KITCHEN CUPBOARD BASICS
Every week, I answer the same email again and again and again – and I keep meaning to do a blog post about it but just haven’t got around to it. So what better time than a 3 hour drive through Tanzania?
Now before we start, I’m not suggesting that you rush out and buy everything on this list all at once – because I know that for a lot of my readers, that’s not possible to do – and anyway, you might not like everything on the list. That’s the thing about your kitchen cupboard, it’s YOURS.
I built mine up a spice a week – in the weeks that I could afford to do so. I already had herb plants on my window ledge from “the better days”, so I didn’t have to buy them, but I found a 30p jar of mixed herbs an invaluable alternative to any woody herb, like thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, etc, and great to sprinkle into a carton of chopped tomatoes for a quick and simple pasta sauce.
When I was eating on a budget of around £10 a week for myself and my young son, I bought ‘a carb a week’. So, one week I bought a bag of rice, the next week pasta, the next week would be flour, and the week after would be ‘fancy carbs’ – pearl barley, or red lentils, or something like that. So sure, week one was rice with everything, but by week two I could alternate rice with pasta, by week three I could throw my own bread into the mix, make white sauces, batter stuff, and by week four I was practically haute cuisine. Sort of. Of course, if you have a larger family, you’ll go through things more quickly than a small woman and a small boy, but use it as a guide – you don’t have to buy everything at once.
Beans, beans, beans. If you’ve read more than five recipes on my blog, you’ll probably have worked out that I am fanatical about beans. Red kidney beans are the cheapest you can buy in a can, and require little cooking time, and cheap baked beans are quite versatile if you rinse the sauce off – they can pad out a casserole quite nicely, for example, for around a third of the price of a can of ‘clean’ cannelloni or haricot beans.
So, the following are things I use in my recipes *a lot*, because they’re very versatile and can be used across a wide range of dishes, unlike some ‘rareified’ ingredients. (Smoked water? Heston, I’m looking at you. Oh and juniper berries. FFS Nigella, what’s wrong with rosemary?!)
Mixed herbs, 30p
A mint or basil plant, £1.49 each
Natural yoghurt, 45p/500g
Powdered milk, £1.01
Plain flour, 65p/1.5kg
Baking soda, £1 – if you’re going to bake bread or cakes. If not, don’t worry.
Pasta, 39p/500g or spaghetti , 39p/500g
Tinned potatoes, 13p/540g
Red lentils, £1.09/500g – good for daal and soups and curries and padding out casseroles.
Chopped tomatoes, 35p/500g
Frozen spinach, £1.49/kg or frozen green beans, £1.49/kg
Tinned kidney beans, 21p/400g
Tinned chickpeas (dried take FOREVER to cook), 69p/400g
Tinned baked beans, 22p/454g
Tinned peaches, 32p
Tinned broken mandarin segments, 23p
Lemon or lime juice, 55p/250ml
A bag of carrots, 89p/1.5kg
A bag of onions, £1
Garlic bulbs, 50p/2 (cheaper in bulk, which I do sometimes and preserve them in white wine vinegar)
Red wine, £3.50/750ml, or 4 pack of bitter, 99p
Chicken or vegetable stock cubes, 20p/10
Dark chocolate, 31p/100g
I’ve put the prices in from memory – I’m in a Land Cruiser in the middle of Morogoro with very sketchy internet access – so I’ll double check them later – so price pedants, please don’t chew my ear off if I’m a few grams or pence out here or there!
I hope this helps – as I said, you don’t need to buy it all at once, and have a nose in your cupboard to see what you already have kicking about. But having some easy essentials on hand makes ‘rustling up dinner’ much less of a mission – and means that the weeks when wallets are really quite empty, you don’t have to get very much at all to be able to make some great meals for yourself and your family.
Also – think about donating any of the ‘ambient’ products above to your local food bank if you can. They’re inundated with cans of beans and soup – but spices and tinned fruit wouldn’t go amiss. Find your local food bank on Google and give them a ring and see if there’s anything in particular that they’re short of.
I hope this helps! What are your storecupboard essentials? Anything you think I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
Jack. Twitter; @MsJackMonroe
Categories: Recipes & Food
I can’t eat beans due to my IBS – any recommendations for alternatives? Includes all beans and lentils unless they are skinned and pureed, but even then only in small quantities. I also have to limit intake of peas and peanuts.
