misunderstood-eggplantThis recipe incorpates vegan and frugal staples of eggplant and chickpeas. I wanted to try this recipe as part of my Eggplant Crusade over on Bitter/Sweet. The results were mixed. The eggplant soaked up much of the sauce, which seemed to mellow the spicy flavors. There may be room for improvement in this recipe, finding a way to incorporate the sauce without allowing the eggplant to soak it all up (as eggplant tends to do).

As part of the Eggplant Crusade, this dish did not win any battles for me. The cauliflower, however, was delicious roasted and would be outstanding on its own with the spicy sauce. The chickpeas add a nutty flavor while fresh basil adds an earthy note. I do not want to advocate taking eggplant out the recipe, but perhaps this is just not a recipe where eggplant can truly shine.

Spicy Eggplant with Cauliflower and Basil
from Cooking Light

1/2 tsp sea salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1  tbsp freshly ginger, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tsp Thai red curry paste
1 1/2 pounds eggplant, cut lengthwise into wedges
1/2 head cauliflower (about 1 lb), broken into florets
1 can (15 oz can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups  bean sprouts
1/2 cup  fresh basil leaves, torn if large
hot cooked rice, for serving

Preheat oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Whisk together the garlic, ginger, oil, curry paste, salt, and 1/2 cup water. Toss with the eggplants and cauliflower, then transfer to prepared baking sheet, spreading into a single layer. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chickpeas during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Remove from oven and toss with the bean sprouts and basil. Serve over cooked rice.


Frugal Breakdown:
1/2 tsp sea salt: negligible
2 garlic cloves: negligible
1  tbsp freshly ginger: $0.20
1/3 cup olive oil: negligible 
2 tsp Thai red curry paste: negligible (see below)  
1 1/2 pounds eggplant: $1.80 
1/2 head cauliflower: $1.00 
1 can (15 oz can) chickpeas: $0.99
2 cups  bean sprouts: $0.99 
1/2 cup  fresh basil leaves: $1.00
hot cooked rice: $1.05
TOTAL: $7.03

Verdict: Success, if you already have red curry paste. This is one of those things I keep in the pantry and do not use too often, so 2 teaspoons is not a large amount. If you do not already have this, it can set you back almost $4, which would not be a success.

Rice is also difficult to determine. I tend to buy Jasmine rice, which is a bit more expensive and cook it with some coconut milk. If you buy generic white rice, however, it is very cheap. I also considered 1/3 cup of olive oil negligible because I buy large bottles on sale, but again if this is not a regular item in your pantry it may be more expensive.

skinny-papers1CNN’s Sean Callebs is spending the month of February on a food budget that is the same as what people receive on food stamps (although, apparently they are no longer called food stamps but the SNAP Program: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Read his blog for more details on his experiment and how he is surviving on a $176 food budget for the month.

One thing Sean touches on is that food prices have risen dramatically, mostly due to energy prices. He also points out that this program is meant to supplement income, though usually for a family and not just an individual. Either way, it still makes it difficult to afford a healthy, balanced diet.

There is something else he has not mentioned (yet), that a friend brought to my attention: many markets and grocery stores raise prices and reduce sales during the first seven days of the month because that is when many fixed income people receive their checks for the month. This is apparently prevalent in urban/inner-city areas.

The part of me that attended courses on advertising understands this. It is an obvious opportunity for grocers to increase profits at the beginning of the month because certain populations are forced to shop during that time. In a way, it would be foolish not to rise prices based on demand.

Now, I understand we are a capitalist nation, but part of me takes serious issue with this practice. These stores are taking advantage of some of the most vulnerable populations, including those on “food stamps,” disability, and social security.

My evidence for this practice, however, is anecdotal and I cannot track down an official source to prove this is happening. I even tried a few urban legend sites and did not come across any information to prove or disprove this assertion.

Sage & Lemon Chicken w/ Broccoli

February 17th, 2009

Sometimes, it is easy to get bored with chicken. This recipe infuses the flavors of sage and lemon into chicken, creating an intriguing flavor that is earthy yet bright. Green onions and lemon give this dish a taste of spring before most spring vegetables are available. Sage, along with pasta and broccoli, keep the dish hearty and savory while the weather is still chilly. In Spring, basil and asparagus would be good substitutions for the sage and broccoli.


Sage & Lemon Chicken w/ Broccoli

4 bonesless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage  
1 lemon
1 head broccoli, chopped into florets
3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 cups uncooked orzo or other small pasta
olive oil

Preheat oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place a wire rack on top of the baking sheet.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. In a large ziplock bag, combine chicken, garlic, and sage. Zest lemon into bag, then cut in half and squeeze half of the juice into the bag, reserving the other half. Arrange chicken on wire rack and bake 15-20 minutes until cooked through and no longer pink.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook 5 minutes, then add broccoli. Cook an additional 4-5 minutes until pasta is al dente and broccoli is crisp-tender. Drain and toss with olive oil.

In a small amount of olive oil, saute green onions in a large skillet over medium heat until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and add broccoli and pasta to skillet and squeeze remaining half of lemon juice on top. Season with pepper.

Remove chicken breasts from oven and place over broccoli mixture. Serve immediately.




Frugal Breakdown:
4 chicken breasts: $3.20
salt and pepper: negligible
2 garlic cloves: negligible
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage : $0.75 
1 lemon: $0.60
1 head broccoli: $1.67
3 green onions: $0.25
2 cups uncooked orzo: $0.75
olive oil: negligible
TOTAL: $7.22

Verdict: An easy success, considering the deal I found on chicken breasts. Most of the other ingredients are pantry staples, so this was not an expensive dish to make.

