$10 Family Meals

Recently I have been costing  family meals for under $10 and confirmed what has often been said, that fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive for people with little disposable income. It really is not easy making a meal using fresh vegetables for two adults and two or three children for under $10. A bunch of silverbeet would blow half the meal budget and you can forget about salads, fresh herbs and other fancy garnishes like feta cheese, a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts or even crushed peanuts on a curry. It seems eating cheaply has always been a carb-heavy affair. In Australia, even buying protein, like chicken pieces and eggs, is relatively cheap compared with fresh fruit and vegetables. It seems that for $10 you either have meat or vegetables, not both. There are a couple of ways of adding vegetables on a tight budget; being strategic, such as buying on closing time at fresh produce markets and aiming for frozen vegetables, particularly peas and spinach which are good products and quite cheap. The other solution is to grow your own vegetables but a vegetable garden not only requires an initial outlay but knowledge and time to maintain in a cost effective way. However, at the very least a bed of easy to grow parsley can add much needed nutrients to a carb-laden meal. I am pretty sure that, apart from esthetic considerations, my mother put chopped parsley on just about everything to keep us healthy. 

While we are told to increase our vegetable intake over meat and carbohydrate for a healthy diet it remains something easier said than done for a lot of people. I’ve costed three examples of economical meals based on supermarket prices. While I have resorted to using frozen vegetables in some meals, a fresh head of cauliflower is quite economical at around $4 and can feed a family when made into fritters, a curry korma or a pasta bake. Spaghetti and meatballs, made my preferred way, with Italian pork sausage rather than mincemeat, happily turned out to be the cheaper option. I’m just very lucky I can afford a green salad to have with it. Even if your food budget allows for a lot more latitude it is a sobering exercise to cost every ingredient of some of your meals.

Spaghetti with Meatballs

To keep the cost below $10 I have suggested bought bread crumbs which are very cheap but you can use crumbs made from stale bread you have at hand. Coating the meatballs with flour not only gives it a nice crust but thickens the sauce. The meatballs can also be coated with breadcrumbs. I have suggested a tin of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste as an economical option to get two ingredients at one hit but a plain can of tomatoes is fine.

  • 2 Italian style pork sausages or chipolatas (approx. 230g) $4.50
  • 1 can Ardmona Rich & Thick diced tomatoes with tomato paste $1.80
  • 60 g bread crumbs $0.14 ($1.69/750g bag)
  • 50 ml milk $0.06 ($1.29/L)
  • 100 g plain flour $0.10 ($1/kg)
  • pinch fennel seeds, optional $0.14 ($1.46/100 g)
  • 100 ml olive oil $0.58 (Spanish $5.80/L)
  • Less than 500 g durum wheat pasta $1 (supermarket brand) (about 85 g per adult)
  • 100 g grated Parmesan cheese $1.60 (packet grated cheese)

Total $9.92

Soak the bread crumbs in milk until soft. Drain off any excess milk. Remove the sausages from the casing and add to the breadcrumbs with the crushed fennel seeds. Knead together well and form into small balls (as a rule of thumb, about the size of the first joint of your thumb). Roll the balls in flour and shallow fry in olive oil, rotating each ball with two forks until golden brown. Take the frying pan off the heat for a minute to prevent any splatter when you add the can of crushed tomatoes to the pan. Cook the meatballs and sauce gently for about 15-20 minutes. The flour on the meatballs should thicken the sauce nicely. Boil water in a large pot, salt it well and cook the pasta al dente. Drain the pasta and add it directly to the frypan with the meatballs, stirring to coat the pasta with the sauce. Plate up and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Rice Bowl with Edamame and Mushrooms

Buying crushed ginger in a jar is much cheaper then buying fresh ginger. Edamame or soy beans are a nutritious and high protein vegetable and available frozen in their pods.

  • 2 onions 250 g $0.62 ($2.50/kg)
  • 20 g crushed ginger $0.24 ($2.80/230g jar)
  • 50 ml vegetable oil $0.40 ($3/750 ml)
  • 500 g button mushrooms $4.00
  • 100 ml soy sauce $0.57 ($2.85/500 ml)
  • 450 g frozen edamame $2.90
  • 400 g rice $0.56 or $1.60 (supermarket brand long grain $1.40/kg or Hinata short grain rice $4/kg)

Total $8.89 or $9.93

Cook the rice in a rice cooker or on the stove by the absorption method. Meanwhile cook the vegetables. Boil the edamame for about 5 minutes in a pot of water. Drain and peel the soy beans, discarding the shells. Slice the onions and saute in a frypan with the crushed ginger until golden. Slice and add the mushrooms to pan and cook until soft. Add the soy sauce, stir and reduce the liquid. Add the cooked edamame and stir briefly. Put cooked rice in the rice bowls and top with the vegetables. Extras-top with toasted sesame seeds.

