Category Archives: Less than fifty cents a serving

Crepes!, with savory chick pea flour

In fishing out a recipe for a fushion crepe dish I had posted earlier, I realized I had never actually specified how to make the crepe batter. I want to rectify that now, especially since this batter uses chick pea flour and is nutritive-ly far superior to its French counterpart.

I had hesitated in providing that recipe because it was from a cook book. However, today, I was sans cook book due to an apartment repair job which required us to pack up all of our books from one wall. It is for a traditional Indian dish called “cheela”. 

So, I called my mom and promptly forgot most of what she told me. I did remember her saying that outside of the salt and pepper, all else was free to experimentation. So here are the results of my delicious experiment:

  • 1 cup chick pea flour (also called Besan, in indian stores)
  • 1/2 large onion, diced (I used yellow)
  • 1 medium green chili pepper (these are long and slim), chopped
  • at least 1 Tbls Fresh coriander (or more if you’d like)
  • 1/4 tsp Salt 
  • 1/4 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red cayenne pepper

Optional:

  • Garam Masala (1/4 to 1/2 tsp) (I only used this because I had it, not because its imperative to the dish)
  • ground coriander (1/2 tsp)
  • ground cumin (1/4 to 1/2 tsp)

Toss and mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Then, add water, starting with one cup of water. You want to make it about a pancake like consistency in the batter. If needed, add up to 1/4 cup more. Whisk together to create the batter for the crepes. Then follow the cooking instructions in my previous post–that post describes how proten-acious this crepe is and how it barely takes any oil to cook! I made up to 7 crepes using this recipe, could have possibly stretched it to 8, to feed 3 adults. Enjoy!

A side note on the amount of spices: Note, when I don’t have a specific measurement in mind for a basic spice such as salt or pepper, I basically sprinkle the salt over the surface of the other ingredients in a left to right manner until I have the surface at least lightly coated. In this case, because chick pea flour has a strong taste, I decided I was use just a pinch or dash more salt. Same with the black pepper. I sprinkled until the surface of the flour in my bowl was fully coated because I love black pepper. Otherwise, I added some ground cumin because I LOVE it and I used ground coriander because I didn’t have fresh.

Enjoy!

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pumpkin

Loaded with beta carotene

For a few years now, I’ve relished creating with pumpkin because of its texture and taste. With fall comes the convenience and affordability of pumpkin puree, so the plunge is even easier. Pumpkin is simply not just pumpkin pie. I experimented with healthi-fying foods. I make pumpkin breads, pumpkin muffins, adding cranberries, nuts, whatever. This past weekend, I found a very good recipe for pumpkin pancakes that relied extensively on whole wheat flour. I am telling you, the pancakes cooked fabulously–just the right flakiness, sweetness. We served it with organic maple syrup, soy sausage and a lovely fresh fruit chat. So thank you to the PinchMySalt.com blogger for providing her original recipe:

  • Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes
  • Fruit Chat — Chop one pear, one apple, one avocado, and one banana into serving bowl. Squeeze 1 lime or 1/2 lemon juice and toss with 1 teaspoon of roasted ground cumin and a pinch of salt. If you have black salt, that is best. For those that have some chat masala, tossing some in is an added perk.
  • Soy Sausage – Wholefoods 365 brand

On a related note, Interestingly enough, before leaving Philadelphia, my husband and I fell in love with a new BYOB called Pumpkin. We rave about it–an intimate culinary experience to check out if you are there!

well i’ll be cabbaged …and a holiday nog tip

hello everyone. i am gratified to share that we are starting to get some decent viewership on this blog! hopefully we’ll find our way together to getting more of your input and foster some dialogue. but so far, i am definitely feeling a measure of contentment knowing that the three ‘tines’ of taste, health, and low-cost are resonating out in webland. Thank you!!

