Simple spinach dal gets its second run-out on this blog
Fourth in a vaguely self-important series of posts on cheap eating, in which I attempt to give inspiration to the moderately skint by preparing meals within a budget of around £2 a head per day.
If you’ve followed this blog over the last 18 months, you may have noticed that there are times when I appear to be promoting the joys of eating pulses with a near-suspicious level of zeal. This isn’t because I’m being paid to do so by the lentil-farming lobby; it’s because they offer (usually combined with rice) the cheapest and tastiest way of properly filling yourself up.
There’s one hurdle – pulses benefit from spices. For years I’ve spent 50p here, 70p there on bags of turmeric and chilli powder, cumin seed and cardamom pods – and eventually the more exotic likes of fenugreek and asafoetida – when I’ve found myself in the vicinity of an Asian grocer. For many recipes though, if you’ve got cumin, coriander, turmeric and garam masala you’re pretty much sorted – and for non-veggies, the small investment means you’re rarely stuck for a full-flavoured meal on weeks when shelling out on meat is out of the question.
As part of this week’s cheap eating exercise I’m making the basic spinach dal pictured above, featured here last year (cost: about £3 for four portions). I’ve previously covered mejaddara, and more recently have taken to its Egyptian cousin koshary – rice, lentils and pasta on the same plate may not sound appetising, but it’s a strangely addictive meal. As and when you can get your hands on more fancy-pants spices then the likes of this chickpea curry and this amazing recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi take things up another notch.
Best of all, these dishes taste even better the next day. So make twice what you need and take them to work, saving further pennies and avoiding one of my most hated tasks: preparing a sandwich pack-up when you’re knackered just before bed (or worse still, in the morning).
Pasta with green beans in tomato sauce
Third in a series of posts on cheap eating in which I feed two adults (one of which is me) a selection of meals that taste good, on a budget of around £2 each per day.
Ever had a conversation about which carbohydrate you’d choose to live off, if you were only allowed one? It’s a tough call, but I always get a nagging feeling that pasta would be the safest bet – even if you’ve got next to nothing to put it with, you can fix up an ace, frugal meal.
The recipe below is as simple as it gets, but punches a long way above its low cost – to the point where a contented ex-housemate named it Alex’s Pasta and continues cooking it (as far as I know) to this day. Sadly I didn’t invent it – its origins are lost in the sleepless mists of my early twenties – but for two people it will set you back well under £1.50.
Other basic winners I cook every month include amatriciana (which I’ll also be eating as part of my £2 a day shop) and pasta alla Genovese (it’s illegal to still be hungry after taking down linguine and potatoes in the same dish). Also strong is a variation of the one below in which an onion is gently fried at the start, the chilli is omitted and a red pepper – grilled black, skinned and chopped – is added near the end in place of the beans.
Pasta with green beans in tomato sauce
You will need:
- 1tbsp oil
- 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic
- 1-2 chillies, fresh or dried
- 1 can tomatoes
- 100g green beans
- 200g pasta – if your beans are long and thin, spaghetti or linguine are best, if they’re fatter dwarf beans then shells are ideal
- Cheese to top
- Heat the oil very gently, slice the garlic and chilli finely, add to the pan and soften (but do not burn!).
- Add the tomatoes, bang up the heat, break up the tomatoes and bring to the boil.
- Simmer over a medium heat for around 20 mins until a thick spicy sauce has formed.
- Meanwhile bring a pan of water (or kettle) to the boil, pop it on the stove and lightly salt.
- Top and tail your green beans, leaving them whole if thin or cutting into halves/thirds if thick. Pop them into a sieve and set them to boil/steam until tender over the boiling water.
- Lift out the beans, add a dash of oil to the water and get your pasta on. When it’s nearly ready add the tender beans to the tomato sauce.
- Drain the pasta, reserving a few teaspoons cooking water. Toss it in this, then mix up with the tomato and green bean mixture.
- Top with grated cheese and get it down your neck.