Orzotto with Spinach and Peas

Orzotto is like a risotto but made with pearl barley instead of arborio rice. It is very nutritious, sustaining and has a lower glycemic index than white rice.

  • 2 onions 250 g $0.62 ($2.50/kg)
  • 100 ml olive oil $0.58 (50 ml for finishing)
  • 400 g pearl barley $1.04 ($2.60/ kg)
  • Approx 200 g pork sausages $4.70 ($23.63/ kg)
  • 1 clove garlic $0.12  ($1.25/head)
  • 250 g packet frozen spinach $0.95
  • 300 g frozen peas $0.60 ($2/kg)

Total $8.61

Chop the onions and saute in large saucepan with a little olive oil until translucent. Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble into the saucepan and stir until it has lost it raw colour. Finely chop the garlic and add to the pot along with the pearl barely. Stir to coat with the oil and then add water or vegetable stock to cover. Cook until tender, approximately 25-30 minutes, adding more water if needed. Add the peas and spinach and cook for a further five minutes. Add a few slugs of olive oil and stir well to create a creamy emulsion and serve.

A Red and Orange Glow in Winter

As the red and orange leaves of Autumn rapidly disappear it is wonderful to be able to add some of that vibrancy to the winter dinner table. Both these dishes use readily available root vegetables to great effect, bringing out a red and orange glow that will cheer everybody. The barbecued carrot salad is a revelation to me, it is so simple and the grill marks look great. Barbecuing the carrots really brings out the colour and the sweetness of the carrots and contrasts well with an olive oil /vinegar salad dressing. In winter when salad leaves are not very tender it might be best to admit defeat and use in season vegetables, such as fennel, kohlrabi and carrots in a salad. The carrots don’t need to be blanched, simply slice them at approximately 2-3 mm thickness lengthwise, brush with olive oil and BBQ on a low setting for about 15-20 minutes. Toss the grilled carrots with an extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing with chopped fresh mint. Dried mint works well too and extra green can come in the way of some roughly chopped parsley.

The beetroot orzotto, a barley “risotto”, is a stand alone dish that is not only tasty and nutritious but deeply satisfying. The orzotto is cooked first with a portion of the beetroot that is puréed and a little red wine. The cooked diced beetroot is added at the end to inject a bit more red and beetroot flavour to the dish.

Beetroot Orzotto

For Two

  • 2 medium beetroots
  • 1 cup barley
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • olive oil
  • sprig of fresh thyme
  • dash of red wine
  • 1 L chicken or vegetable stock
  • soft goat’s cheese (suggest Holy Goat Silk) and/or feta cheese
  • parsley to garnish

Peel the beetroot and cut into small dice. Put the beetroot and a little olive oil into a small enamel casserole with a lid and bake in the oven at 170°C until tender (approx. 20 minutes). Remove one third of the beetroot and blitz it with a stick blender until smooth. Heat the chicken stock in a small saucepan to simmering. Sauté the shallots in olive oil until translucent. Add the barley, stirring it for a few minutes to coat in olive oil and to toast it. Add a dash of red wine and then most of the chicken stock. Add the garlic and thyme leaves and stir. Cook the barley for approx 30-40 minutes, adding additional stock as needed. When close to tender ( it will always be a little more toothsome than an al dente risotto), add a dash of olive oil and give the barley a vigorous stir to coax out the starch. Finally, add the diced cooked beetroot and warm through with a little of the cheese to melt it. Plate out the orzotto and garnish with the rest of the cheese and parsley leaves.

Tuerong Farm Flours

Like everything in life there are different qualities, from run of the mill to highly valued products with a rare characteristic, design or craft. And so there are flours and flours. Industrial, mass produced, quick rising breads are cited as the reason more and more people are having digestion difficulties with bread but it needn’t be this way as we have been happily eating bread for centuries but of a different kind. Carefully milled grains bred for flavour and nutrition rather than fast growth and yield and their slow fermentation in sourdoughs seem to be the answer for some people with digestion issues. In fact we could all benefit from less of the fluffy, white, sliced variety. Tuerong Farm on the Mornington Peninsula specialises in growing and milling usual, ancient grains in small batches for superior quality flours which have been enthusiastically embraced Melbourne artisan bakers. Tuerong Farm uses sustainable, biodynamic farming methods, the commitment to quality continuing right through to a freshly stone ground flour that is full of nutrients. They advise a shelf life of about 3 months, a long way from the year or more of storage of most commercial flours before they even hit your pantry shelf. Q Le Baker in Prahran, is using the French Red or Zanzibar wheat from Tuerong Farm to produce superb 1.4 kg round loaves and Loafer, in Nth Fitzroy, use it for their very tasty sourdough baguettes. If you have taken to baking bread why not experiment with some of these flavoursome flours. I got the beautifully packaged 4 kg of French Red flour at Loafers and used my cast iron pot baking method to make a great loaf. The 100% French Red loaf comes out with a lovely golden hue (pictured). Some other flours produced at Tuerong Farm are khorasan, spelt, wholegrain, emmer (currently sold out) and winter white. Buy online, through an artisan baker or at the farm gate when open to the public after the COVID 19 restrictions cease. They also sell their grass fed beef, eggs and honey.