this is fundamentally a blog about self care. so i must come clean. my last two to three weeks of workload definitely pulled me under. literally it felt like mounds of work came in on some huge tidal wave and landed at the mouth of my office door. well, its been handled. deadlines, quality met…in the process i did the work of 3 people. I leaned on my husband alot who was so cool about figuring out how to feed me and took on nearly every personal and household chore that needed immediate attention. even making my side dish to donate for a work event. (Green beans with coconut and mustard seed. Thank you American Masala!) am i glad that’s over. but also i gave in. we ate some frozen meals…like pizza from whole foods…we ate out more than I would have liked. so, in general, it was a challenge being present. it really was. and i am sad about that.

the weight thing is steady. I have gained about a pound at most since Thanksgiving. That includes about 3 holiday parties we have been to so far. i was present at this fabulous party last night. friends with great senses of humor to the rescue.

so here i am in a weekend where i am restoring spirit. I started the day with some meditation and will go back to it after this post. My wonderful mother in law also lifted my spirits bringing me back to my big picture…Thanks mom! I don’t know what I accomplished the last 3 weeks, it feels perhaps that the sacrifice was a little too much (again). but she reminded of feeling some accomplishment along the way. I did alot!

so today, my husband and I talked about the week’s meal planning (no we don’t usually do this but it went great!)..identifying proteins, vegetables, lunches, fruits, etc. he did the grocery shopping without me!!

in terms of cooking, i am picking up the thread from the last post in that I had a half-head of red cabbage left over from last weekend. I grabbed for it which meant i really relished our experience with the indian crepes. This time though, my inspiration was mixing cabbage wth walnuts which my husband brought home because our stock was getting low. My cookbooks did not inspire and I turned to the web.

Well, its cabbage cabbage everywhere on the web it appears. First, one of my kindred spirits in healthy eating, Margaret Rose Shulman has several cabbage recipes out in December. The one that caught my eye is the one discussing its nutritional contents. Apparently, cabbage is “an excellent source of vitamins K and C, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, folate, manganese and Omega 3 fatty acids.” Another wordpress food blog writer, Jaya, also wrote about these nutrients. She also adds that these nutrients are especially good for women. As a side it seems that Ms. Shulman is also writing about how inexpensive cabbage is as a vegetable…seems like they are starting to finally combine discussions on health and dollars. Will need to investigate this further…Overall, I am definitely curious about more experiments with red cabbage because it seems really versatile in terms of texture and taste…sweet, tart, crunchy, nutty, etc!

The link to the Shulman column is here and it contains a recipe for cabbage and lentil which is essentially a twist of what we ended up eating tonight. See previous post on lentils for their cost per serving. Cabbage just by itself is about twenty cents a serving.

I did want to point you to Jaya’s blog entry on cabbage as well. Her recipe leaves the cabbage crunchy yet baked which is an awesome way to eat it. She also combines it with nuts (savory) and sweetness/tartness (by using cranberries or raisins) which is right on the money. I was not a huge fan of the overall flavor in this one and need to experiment with it more. I would likely need less chili powder in it. It is very simple and gets huge points for that as well being nutritious. Adding a half-cup of walnuts doubles the price to about $0.40 cents a serving; with the grapeseed oil and raisins this recipe goes above $0.50 cents a serving.

Finally, here is my tip on holiday nog. It a product called Silk (soy milk) and its seasonal flavor, Nog (look at the bottom of the page). It has 2 grams of fat for every half-cup serving, so 4 grams total, and it has only 12 grams of sugar which is much better than most processed nogs. You have only 3 grams of protein (in the half-cup). Real nog has more protein because of the egg but you leave out the fat from the yolks. It is so yummy and I am really loving it as my indulgent treat for the winter nesting season. 🙂 Its $2.99 for a quart (yes, its a treat) at Whole Foods. Enjoy!

A bowl, a whisk, a spatula, and a frying pan; or my first fusion dish ever!

I had fun with a new creation this morning. Its made with Indian crepes called cheelas. I was inspired to make it because I had made a savory filling for a tart over thanksgiving that I never ended up making. (Plus, though I brought the filling home, I left the crust in my sister’s fridge!) Cheela batter is healthier than regular crepe batter. Here I fused it with a traditional French (Provencal) based savory filling of red cabbage and onion.