I live very inexpensively on The Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I find that fresh squash can be very nice, good source of acceptable calories and very good nutrition. Find them at a discount-veg shop and stock up, they keep for months on the kitchen counter.
Ignore me if you’ve already tried this, but I used to get a stomach ache from beans until I read that dried are better than tinned. Apparently tinned beans are ‘quick cooked’ without being soaked first, which means that the starches we find hard to digest don’t break down as much. So, soak them overnight before you cook them and they really won’t take that long to cook. Also, try a piece of sea weed in the cooking water. It’s not the cheapest thing you can buy but it’s not super expensive either, and a bag of shredded seaweed lasts ages if this is all you’re using it for.
I’ve also read that aesofetida (sp?) powder in the cooking water helps.
I know you’ve probably moved on, but I also have IBS and manage to eat beans by soaking them and different methods of cooking. I thought this link might help –
Very comprehensive for the circumstances!
Think it’s worth adding that for those fortunate to live in an area with asian shopkeepers, herbs & spices can be bought far cheaper and in larger amounts (keep in an airtight container) and also chick peas are often £1 for 4!
Smoked water?! Your list sounds much more sensible. I like using our towns the asian “supermarket” (really a large corner shop) for cheap spices, lentils and rice. Spices in packets usually work out better value than those in jars and can always be kept in an empty jam jar.
Frozen spinach is such a great one, there is always a bag in our freezer. Nothing ‘green’ in the house? Throw in a couple of cubes of spinach. I would add butter beans, great in a simple soup with mushrooms and herbs and really filling.
Suggestions – oil (veg or olive) Chilli powder or fresh Eddie
Oh and my essential kitchen item is frozen peas and sweetcorn, emergency veg that I know the kids will always eat (they even go through phases of preferring them served still frozen). My emergency meal is pasta with a handful of peas and sweetcorn thrown in near the end of cooking and served with grated cheese. And my emergency carb is cous cous, just add boiling water (some stock powder if you have it) and leave to soak for two mins. Serve with leftover chiili/stew/curry/roast veg or a tin of baked beans. Which reminds me, I put stock powder (in a tub, sold as vegetable buillon) and ground black pepper in most things.
This is exactly like me! I use frozen sweetcorn and peas all the time to add extra nutrition to meals. And we always have cous cous to hand for when I don’t plan much 🙂 x
Black beans. Makes fab re-fried beans, all you need is an onion and a few of those spices
Would sugar be a useful addition? If you had to pick one, would you go with granulated or caster?
I buy the cheap bog standard sugar (think it’s granulated?) and it works fine for any recipe with any type of sugar in x
Depending on where you live, you might find all kinds of stuff while you’re just out for a walk. Lots of people grow rosemary and bay in their gardens as ornamentals for instance and if you ask nicely most people wont object to letting you have a bit of it. On that theme its worth looking for wild foods too like dandelions, blackberries, wild garlic at the right time of year (just be sensible and not greedy, obvs). Asian food supermarkets are usually much cheaper than anywhere else for spices, lentils and rice, and a better variety too.
Oh, gram flour – just whisk with water and make fab easy pancakes (stuff with anything you’ve got lying arond that needs cooking up), dhosas and onion bhajis / pakoras.
Eggs – many a great dish can be rustled if you’ve got an egg lying around
Barley – add to soups to make light lunch into hearty lunch, stews to bulk out, also makes a decent “risotto” and arancini with the leftovers if you’re feeling a bit fancy pants and have a bit of cheese to use up; nutritious and cheap
Dried mint, add to a spoonful of yoghurt to make raita, turns a dhal and a pitta bread into a “treat” meal, add a little bit to wine vinegar then blend with “any cooking oil” to make a dressing for veg (to make them special and tasty) or salads in season when 4 bunches of cypriot spinach are £1 at the market or a big head of romaine is 80p at the supermarket.