Pasta night is a regular in my kitchen, usually with a box of pasta and a jar of pre-made sauce. It’s a pretty frugal meal, especially when I can catch a sale. This dish takes that concept and gives it a little pizazz and more balance, albeit for a slightly higher cost. What I liked most about this dish is that it is hearty and satisfying, and makes enough servings for leftovers.

The original recipe called for ziti pasta, but any small, shaped pasta will do. Elbow macaroni, rotini, small shells, or gemelli (my favorite) are all good choices. I think rice would be great in this dish as well. Use what is already in the pantry.


  • Gemelli pasta is not a well known shape, though I have no idea why!

Baked Pasta w/ Sausage, Tomatoes, & Cabbage
adapted from Cooking Light

1 box (1 lb) uncooked small, shaped pasta
3/4 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage 
1  onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups cabbage, sliced thinly (about 1/4 head)
1  tbsp tomato paste
1/4  tsp salt
1/4  tsp cayenne pepper
2 cans (14.5-ounce) petite-diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded 

Preheat oven to 350F and coat a 13×11 baking dish with cooking spray.

Bring a large pot of salted water (use about a tbsp) to a boil and cook pasta 8-10 minutes until al dente. Drain and keep warm, tossing with olive oil to prevent sticking.

Meanwhile, saute onion and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and break apart with a wooden spoon. Saute until browned and add cabbage, cook until slightly wilted. Stir in tomato paste, salt, cayenne pepper, and tomatoes with liquid to the pan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Combine sausage mixture, pasta, and basil. Pour into prepared baking dish, using wooden spoon to smooth the top. Bake for 10 minutes. Whisk together bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top of pasta and bake an additional 10 minutes or until bubbly and topping is golden brown.


  •   The breadcrumb topping creates a tasty crust.

Frugal Breakdown:
1 box pasta: $0.50
3/4 lb Italian sausage: $2.21 
1  onion: $0.50
2 garlic cloves: negligible
2 cups sliced cabbage (about 1/4 head): $0.40
1  tbsp tomato paste: $0.30
1/4  tsp salt: negligible
1/4  tsp cayenne pepper: negligible
2 cans diced tomatoes: $2.10
1/4 cup fresh basil: $0.75
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs: $0.33
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese: $1.54
TOTAL: $8.63

Verdict: Success, and a tasty one at that. There are easily 8-10 servings with this recipe, making each serving about $1.

The original recipe called for 2 cups of cheese, which aside for being expensive is not something I had on hand. I added some cabbage to the dish, not because I think cabbage is a substitution for cheese, but to add some more vegetables and to use it up before it went bad. Because I added the cabbage, I was able to reduce the sausage from 1 pound to 3/4 pound., which left some sausage to jazz up leftovers from a different recipe.

When we moved, pasta was on sale 2/$1 and we bought about a dozen boxes. I still have a couple left, but I am always on the look-out for another good sale. Even without a sale, a box of pasta is usually under $1.


Lentil Minestrone

February 13th, 2009

Lentils have not previously made their way into my kitchen before, but many articles about frugal cooking mention lentils so I thought it was high time I gave them a try. There are two basic types of lentils: red lentils and green or brown lentils. Green and brown lentils are more or less interchangeable, while red lentils are not interchangeable with green or brown.

Lentils are a basic in Middle Eastern cuisine and have made their way into French, Mexican, Indian, and North American cuisine as well. These little round legumes are packed full of fiber, protein, and iron, making them a nutritional powerhouse for a very low price. A substitute for meat, lentils are a vegan/vegetarian staple that is also good for the environment.

Lentil Minestrone
adapted from New York Times

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt
1 can (14-15 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 lb brown or green lentils, rinsed and sorted
2 1/2 quarts water
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
6 cups baby spinach

Heat  oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and carrot, cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute just until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute, and add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat slightly and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the lentils, water, thyme sprigs and bay leaf, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add salt to taste and spinach. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes. Add freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust seasoning. Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf before serving.

Frugal Breakdown:
olive oil: negligible
onion: $0.50
2 carrots: $0.39
4 cloves garlic: negligible
sea salt and pepper: negligible
1 can (14-15 oz) diced tomatoes: $1.05
1 lb brown or green lentils: $1.33
2 1/2 quarts water: negligible
2 sprigs fresh thyme: $0.56
1 bay leaf: negligible
6 cups baby spinach: $1.49
TOTAL: $5.32

Verdict: A rousing success. What’s more, at 6 to 8 servings per batch of soup, that’s less than $1 per serving.

Lentils were on sale 3 (1 lb bags) for $4.00, so I have plenty left to try in other dishes. Pantry staples like canned tomatoes and garlic lend flavor to the dish, while fresh vegetables like carrots and spinach are not too expensive. Broth or stock would make this more flavorful, but water and fresh herbs worked just fine.

If 6 to 8 servings of the same soup sounds a little too much, here is a way to enhance those leftovers. It is not uncommon in North American and European cuisines to add bacon, sausage, or salted pork to lentil dishes for flavor. Since minestrone is an Italian soup, I added a 1/2 pound of Italian sausage, which adds $1.48 to the dish, making the total $6.80 (you can add more or less depending on how much soup you have left). Here are the basic directions:

Brown sausage in a skillet, crumbling into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, heat leftover soup in a stockpot until boiling. Add a few ladles of the soup broth into the skillet with the sausage, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the browned bits. Add sausage and liquid to the stockpot. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes, then serve.