Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Frugal Kitchen

A recent post on the travel blog Almost Fearless got me thinking again about frugality in the kitchen and the importance of a well-stocked pantry. These days many people rely on frozen family meals or packaged prepared ingredients. Yet with a few key ingredients always on hand in the pantry or freezer, I find I can create tasty, nutritious meals from scratch in about the same length of time that it would take to get a frozen pizza or lasagna to the table.

So what are my staples? Beyond fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, my pantry relies heavily on dried beans and lentils, frozen soups and vegetables, canned/jarred sauces, rice, couscous, bulgar, pasta and potatoes. I always have eggs, cheese and yogurt in the fridge, as well as quickly-defrostable sustainable fish (usually salmon, tuna, mackerel, black cod, or scallops ) in the freezer. Baking supplies, like flour, are also always on hand.

Now, I must confess that I do have a couple of commercially-prepared food addictions. Perhaps it's the Brit in me, but I am totally addicted to Patak's curry pastes. They're easy to use, good quality, and spice up any meal in a matter of minutes. I also have a couple of canned curries that I regularly keep in my pantry. Canned beans and chickpeas are also present as practical back-ups to the dried variety, although I usually have soaked beans in the freezer.

So using these ingredients, what can I whip up in under 20 minutes? Here are a few suggestions for quick hot meals:
  • Hearty vegetable and cheese fritatta
  • Pasta and sauce
  • Soup and scones
  • Blackened salmon, rice and steamed veggies
  • Stir-fry with farmed scallops
  • Moroccan chick-pea soup
  • Curried red lentil soup served with yogurt
  • Quinoa chili
With a little bit of planning, like soaking beans or lentils, or leaving dough to rise:
  • Chickpea curry and Naan-style bread
  • Lentils and rice
  • Cuban black beans
  • Homemade pizza
Most of these things are quick and affordable to make, even with organic ingredients. If you're making and freezing (or canning) your own soups and sauces using local vegetable when in season, then a good portion of the meals can be local too.


Jan said...

Another frugal help in the kitchen is a crock pot or slow cooker. I can dump in a package of stew meat still frozen, pour in a can of coconut milk, or tomato sauce, or teriyaki sauce, or other prepared sauce, add some chopped vegetables and/or beans, and leave it for the rest of the day. Come dinner time I just boil some rice or pasta to spoon the chili or curry or stew over. Last night for dinner we had ginger-teriyaki tofu & black beans on rice for supper, done in the slow cooker.

Amanda said...

Brilliant! I never thought of putting the frozen stew meat into the slow cooker still frozen. Then again, this whole meat thing is still pretty new to me. Thanks!

A. Hiscock said...

Wow, I never thought of using frozen meat either. I know what I'm doing today! I was going to defrost the stewing cubes but now I will live adventurously. I'm also going to use a jar of the tomatoes I canned earlier this month to see what happens.

Sarah said...

I have to admit that even as an advocate for cooking and local food, I don't usually find that it's as fast to cook from scratch as it is to heat up something frozen. This might be partly because I try to rely on whole grains (which often take longer to cook) and fresh veggies (which need to be washed or peeled and cut up for most purposes).

My solution is to cook in batches: I freeze lasagna, curry, and soups, and then cook big batches once or twice a week and eat leftovers in between.

Amanda said...

Cooking meals and freezing totally works too! I suspect my tendency to find cooking from scratch faster than reheating frozen meals comes from not having a microwave!