Dried noodles (rice or flour) for a change from rice or potatoes (and if you’re buying noodles, buy a jar of chinese five spice; mixed in with a couple of spoonfuls of mince (approx 60p) and a tablespoon of finely chopped onions it can make enough mini meatballs for four), then you’ll need
Chilli flakes (to dress the noodles but both are worth having in your pantry regardless)
Instant Mash – very little nutritional value but cheap as chips and makes fantastic gnocchi and a very decent thickener for stews
Black peppercorns. Value brand spag, little bit of olive oil (if you have, butter if you don’t), chilli flakes, lemon juice. Supper for pennies if it’s heat or eat time.
Tomato puree (sure this is an omission on your part Jack) and think that:
Value Brand lemon curd might also be
Value brand tomato ketchup. Like instant mash it has no nutritional value but adds oomph to a lot of budget conscious cooking: as a marinade – chinesey with five spice, soy sauce and a pinch of chilli flakes; BBQ with soy sauce and a spoonful of sugar/value brand lemon curd/marmalade or honey; As a dip, see above but “runnier”, thin it with oil or vinegar sweetened with sugar; to add to small batch stews when you’ve run out of Tomato puree.
Ketchup (am I the only one to spell it catsup?) is a good source of lycopene, so don’t feel bad about it:
“Potential health effects
Given its potential properties in vivo, substantial research has been devoted to a possible correlation between lycopene consumption and general health. In 2005, the United States Food and Drug Administration allowed a limited, highly qualified claim to be used for tomatoes and tomato products which contain lycopene, as a guide that would not mislead consumers, namely: “Very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that eating one-half to one cup of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce a week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this Claim. A 2011 review found insufficient evidence to come to any conclusion about what effect lycopene might have on prostate symptoms, PSA levels or prostate cancer.
According to one preliminary study, eating tomate paste for 3 months decreases sun damage by UV radiation by 30% through the action of lycopene.”
Source: Wikipedia, also for the following:”Ketchup is a source of lycopene, an antioxidant which may help prevent some forms of cancer. This is particularly true of the organic brands of ketchup, which have three times as much lycopene. Ketchup, much like marinara sauce and other cooked tomato foods, yields higher levels of lycopene per serving because cooking increases lycopene bioavailability.”
As a denizen of Sainsbury’s, I find Dunns River Caribbean Seasoning 100g/£1 very useful. Half a stock cube and a good slug of the red powder make a well-coloured sauce with a hint of spice as large as you like. Perfect for the unplanned, quick meal.
Reblogged this on A jobless Pediatrician and commented:
lilpunk, I read all of your blog. Have you decided what your next step will be?
well, i’m in a family residency now. turns out that while american medical students specialize straight out of medical school and think of pediatrics as a primary care specialty, the rest of the world does not work that way. and if i want to work anywhere outside of the US, i need to learn how to work as an adult doctor too!
Apart from some of the stuff on your list I also regularly stock:
– couscous (not only to prepare a fast meal – I also sometimes roast it in a pan (after having poured 1,5 cup of boiled water over 1 cup of couscous and just left it for 10 minutes), together with some spices and ground nuts or any suitable leftovers. And I make veggie burgers out of it (just add an egg after it has cooled down enough, some flour or ground nuts and some spices before making a patty and roasting it in a pan)
– ground nuts of any kind
– a plastic bag in the fridge to add any clean veggie peels and useful but unused bits and leftovers. When the bag is full, I cook the contents for 20 minutes in salty water (at low heat) and use the vegetable stock (soup?) for other dishes (e.g. to cook couscous in it)
Juniper’s ok. Once you’ve bought them they’ll last for ages. And I find it works out a lot cheaper if you buy herb and spice refill packs, and put them in your own jars.
Oh, sorry: not in the fridge, I put the veggie leftovers bag into the freezer 🙂
Chilli powder. Noodles – good with shredded leftovers and/or broccoli and thin strips of carrot. Value rice pudding 15p for 400g, quick pud with fruit for SB.
When I was in my twenties I used to haunt the local indian shop for all of my spice, rice and pulses. It saved so much money.
Sweet chilli sauce.
Value bags of peppers – we eat LOADS of peppers, they always seem so much more appealing than carrots but are 50p for a bag of 5 or 6 on our market.
Frozen ‘white fish’ fillets – really cheap in Iceland and Sainsburys
Sugar – makes homemade tomato sauce so much nicer
Ground cumin – can’t live without this!!
Tinned carrots? No thanks. Ditto tinned potatoes. Why pay for an empty can and a load of water? Then you add a bag of fresh carrots?