The filling was for a cabbage and red onion tart from the Martha Stewart Living website (i provide the link here). I was nervous about serving a cabbage filling (kind of a departure for me i guess) but it came out wonderfully..sweet and a touch of vinegar-y. They ended up being a perfect compliment to the indian crepes (cheela(s)). Marvelous, and my first fusion concontion to boot! There are a few reasons why I thought it was valuable to share.

  • Indian crepes are made out of chickpea flour (besan) so they are full of protein.

I checked the nutrition data tool (LOVE THIS!) and it says one cup of chick pea flour contains 21 grams of protein. I made 8 crepes which meant about 175 calories each for my husband and I, just for the crepes without the filling. The total distribution from these crepes are about 61% carbs, 25% protein and 14% fat. That is from the flour alone. It also seems to contain thyamine and is a good source of manganese and folate. So good for all you pregnant woman right?

  • The batter does not contain fat. It contains spices, chopped up chili peppers and herbs (like cilantro) and it is thinned with water. Chick pea flour can be tricky to make tasty (I used to find it so) but with a few standard Indian spices, it is getting easier. I used the recipe from American Masala (of course) for the crepes (cheela). I am not going to duplicate the recipe here since I definitely encourage people buying this lovely book. I did add black pepper to the batter since my filling was something based in French flavors and i wanted to compliment that. But I also added garam masala and cumin seeds since I did not have some of ingredients on hand that he recommended. My mom has her own recipe but it saved me a phone call. I did want to say that over time, you will evolve your own mix of spices to add to the batter. You basically whisk the batter together to a thin pancake like consistency.
  • Using Sarvan’s technique, I used only 1/4 tspn of oil for each crepe during cooking. As I progressed I was able to use less and less since the oil from the previous crepe would remain at the bottom of the pan to assist with the next one.
  • Notes, tips and observation on cooking the crepes. I originally made the mistake of putting in way too much batter…i also subconsciously thought i had to put oil in the pan to cook the crepes. The whole thing just stuck together to the bottom of the frying pan like bad eggmaking can sometimes do. I had to scrape the whole thing off and start over! The second time I used a non-stick pan and heated it with no oil at the bottom. I was careful to use about 1/4 cup of batter like Sarvan suggested and quickly circled the batter from the center out to make it as large as possible. Once I did that I drizzled a 1/4 tsp of oil over it. and then I let it cook until the bottom turned golden brown. Now, I still have room for improvement. I need to learn to make the circles thinner and wider quickly. My crepes were likely smaller than they needed to be. The heat has to be right because the chick pea flour cooks quickly and while you want to get the bottom golden brown, you also want the get the whole thing dry on the top too. Still, i’m so happy with my first batch. I have never succeeded in getting them off the pan and these turned out to be eminently flippable.

Thanks to both Sarvan and Martha Stewart for my first fusion creation! This was a perfect breakfast/brunch dish coming home from Thanksgiving.

Cost per serving: Chick pea flour and cabbage and onion. Oh my god, this is like the mother of all staples. I am going to the math quickly on this, rather than too precisely. I included the price of the cabbage, red onion, 1 cup of besan flour, the thyme in the cabbage red onion filling, and the oil in the whole recipe for four servings (each serving is 2 stuffed crepes). I come up to $0.40 cents a serving

Shout out to the Minimalist

The Minimalist is a column in the NYT by Mark Bittam. I resonate with the simplicity of his cooking. This post gives a shout out to his column and to a recent recipe of his using chick-peas.

o Chick Pea Salad

My variations:
o I have never cooked dried chick peas. I am sure this adventure awaits me around the corner but for now, this is one area in which I depart from my esteemed mother and older sister and use A CAN. I have a can of organic garbanzo beans in my pantry right now from Safeway. But its $0.99 right now at WholeFoods and less for not organic.
o I have a jar of minced ginger from Trader Joes. I love this little jar. Minced ginger (and its minged garlic companion, also from TJ’s, is a must have for north Indian cooking.) saves me lots of time.
o I used lime juice since i had fresh limes (5 for a $1 from NJ Farmer’s Market).