Thoughts Of Spain

I cooked two Spanish meals this week, maybe subconsciously I was thinking of Spain and the pain it is going though. After a brief 2 day visit to Madrid in 2018 I had hoped for an extended trip this Autumn, visiting a friend living there and really exploring this wonderful city and Spain’s culinary traditions. Whether from sympathy or in lieu of a Spanish sojourn I’m not sure but I find myself gravitating to Casa Iberica, a shop dedicated to all things from the Iberian peninsula. I’ve discovered that tinned sardines are excellent when paired with the Italian dish, caponata and that there are numerous sorts of chorizo, cured varieties and ones you need to cook before use. I found that a little bit from a tin of chipotle peppers in adobo, a dark, herby tomato sauce, adds a fantastic earthy dimension to guacamole. I’m also pouring over Claudia Roden’s book, The Food of Spain and revisiting a favorite dish of meatballs cooked in a sauce made with ground almonds, a legacy of Spanish Jewish cookery. Here is another dish that makes use of your stock of pulses, this time chickpeas. It is a simple, healthy dish with a good dose of spinach, which I latched onto when watching The Wild Gourmets, a programme about an English couple traveling around and living off the land in Spain. It was cooked over an open camp fire, so it is a rustic one pot dish that is easy to prepare at home without the wood smoke getting in your eyes. Adapt it however you like, using canned or dried chickpeas, adding capsicum, currants or crumbled chestnuts or not but the chorizo is non negotiable.

Chickpeas with Chorizo and Spinach

For two as a meal or as part of a tapas spread

  • I purple onion, diced
  • I mild or spicy chorizo
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 large carrot, cut into bit sized pieces
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • handful currants
  • 400 g cooked chickpeas or canned chickpeas
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbs Spanish sherry vinegar
  • handful crumbled chestnuts (optional)
  • 1 bunch spinach, well washed and dried*
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Gently sauté the onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt. Cut the chorizo into half moon, thick slices and add to the onions and gently sauté to bring out the spicy paprika in the sausage. Add the bay leaves, thyme, carrots, celery and currants and stir. Sauté for approximately 15 minutes to soften the carrot. Sprinkle with sherry vinegar and cook for a few minutes, then add the chickpeas and paprika and toss to warm through. Add the spinach leaves on top. The heat from the pan will wilt them quickly. The dish can absorb a large amount of spinach leaves, so don’t be alarmed by the volume. Fold in the wilted spinach leaves and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Season and serve at room temperature.

* To avoid adding water to the dish dry the spinach leaves in a salad spinner or wrap in a clean tea towel to absorb the water.

add the spinach leaves on top of the cooked chickpeas and chorizo

Beneficial Beans

Beans have been flying off the shelves of grocery stores to stock pandemic pantries around Melbourne. Who would have thought that canned or dried beans would be valued so much. Over the years any mention of a meal of pulses had the immediate effect of eye rolling and talk about how disagreeable to ones digestion they are. I confess I have always liked them, whether as a thick Tuscan bean soup, a robust stew of beans with veal or lamb shanks or as a salad of white beans with chopped tomatoes and herbs. I’m also a huge fan of a spicy chilli con carne made with dark red kidney beans and have very fond memories of Babka’s Georgian baked beans with feta on sourdough toast, which I often ordered some twenty years ago and it is still on the breakfast menu of this long-standing Brunswick Street bakery cafe. Beans are nutritious and tasty; they have an inherent nutty flavour but also absorb the flavours they are stewed with. A little pancetta or a ham bone can spin out the meal nicely, making them an economical way of feeding a family. No doubt, they are an excellent food in times of adversity and to keep everyone at the table happy through the night here is a good tip for eliminating or largely reducing those digestive gases. To remove the sugars that cause the flatulence you need to leach them out with a bit of pre-boiling. For fresh or soaked, dried beans boil them in water for about 10 minutes and then discard the cooking water and rinse before you use them. For canned, pre-cooked beans I would drain them in a sieve and rinse the beans well under the tap before use. Another tip is not to add chopped tomato until the beans are some way into the cooking process and starting to become tender as the acid of the tomatoes has a tendency to toughen them. So when you next gaze at your pantry bean stockpile wondering what to do with them all, I can recommend a hearty, garlicky and mildly spicy bean stew; my version of the Spanish dish, fabada. Casa Iberica in Collingwood or Alphington can supply you with a spicy chorizo and/or some morcilla to add a bit of Spanish gusto. Serve the fabada with bread drizzled with olive oil, toasted on the BBQ and then rubbed generously with a garlic clove to help with the social distancing.