Why mint OR basil. Parsley OR coriander? They are very different. Not substitutes for each other.
Because there is no waste with the canned veg, the weight on the can is the edible weight, nor do you need muchenergy to cook them.
And when your budget is tightenough, yes, those items can substitute for eachother well enough, if the alternative is no seasoning.
No waste? What about the can and the water? It might not be included in the listed weight, but you can be sure you are paying for it.
And if the tinned carrots are so great, why does she also buy fresh ones?
Not bizarre at all. Tinned carrots and potatoes cook a lot quicker because if you have little money for food chances are you also have little money for the means to cook things. AND tinned potatoes are currently cheaper than fresh!!
Jack is saying to start with mint or basil as they are the most useful herbs to start with, she is not saying they are the only ones you need!!
One question. Why tinned spuds? Secondly why not suggest people form a food co op rather than go to a food bank and benefit from buying groceries in bulk rather than individually.
While a food coop would no doubt be beneficial, not everyone has someone to form a food coop WITH. Bulk buying isn’t an option when your sole fortune is a fiver.
I used to belong to a Fruit and Veg co-op – you had to ‘buy-in’ with a tenner. Not an option for some families today sadly.
Must have tar aced the roads!
Great list. Not picking you up on price, but I only ever buy my chickpeas from the World foods section of the supermarket as they’re much cheaper than the ‘British’ chickpeas! I generally get 3 tins for £1 from ASDA. I also stock up on Smart Price passata at 34p for 500g.
Split peas. Approx. 49p per bag and depending on how you use them they will last 2-4 meals. Great for soups and casseroles, or as an alternative to lentils. I’m never without a bag!
I don’t like to be without a packet of frozen peas – great in curries and a veg that most kids seem to eat, soy sauce – buy it from the world foods section of the supermarket, cheaper and much bigger bottles, chilli powder and tomato puree, though if you are on a really tight budget you could manage without it. Otherwise agree with yours. Tesco quite often has East End brand kidney beans and chickpeas on special offer 3 (sometimes 4) for £1.
Got a MASSIVE bag of red lentils from one of the two Asian shops in Tunbridge Wells this week. Half the price of supermarkets, 10p/100g, I use masses of them. They also had huge bags of onions very cheap, always worth a look if you have one nearby
We have used pressure cookers since 1972. A new one would cost now somewhere between £25 – £35, but once you’ve got one they last for many years and you save a furtune on fuel for cooking for it cooks things an awful lot quicker and you can “rustle up” stuff quickly from fresh basics, so you don’t need things like tinned potatoes. Also handly for dried beans (but may still need pre-soaking), peas, etc. Also really handy for quick soups and stews. I suggest the subject of pressure cookers could merit a separate post.
I agree with this – pressure cookers are very useful. They really come into their own with those dreaded dried chick peas! I bulk cook them and store in the fridge. Also, taters boil for mash in a third of the time. Mine is new: got it in 1984!
To the folks below questioning the tinned produce : You need to read up on Jack’s earlier posts. Fresh carrots and spuds need cool dark, or a fridge. Tins last *forever* Jack’s philosophy is based on a tenner a week in a room with no fridge. Most of us have the luxury of a fridge, not everyone can afford to run one. So Jack bought a tenner’s worth of Basic label food, including tinned fruit and veg. Perhaps not everyone’s choice, but if you read her recipes, she seems to be an alchemist…..
Agreed. When push comes to shove – the fridge’s off switch gets it!
I consider baking soda an essential for it’s versatility – not only is it useful in making breads and cake but it’s also an excellent cleaning and deodorising product. White vinegar, too. Both great items to have in the house and very versatile. I live on the continent and a box of Arm
& Hammer baking soda is 1 euro 50 in the Asian shops, a litre of Euro Shopper white vinegar is just 40 cents. About half the vinegar goes into my homemade sweet and sour sauce (white vinegar, sugar, tomato ketchup and a dash of soy sauce) and the other half battling the mould in the shower!
