" eggplant. You may go through a lot of oil for deep-frying, so not sure if that will push the price up too high, and you'll need some ingredients for the sauce if you don't already have them on hand, but Chinese eggplants are *really* cheap out here right now (and you can strain re-use the frying oil if you want).
Fried rice -- with a little practice, not too hard to cook at home, and it's a filling one-pot meal that you can use to make good use of left overs.
We eat a lot of beans and grains - white bean / farro stew, warm lentil salad with some vegetables. If you're bored of normal style black beans, try feijoada (either traditional or vegetarian). Many variations out there -- I find that the whole orange imparts a really interesting taste to black beans. Looks like you may be in LA -- if you can, check out Guidi Marcello in Santa Monica - great deals on beans, grains, olive oil, etc.
Thai curry (with canned curry paste and canned coconut milk) should be fairly cost effective.
Couple ideas that are things I've made lately ...
Frito pie with homemade chili with pinto beans. Fritos, chili, I use sharp cheddar, chopped sweet onion. With about a cup of pintos, a pound of ground beef, and 2 cans of diced tomatoes, I make a couple quarts or so of chili. I would think enough for at least 8 servings of Frito pie?
Hot dogs topped with Bush's bacon/extra brown sugar beans, lots of yellow mustard, and chopped onion.
My Japanese friend cooked this burgers for me once, and both myself and my husband just fell in love with them - they were so airy and delicious. Turned out, they are also super easy and not expensive to make and are now regular at my house.
So, you'll need
1. 1lb of ground pork
2. 1lb of firm tofu
3. table spoon grated ginger
4. medium onion finely chopped up
5. large egg
very little salt (soy sauce is salty)/ black pepper
sugar and soy sauce
Mix well ingredients 1-5 and form burgers / meat balls. Pan fry till golden. Mix soy sauce with sugar (to taste), add to meat balls / burgers, reduce heat and simmer till ready under the lid. take caution so soy does not burn.
Ground pork is very cheap here; so is tofu. so, in addition to being super delicious, this recipe is also wallet friendly.
serve with rice and green salad