Other than that I threw this together using a small red onion, less than a whole can of chick peas, 1 red bell pepper, etc. This was a perfect recipe for my kitchen since I already have toasted ground cumin. EASY.

Cost per serving: $0.47 per serving

Making lentils manageable

Cooking lentils, for my friend Suzan! I have already written about the powers of the lentil on my “Getting Healthy” page, as a fat-free source of protein. However, getting to a place where I could incorporate this most traditional of Indian foods into my daily American lifestyle took a while! I don’t see too many of my friends cooking lentils on a weekly basis and I thought writing about what works for me may make it more accessible.

Getting started
Now, I do rely on making traditional indian dal, which is quite flavorful and can be eaten like soup. It requires indian spices, but only a handful, and once you establish a stock, you don’t have to think about it anymore. These are: tumeric (halthi), cumin seeds (jeera), asofetida (heeng), cayenne pepper, and small green chili peppers (mirch). I have seen jalapenos substituted effectively for the latter. Salt is key. There are several lentils to choose from and for the most part, I am able to flavor them similarly. Most common for me is yellow split pigeon peas (toor dal), masoor dal both with skin (brown on the outside, disc shaped) and without (orange on the inside), and sometimes split yellow pea and dehusked mung bean (moong dal). There is also a French green lentil that I have cooked with this summer. There are many other types (Wikipedia can tell you). The easiest way to get started is to get started is get one-half pound of the orange washed masoor dal in at Whole Foods, in the bulk section.

Speaking of which, I love how cost-effective this food is. I just called Whole Foods. They sell this dal for $1.79 per pound! When you consider that typically, it only takes a half-cup to feed two peopel for a meal, this is a food that stretches your dollar. Also, water is the main ingredient required to cook lentils. This increases the volume considerably and comes from the tap. If you find you can handle a bigger quantity, you can purchase them in bags from an Indian grocery store (they sell 1 pound, 2 pound, etc.). As I got better at making dal and eating it a couple of times a week, I found myself going through more of it. But even getting a pound at Whole Foods in bulk can easily last 6-8 weeks in my two person household.

Cooking
Now, cooking it. Note, most people are told to pre-wash their lentils before cooking it. Me…I don’t have time for things like this so I only tend to use those lentil types that don’t necessarily require it. (this is the philosophy of Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!). The ones I noted above fit that category. I also used to be told to make the dal in a pressure cooker. BIG MISTAKE for me. For whatever reason, this really held me back from making good dal for a long time. It was messy, hard to clean the pressure cooker afterwards, and I would have to keep cooking it for an undetermined amount of time afterwards to really make it come out. Yuck.

There are two techniques that have worked for me. My mom and sister told me get a $8.99 slow cooker from Walgreens. It has an OFF, HIGH, LOW and WARM setting. (Can you believe it?) It is small but does the job and then some for the two of us. I then place a half-cup to one cup of lentils, three times the water, a half-teaspoon salt and about one-quarter teaspoon of tumeric in the slow cooker, set it to low, and go out the door to work. I come back home to find the daal cooked. (I then transfer the dal to a small pot on the stove to flavor it.)

The funny thing is, after all that wrestling with a pressure cooker, you can actually cook some dals on the stove in about 30 minutes, depending on the type of dal and the portion. So no more day to day use of the pressure cooker for me and good riddance. Now, its strictly me against the heat (or should I say “with” the heat) without the added pressure (hah, another pun!). Here, one way to go is to duplicate the steps with the slow cooker except with a pot on the stove. That is, you still mix the lentils, with three times the water, and the tumeric and let it boil on the stove until the dal has cooked (is all soft). Now, I’m at the same point as if I had used the slow cooker and came home. I still have to flavor it which I do by using a butter warmer. In it, I heat up grapeseed oil with cumin seeds, asofetida, cayenne papper and cut-up green chili peppers. I heat over a low flame until the cumin seeds start to sizzle. Then I pour it into the dal and cook another 20 minutes until that flavor has made its way through the whole pot. This is the most basic way to make dal.