Not to mention it can clean *everything* — I use one tablespoon of baking soda in one cup of water (my conversion calculator says that’s about 15 milliliters of soda to about 236.5 milliliters of water, for non-Americans) for shampoo. I personally use the whole cup in one shower, although depending on how badly your hair needs washing, you might be able to just use half of it. Just pour it on top of your head, rub your hair around a little, and rinse it out. You might need conditioner too, again depending on your hair, but even just cutting out shampoo can save a lot. (And you can experiment with a little regular oil, if you’re particularly strapped. It might work for you, it might not.)
What makes the difference between a good recipe and an indifferent one is the taste. And the two things i would list first and foremost are salt and pepper. Even the most heavenly condiments cannot survive without it. What I also would recommend is to try and sow basil. Even indoors a £1.00 packet of seed will produce stronger stuff than a pot. As for the mint, even the most pathetic pot of mint will allow you to cut one and a half inch of the top and shove it in a pot of compost, earth, water, and grow for ever.
For all other comments, remember that Jack talks about a time when she had so little money and did a great job, so yes, she is wrong about juniper berries but so what. ive her time.
For heavenly condiments substitute ingredients. Sorry !
Dried chick peas don’t have to take ages to cook.
I buy 5kg bags at tesco for £4.99. Obviously once they rehydrate they bulk up, so I’m probably getting 3 kilos of cooked chickpeas for £1. I soak 500g-1kg at a time for between 12-24 hours, change the water, bring to the boil and boil for a couple of minutes then leave them to sit for an hour. They should be perfectly soft by then, although you’ll only have had to actively heat them for about ten minutes.
Keep for up to a week in the fridge or freeze in handy portion sizes.
Fantastic! And I thought I was doing well with my 39p tins from Aldi or cooking up dried organic!!!… So chick peas don’t need a good sound boiling for at least 10 mins like Red Kidneys then? I shall try this next time… Many thanks!
That’s a good cooking tip for chickpeas. No hours of simmering, brilliant:-)
For me the best way to cook chickpeas is in my slow cooker. 1 cup of dried chickpeas to 4 cups of cold water and a little salt and baking soda (to help them soften), put it on low for 4-6 hours depending on how firm you like them. They come out perfectly every time, and even factoring in the cost of electricity to run the slow cooker (mine is about 200W) it still works out much cheaper than the tins if you buy a big bag of dried chickpeas. The slow cooker cost me £8.99 from Argos.
The slo-cooker is a brilliant idea – I have one and have wondered about cooking dried beans in it, but wasn’t sure it would work. Do you bring them to the boil first in a saucepan or put them straight in from dried?
Sorry, just read that again and you do say cold water – do they really not need to be brought to the boil first?
Good idea, just be careful with cooking dried kidney beans in a slow cooker as they contain a toxic substance that only breaks down properly at higher temperatures. Personally I use a pressure cooker.
Oats are 39p/500g at Lidl. An absolute lifesaver on cold mornings!
Also, I also keep a couple of tins of anchovies (in olive oil) around: they’re 69p from Lidl. They dissolve in a tin of tomatoes (with some ‘erbs, chilli, an onion and garlic) making a really rich pasta sauce that you can divide to cover a few meals. Nice to throw in some black olives too – if money stretches … 🙂
Smoked water? Christ, I have to google that! It can’t be real, can it?
Makes me want to say really rude words. Bacon Frazzles might be a substitute.
Nice one Jack. You might want to take a look in the world foods section of Sainsburys next time you pop in. If you buy tinned chick peas from their Indian food section, they’re a barganious 39p a can rather than 69p. Their bags of chilli, curry powder and other spices are also cheaper than buying them in little glass jars. I love your blog – you’ve saved me so much money. Love to you and Small Boy.
Great ideas! Love your blog. I read about it on a review for Jamie Oliver’s latest cheap recipe cookbook which I subsequently bought my mum for Christmas. Although it has nothing on your recipes as far as value is concerned, which is what the review I first read suggested! It really annoys me that people sit on here and pick fault with your posts. People of the internet can be so fickle! I think everything you write is very inciteful and a great resource! x
Lot’s of the comments on Jack’s Guardian pieces are inciteful (luckily not here though) but Jack is more insightful.
Sorry to be pedantic, just made me smile. 🙂
What’s the problem with chickpeas? I soaked some over night and cooked them this morning – bagged up to freeze and add as necessary. I do the same with other dried beans – mixed up for casseroles.
