Kebabs are a summer staple on our grill. You can dress them up this way and that with herbs from the garden, sweeten them up with different veggies and fruit, and never go wrong when you’re using a meat thermometer. Marinade, skewer, grill and eat.
I can’t seem to get off of my Food and Wine kick lately. Someone left a recent travel issue in the office that had an intriguing looking tostada dish on the front. There’s nothing more interesting to me than adding differently worldly flavors to the dinner plate, which is why I picked up the magazine and thumbed through it. Quite a few recipes caught my eye, but one in particular seemed super-easy but also combined quite a few unique flavors. Sausage always adds a lot of flavors to dishes and when layering in pasta, I kind of knew it would be a win.
We’re a regular taco night family. It’s an easy meal that we often turn into taco salad night which just means our taco ingredients go over top of crunched up tortilla chips. This time we decided to give taco night an Asian flair.
Take away the tortilla chips and swap out a few ingredients to change up the flavor profile and you’ve got yourself a brand new salad that requires the same amount of prep and cooking time. This meal takes a total of 20 minutes from heating up the first pan to putting the fork in your mouth. Easy peasy.
When the conversation turns to healthier eating, it seems like someone always brings up the idea that it’s impossible to eat healthy on a budget. While it’s true that a package of ramen noodles is cheaper than a box of whole wheat pasta, that’s only part of the story. If you don’t invest in the food you put in your body, you will pay ten-fold in medical expenses throughout your life.
Just about everyone is looking to save money these days, but many frugal foods can also improve your health. Whether you are saving money by comparing insurance rates or making your own household cleaning products, add eating healthy to the list of ways to save a buck. Plus, health insurance rates go down if more people are healthy and requiring less money to maintain their health.
This post is long over due. We’re talking ridiculously long. The week 1 post was almost ancient history, but thanks to my readers who have pushed me to get the rest of this series out, I kept going. Cheap Food Here is showing our readers that it is possible to spend just $100 per person per month on food. Our week 1 post was created when we were living in Costa Rica so certain foods were cheaper (most produce and fruit) but certain other foods were more expensive (specialty items, imported foods, cheese, meat, seafood, etc) so it has surprisingly balanced out now that we’ve completed week 2 since moving to St. Petersburg, Florida. Continue reading
The Search for the Best Black Bean Burger Concludes
Cheap Food Here has been on the hunt for the perfect black bean burger recipe ever since eating at the Original Penguin restaurant in Charlotte, NC (I say ‘Original’ because there was an issue with the original owners of the brand who were leasing it to the ones running the restaurant and to make a long story short, management changed, the charm and delicious food was downgraded to less than mediocre and thus, I wouldn’t guarantee the new Penguin black bean burger is the same as it was. See newer reviews here.) who could tout the most fabulous bean burger on the planet. Having eaten it a few times and trying to dissect it before inhaling it, I decided it probably had black beans (duh!), mushrooms, beets (this was an educated guess because of the color) and some kind of chili pepper in it because they packed some heat. Plus, I have a suspicion that the patties were deep fried because they were crispy on the outside and no matter what I’ve tried in the past, they just never get crispy in the pan, on the grill or in the broiler.
I’ve tried plenty of recipes, some with eggs, some with bread crumbs some with Portobello mushrooms; the list goes on and on. They’ve all been edible, but nothing was even coming close to the coveted Penguin black bean burger. The black bean burgers that I was making were mostly mushy and couldn’t be flipped without them falling completely apart, which I tried to remedy in every way I knew how. Nothing seemed to work and now I’m convinced it was two things: the lack of a filler like rice and leaving the black beans course rather than completely mashed. This speculation was confirmed after finding BrownEyedBaker’s black bean veggie burger recipe.
I do believe the best part about a meal is having leftovers that taste as good, if not better, than the original meal and these black bean burgers have that exact promise (hello freezer meal!). After I pattied them all out, we only cooked two for each of us so that left us with four more leftover (this recipe makes a total of 8 black bean burgers). With the extra patties, before cooking them, I placed them on a plate with parchment paper and froze them. Once they were frozen (2-3 hours) I transferred them to a freezer storage bag and we just thawed them out and cooked them the next time we were ready for them (only a few days later because we just absolutely loved them).