I just learned another way from my new face cook, Survir Sarvan. (More on him later) In his book, American Masala, he has a recipe for “Not So Dull Dal.” In it, he develops the flavor first–heating jeera, tumeric, jalapeno and even salt with onions in oil (he has other flavorings too which I’ll post when I get home)–then allows the lentils to roast in that heat for a few minutes (with a splash of water) and then adds the lentils with the water. It only takes about 35 minutes for it to cook after that but the flavors are nicely diffused through the entire pot and its DELICIOUS.

I bet my next step will be to cook the flavoring first, dump that mixture into the slow cooker, then add the lentils and water so that its slow cooked thoroughly by the time I come home. Slow cooking does seem to increase the flavor for most foods, and the slow cooker frees up that wait!

Cost effectiveness of Cooking:
Cost per serving (with oil, without spices): sixteen to eighteen cents a serving (?)(will update when I measure out).

From my cost per serving spreadsheet:
Masoor lentils: $0.22 per serving, including grapeseed oil and salt, but not indian spices.

Inspiration Zucchini

Its September, post-Labor Day. It is firmly black outside and its only a little after eight o’clock pm. Summer fading. Its been a fantastic summer and lately, I’ve been inspired by part of August’s bounty—the zucchini. In the past 2 weeks alone, I have learned that the zuke can become “pasta” and french fries (without frying)! How is that for diverse? Let me muster up some links.

The pasta recipe is from the NY Times. Its a recipe from Martha Rose Shulman (wanted to attribute this correctly). They cut the zucchini into pasta like ribbons and stir fry it quickly in olive oil. They call for it in a tomato sauce but I made mine without, and served with paramesan cheese sprinkled over it. They are most yummy just off the stove. You only have to be careful to not overcook as it quickly can become mush. See the recipe here.

Tonight I am trying a recipe that caught my eye in a magazine at a salon. I don’t remember the name of the magazine (Self?) but it had Jennifer Love Hewitt on the cover. (she’s engaged and happy apparently). Its a recipe that makes zucchini into french fries…that recipe calls for coating in buttermilk then dredging zuchinni sticks in a mixture of cornmeal, parmesan and salt. Then you bake the fries at 400 degrees until brown. This one on recipe bazaar however got great reviews. I would like to see an improvement over the white flour however. I’ll post how they turn out later tonight.

As this is a blog about keeping nutritional meals affordable, I want to briefly say a word about cost. One zuchinni–summer prices are anywhere from sixty nine cents to $1.29 a pound (the latter is pricy; ican get it for $0.99 a pound for mine, locally grown, at least in August or early September anyway)–easily fed double servings for 3 people each with a bit left over. The zuchinni pasta called for oil. I used about a tablespoon of grapeseed oil which comes out to about another ten to fifteen cents per tablespoon for the dish. At most, a tablespoon of fresh fulvi pecorino romano (from Wholefoods) which was roughly twenty two cents per tablespoon. So, at most, $1.85 for a side dish which fed 3 people at dinner, averaging out roughly about $0.31 per serving. so thirty-one cents of summer per serving! Nutritionally, i am sure you can substitute a fragrant herb with lemon juice for the cheese to make it less fatty.

Post-post note: the wonderful smell of baked parmesan lightly fills our home. The zuchinni fries were delicious. I did a hybrid of the recipes, using buttermilk to coat and white flour mixed with parmesan and salt for the crust. The fries really do come out crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. A dash of cayenne pepper would have worked as well. There are many variations you can experiment with to boost the nutritional value. The variation I used did add fat in the form of cheese. But you don’t need to add it. Also, you can use peaked egg whites (like the linked recipe suggests) to coat the veggies and add protein. My mother suggested chickpea flour instead of white flour; this adds more protein. She will need to add spices like garam masala to help with the taste on this variation. Any approach like this removes the fat from the cheese and adds protein to boot. You can vary the spices. Next time, I will use a little less salt, and maybe a micro-grated herb like mint. Great snack!