I always have some Instant Mash Potatoes, a bag is about 20p and it serves 3-4, if you don`t have milk just boil some veg stock. Also some Smart price potatoes are great for roasting with onions and carrots, a bit fancy but cheap. And a few tins of tuna in brine, smart price are good for a nice salad with corn, onion and pasta. Great for a quick dinner or lunch.
Useful article as usually,
I like my tinned pulses/beans. Call me disorganized ( ’cause, yeah, I am) but I dont have the mental wherewithal to remember to soak beans etc the night before. Asda does 4 tins of pulses for a quid, unusual ones too. Rosecoco beans mashed with garlic onions spices make a good base for refried beans, burgers,a filling for patties and tacos. A good source of protein for 25p. Or 50p, because I use 2 tins for my teenaged family. I never seem to finish a bag of dried pulses either.
Don’t know if anyone will agree with me here but I find frozen sliced peppers really useful (£1 for 500g from Morrisons or Tesco) especially as fresh peppers have gone up to about 80p each. You can chuck them in anything; stews, omelettes lasagnes etc. Value stock cubes are essential too.
I agree totally. I always have some in the freezer, they’re a great resource.
Hi; Abel – love the pasta sauce idea. My friend and I buy big bags of spices and split the cost. There are about 6-8 spices I would use all the time. You can also buy spices at Canadian bulk food stores – they are packed in individual bins and you take as much or as little as you need. This is a lifesaver when funds are low.
After having bought flour, pasta, rice, oats and maybe instant mash (quickest potato soup ever) I’d buy quick cook cornmeal (Polenta) to make
– polenta, obviously
– pudding (same receipe as semolina pudding)
– anything battered and fried (just turn your fish, veg or whatever in cornmeal and fry, no messy flour-egg-breadcrumb sequences)
– Polenta fries (and see http://www.spoonforkbacon.com/)
– torta di granoturco, if you’re flush (250g polenta, 250 g flour, 125-250 g butter, 2-4 eggs, 1 sachet of baking powder, salt, 1 shot glass of Grappa. Melt butter, add flours, sugar, egg yolks, salt, baking powder, Grappa), Fold in beaten egg Whites, put into greased Springform pan or other deep dish, bake at 180° C for 40 minutes)
– Gnocchi alla romana, using polenta instead of semolina (http://italianfood.about.com/od/primivari/ss/aa020706_2.htm)
– roast potatoes (sprinkle over slightly bashed potatoes 15 minutes before they’re fully roasted)
– sweet or savoury cornbread
thanks for the Polenta options. I bought it a while ago when on sale but I could not figure out what to do with it (besides making polenta and soup). Great tips!
I always have ketjap manis (=soy sauce) great to marinade some meat (or in grounded beef), also great with veg as stir fry or in scrambled eggs. Pre-made pesto (great with cooked rice, pasta, on a sandwich, omelet), raisins and pop-corn maize last almost for every for a quick snack or (raisins) together with oats for breakfast.
Tinned veg also cooks quickly, saving fuel money. It would be lovely for this not to be a consideration…
Hi Jack. What supermarket are these prices from?
Don’t diss juniper berries Jack. It makes you sound as snobbish as I would if I said I wouldn’t spoil a good soup by using those Sainsburys basics stock cubes you advocate using. I used some juniper berries the other day when cooking sauerkraut as my mother taught me, and they give a delicious flavour. I come from peasant stock, we always cook thriftily from scratch using basic ingredients.
I’m not snobbish about them, I just gave an alternative if people couldn’t afford them.
Jack doesn’t sound snobbish, she just sounds like someone without easy, cheap access to juniper berries who knows that there are other people without easy, cheap access to juniper berries and wanted to let them know there is a more accessible and cheaper alternative. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her sound snobbish or patronising. I don’t think juniper berries are a ‘basic’ ingredient for most urban Brits.
Sorry Amy, Didn’t realise this was for urban Brits only.
Never said it was, Linda, I said urban because, for all I know, juniper berries might grown in rural hedgerows all over the UK, therefore they might be a basic for people who live in the countryside, but I do know they don’t grow wild where I live!
