This will be the first of a series of posts on living healthy for less! I will highlight a different food group in each post, featuring both information and a recipe or two featuring inexpensive and healthful ways to enjoy these foods.
Step inside your nearest Whole Foods and you will see that health food is a hot trend that people are willing to pay premium prices for. Even at an ordinary grocery store, you will notice organics cost much more than conventionally grown produce, not to mention eggs, dairy and meats. The thing that really irks me? Whole wheat flour costs more than white! Apparently despite the fact that it is less processed and therefore should take up less resources to create, it is being sold at a higher price because people think of it as a specialty item. Speaking of wheat… don’t even get me started on how over priced gluten-free goods can be!
Okay, I know my last two posts have featured pistachios and figs, rather indulgent ingredients to be fair. I like food and I like cooking. Some people buy lattes on a near daily basis. I allow myself a few “gourmet” items every week. That being said, the bulk of my groceries are simply wholesome foods that are both cheap and nutrient dense. The star of the frugal vegetarian whole foods pantry?
These are among the cheapest sources of protein and are also rich in fiber, iron, zinc, folate, vitamin e, thiamin, magnesium, and potassium. They are a lovely addition to soups, stews, and curries and can make a simple side dish into a substantial meal. They make excellent dips (hummus is a well known favorite and black beans make a tasty dip as well), and can even be snuck in to cookies or brownies sometimes to amp up the protein and fiber content. Some of my favorites:
*Lentils (brown, green, and red)
*Garbanzos (Chick Peas)
*Cannellini Beans (white beans)
*Red Kidney Beans
*Green or yellow Split peas
I buy my legumes in the bulk bins of a local supermarket. This is the cheapest way I have found to get them. They range from about $0.50/ lb to $1.25/lb. I soak the beans 8-24 hours, to make them cook faster and easier to digest. If you have had trouble digesting beans, don’t skip this step- it helps remove some of the oligosaccharides- natural sugars which are not very digestible by the body and can cause… ahem… discomfort.
After soaking, I cook a big pot of beans once a week or so and portion the cooked beans into several containers, about 1 1/2 – 2 cups in each (the amount usually found in a standard can). I will use the beans at least once or twice in my meals that week and I will freeze the rest for later use. Beans freeze beautifully. Just thaw them completely before using in a recipe. I usually try to plan ahead and just move them from the freezer to the fridge a few days before I will be using them. You can let them sit out on the counter for a faster thaw, but don’t forget about them!
And now, Cumin Spiced Potato and White Bean Soup with Cilantro Pesto:
As much as I love hummus, chili, mexican beans and rice, and other dishes that showcase beans, sometimes it is nice to find a fresh way of using beans. In this simple soup, white beans are pureed with potatoes (another dirt cheap ingredient!) to create a rich and creamy base without the use of cream or dairy of any kind. This method adds protein and body to a simple potato soup, without losing the creamy comfort of the traditional dish. I asked Andrew if he wanted to say anything about this soup. His response: “I wish there was more of it.”
Cumin Spiced Potato and White Bean Soup with Cilantro Pesto:
*1 tablespoon olive oil
* stalk celery, diced
*2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
*4 green onions or 1/4 cup diced yellow onion
*about 5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced ( roughly 4 cups)
*1 1/2 cups or 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
*2 teaspoons cumin
*1 teaspoon tumeric (optional- gives a golden hue and has anti-inflammatory properties)
*4 cups vegetable broth ( see note at bottom of page for how to make your own broth.)
*Cilantro Pesto for serving (recipe follows)
1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and add the celery, white parts of onions, and garlic. Saute over medium- high heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add cubed potatoes, cumin, and tumeric and saute a minute more. Add vegetable broth and white beans, cover and simmer about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
2. Remove soup from heat. Using an immersion blender directly in the soup pot, or by transferring soup to a blender, puree soup. You can remove some potato chunks before doing this to stir back in if you want more texture- I kept about a cup of potato chunks to stir back in.
Serve with cilantro pesto and sliced green onions. Garnish with cheese if desired.
Cilantro is one of the cheapest herbs- a large bunch is usually only $0.30- $0.50 at my grocery store. Unfortunately it goes bad quickly, so making a pesto is a nice way to prolong its life as well as add a tasty zip to many foods.
* 2 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro
*2-3 cloves garlic
*6 tablespoons cashews
*3/4 teaspoon sea salt
*1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast or parmesan
*6 tablespoons olive oil
Combine everything but olive oil in food processor and pulse until finely minced. Scrape down sides if necessary and, with motor running, pour in the olive oil. Serve with soup or use as a sauce for pasta, tacos, enchiladas, or anything else you can imagine!
***Note: In my vegetarian home, we go through a lot of veggie scraps. I started making my own broth with some of the scraps, which is not only cost effective, but also green, as it saves things from becoming waste. I keep a medium sized container in the freezer to fill with scraps when I cook, because it might go bad before it gets full if I just have it in the fridge. Here’s what can go in the broth:
-onion ends and skins
-garlic ends and skins
-carrot peelings and pieces
-organic potato peelings
-aromatic herbs like parsley and bay leaves
Here’s what you should avoid putting in the broth:
-cabbage, broccoli, or any members of this family (they impart a distinct taste that does not go well with many other dishes)
-anything that is rotton, moldy, or dirty (you can put things in that look limp or past their prime, but remember you are still ingesting them!)
-Strong herbs like cilantro
-Beets will turn your broth bright pink- not a huge problem, but just a heads up!
To make broth:
Heat a little olive oil in a soup pan, saute the veggie scraps a few minutes, and cover with twice the amount of water as you used vegetables. Simmer over low heat for at least 1 hour. I also add peppercorns to my mixture. You can salt to taste or even use a couple tablespoons of soy sauce to add depth. Keeps up to one week in the fridge, or may be frozen several months.
Does anyone else have any good uses for beans or tips for living well on the cheap? I’d love to hear suggestions!