These hearty, full, nutritious black bean veggie burgers are one-of-a-kind and this recipe has me thinking about a ton of other bean burgers we can create off of this base. I’m thinking lentil patties and garbanzo burgers just off the top of my head. I think it’s time for a bean burger series. Okay, so here is our rendition of the famed recipe:
Black Bean Burger Recipe Ingredients
- 2 tsp grapeseed oil (or other saute oil)
- 1 cup roughly chopped yellow onion
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup coarsely grated carrots
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 3 C. cooked black beans, rinse and drained (we used dried bean to cut down on cost, but canned works also)
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
- 1½ cups cooked brown rice
- 1 cup chopped cremini mushrooms
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper (adjust to desired heat level)
- 1 Tbsp additional grapeseed oil
Black Bean Burger Recipe Directions
- In a large skillet heated to medium-high heat, add the grapeseed oil and allow to heat up for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3-5 minutes until translucent, but not brown. Turn the burner off.
- Add the grated carrots, chili powder and cumin and cook for 5 minutes on risidual heat, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the black beans, mustard, soy sauce, and parsley.
- Mash together with a potato masher or your hands, making sure not to over work the mixture. Lumpy is good.
- Stir in the cooled onion and carrot mixture. Add the cooked brown rice and chopped mushrooms, stirring to combine. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
- Form 8 patties and make sure to press the edges to make a clean edge so the form holds during cooking.
- Heat the remaining grapeseed oil in a large, nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Add the burgers and cook for 5 to 8 minutes per side turning only once, very carefully (reshaping them after the flip if needed).
- Remove from heat and enjoy on a bun or simply by itself with a fork!
Citrus Lentil Salad Recipe
Lentils might be the most underrated food, for the American diet, that is. You’ll find lentils in diets across the globe, but not often in the United States. I wonder why that is since they are so cheap and healthy to boot. It’s crazy how a third world country could eat healthier than a rich and powerful western nation. I guess there’s always hope and I’m thankful I’ve been exposed to proper nutrition to make a decision about my diet and improve my life overall. With a cheap food like lentils, it’s amazing that people choose non-nutritious foods that just toxify the body.
I’ve made soups with lentils before but never really thought to use them in as a primary ingredient in side dishes or salads, until recently. Now I’ve opened up my menu of lunches and dinners considerably. In fact, this new staple cheap food of mine, when paired up with brown rice, the make a perfect protein (which is defined as a food with all nine essential amino acids) and these things are pretty versatile. Some of my absolute favorite lentil recipes come from this site and I’m sure I’ll be posting more as I explore with lentils.
There are tons of different types of lentils, according to Wikipedia:
- Brown/Spanish Pardina
- French Green/Puy lentils (Dark speckled blue-green)
- Yellow/Tan Lentils (Red inside)
- Red Chief (Decorticated yellow lentils)
- Eston Green (Small green)
- Richlea (Medium green)
- Laird (Large green)
- Petite Golden (Decorticated lentils)
- Masoor (Brown-skinned lentils which are red inside)
- Petite Crimson/Red (Decorticated masoor lentils)
- Macachiados (Big Mexican yellow lentils)
The recipe below combines the clashing flavors of oranges and red onion for a perfect dissonance on top of the Indian Garam Masala seasoning and hearty lentils. It’s great as a side dish or as a larger portion for a full lunch.
Citrus Lentil Salad Ingredients
- 1 Cup of dried lentils (any color)
- 2 small mandarin oranges, segmented, seeded and membrane removed
- 1/2 small red onion, julienned
- 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 Tbsp fresh parsley, stemmed and finely chopped
- 1/2 of a fresh jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
- 1/8 Cup of olive oil
- Juice from one lemon (or lime)
- 1 Tbsp Garam Masala seasoning
- Salt and pepper to taste
Citrus Lentil Salad Directions
- Prepare the lentils as directed on the package (use chicken or vegetable stock in the water for additional flavor).
- Toss lentils in a mixing bowl with remaining ingredients until well coated and salt & pepper to taste.
- Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving to allow flavors to blend evenly.
Project Food Blog Week 1 – The $100 Challenge
VIDEO: Can you live on $100 per month for food?
What’s A Healthy Food Budget?
Now, a little background: the Cheap Food Here family follows the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover very closely and have worked hard to get to Baby Step 4. Our food budget for two people is currently $500, which includes $300 for groceries and $200 for eating out. This is our comfortable point now that we are no longer paying off debt, however, when we were doing the debt snowball and attacking our consumer debt and student loans with ‘gazelle intensity’, we we were spending around $250 per month in total food cost (groceries and eating out).
Down here in Costa Rica we have found that some families spend over $1,200 per month on food for a family of 3 adults and 2 children. This number may not seem too shocking, but know that they, on average, earn less than $2,000 per month in total household income. The percentage of their income spent on food is over 60% when it should be around 5-15% or roughly $300. However, most argue that this is impossible.
The key to reducing food costs each month is research and planning. Most people don’t think about needing to do research before hitting the farmer’s market or grocery store, but it’s imperative to keep from overspending. The food budget can be a large part of your spending each month, but it doesn’t have to be, especially if you are in the early stages of paying off debt.
So, the quest for a food budget under $100 begins. First we’re going to look at cheap and healthy recipes that are tried and true for our family and make a menu for each week. With this menu, we’ll focus mostly on fresh, local food that’s in season that we can buy at the farmer’s market. First, let’s take a look at what we’ll have to give up or change about our current eating habits, some of which were mentioned in the video.
Cost Cutting Necessities
- No Eating Out
- Meat Consumption reduced
- Limiting processed food consumption
- Sticking to a grocery list
- Homemade snacks
- Drink water with or without lemon instead of bottled juices, sodas or other sugary/sugar-free drinks.
Week 1 Menu
Below is the cheap food menu I’ve put together to get you started and prove you can eat healthy and fully on $50 per week for two people. Some of the recipes in the list below are from Cheapfoodhere.com and some are from our favorite foodies. Please refrain from using canned goods unless you have them already, but know that you are getting less than half of the nutritional value from canned goods that you would from fresh or frozen produce.
With a lot of the recipes, it’s good to reduce the amount of an ingredient that is expensive (example: cheese or meat) or substitute it for something less expensive and perhaps more healthy.
- Red Bell Pepper Frittata & fruit
- Pressed Egg sandwich & fruit shake
- Almond French Toast with maple syrup and a side of fruit
- Soy Milk Waffle (or regular milk is fine too) w/fresh fruit topping
- Oatmeal w/frozen blueberries and flax, fruit shake and side fresh fruit
- Jalapeño and Onion Frites w/fried eggs, bacon and a side of fruit
Growing your own produce and herbs is a great way to save money and it can be done in planters too if you don’t have a back yard. If you’re not growing, try to support your local farmers first, but sometimes their prices are just too high. Some stuff you have to go to the grocery store for, but there is a great resource to check pricing before ever venturing out; www.mygrocerydeals.com keeps you in-the-know when it comes to checking cheap grocery prices in the United States.
Make sure when you go shopping, you stick to the list, and only to the list. It is your map, your guide, your blinders. However, if you see an item that could make a perfect substitute (example large tomatoes instead of Romas) but is cheaper, buy those instead. We’re looking for deals here, so keep your eyes peeled.
Some of the items on the list you’ll see don’t have prices, which indicates it’s something I already had. You can use this sheet to fill in prices on your own to help you better prepare for the upcoming week of meals. The sheet is organized by meal, however there is a lot of cross over, so if it was on the breakfast list, you won’t find it again under lunch, dinner or snacks. You can also organize the list by aisle if that’s easier. The basis of how I chose the meals for the week was looking first at what I had and could then in turn spend less on groceries. It’s best to use all of the items you already have to make sure they don’t go bad and end up getting thrown out anyway. You’ll notice that the Week 1 Shopping List goes well over the designated $50 per week budget for two people, however, a lot of items will be left over for future weeks. Stay tuned for follow up posts for the remaining 3 weeks of the month. Good luck and I’d love feedback from those who are accepting the challenge.