Couscous is the best thing ever, because you only need a kettle to “cook” it. Put couscous in a bowl, add salt and a tbsp of veg. oil, pour boiling water,+ about 1/2 inch on top, cover and wait 15mn. Fluff with fork. You can eat it hot or cold in salads. I’m thinking about people who are homeless, living in hotels with no cooking facilities in particular. Add a handful of dried (golden) raisins you’ve soaked in boiling water in a separate bowl at the same time as your couscous. I want to praise Middle-Eastern shops in particular for providing all these ingredients + fresh veg especially mint which cost an arm and a leg in supermarkets. Make sure you visit them before you pay over the odd prices for fresh herbs, veg and fruits.
A tip for cooking chick peas and other peas or lentils: give them 10 minutes on the stove, then wrap the pot in an towel and some blankets. Any blanket will do, a cheap fleece throw that will double as a way of saving on heating your living room will cook your chick peas for you. All you need is time. A couple of hours. Or you prepare the pot in the morning and leave the peas to cook during the day. Since the temperature will decline steadily, there is no need to be very particular about the exact cooking time.
I prepare chick peas this way and will use them in soups, stews and for hummus during the week.
Tabasco or similar strong chilli sauce that doesn’t need refrigerated- a little goes a long way.
Bag of frozen peas- goes in lots of things and if you’re worried about electricity can throw in a mug with boiling water from the kettle and they’ll cook well enough.
If you do splash out on fresh lemons or limes occasionally cut whatever you’re not using immediately into wedges and put in a freezer bag and freeze- great for in a G&T- ice and fruit in one!
I also don’t tend to have wine at all times so either I freeze the remainder of a cheap bottle in an ice cube tray to give me cubes to add to sauces, soups and stews as I need it or I buy the cheapest Balsamic vinegar from the big blue supermarket at around £1 a bottle as it lasts for ages in the cupboard.
I also buy multi-packs of tinned tomatoes when they’re on offer.
Also, maybe worth noting that when buying lemon juice it is cheaper to buy it from the baking section of the supermarket.
And as mentioned already I can’t live without salt and pepper- you can even get the grinder ones for £1 each in the likes of Aldi or sometimes SemiChem weirdly enough.
I always use a tin of cannellini or butter beans in a stew to bulk it out so it lasts 2 days at least but had never thought of rinsing a tin of baked beans and using those – another handy little tip for saving a few more pennies on the weekly shop 🙂
Oh my goodness some people really have no concept what it is to struggle to the extent that using 20p in electricty to cook a pot of carrots or potatoes could have a disastrous impact on eeking your money out until you get some more. Yes we’d all love to be able to buy only fresh, wholesome organic fruit and veg instead of tinned but in the real world for some its just wayyy beyond their means!
Chickpeas don’t take forever to cook- they need to be soaked overnight and cooked with a tbsp of baking soda, ready in 20′
I was just going to say (but Elisabeth got there first). I used spend the hours cooking chickpeas but since reading how Yotam Ottolenghi does it (soaked wet chickpeas cooked with a tbsp of soda bicarb for a few minutes, then add the water and boil) they cook really really quickly (to the point that you need to watch to avoid them going to mush). Once again I want to say that I think you’re doing a great job Jack. Genuinely economical cooking for the really poor.
I ,like many other have had to become imaginative on how I feed 5 children during a recession ! I must say a slow cooker has become invaluable which has led me to exploring cheaper cuts of meat such as rabbit and ox cheek and eating more beans and lentils to pump up the protein ! My children have never even sniffed a frozen lasagne or turkey twizzler and I agree with jack that a pot of mixed herbs can transform any dish and I could write a book on 101 things to do with a spud….keep up the good work ! ! Your an inspiration to any struggling parent !!!
I always have paprika in my cupboard; it’s my favourite spice.
That’s a great tip about washing the cheaper cans of beans. I bought Asdas own to see if we could save money buying the cheaper alternative to Heinz. Unfortunatley they did not pass the taste test and I loathe to waste the 2 tins I have in my cupboard! Will certainly be using them for something now! X
I always have red lentils, frozen fish, ketjap manis, chill powder and tabasco – and of course rice, pasta, powdered vegetable stock.
Peanut butter is a must in my house, and you can buy it really cheaply in some supermarkets. And cheap coconut milk, especially if I can find it on offer, often 2 or 3 for a pound in Asian shops or aisles in supermarkets. Used together they make a great cheap satay for cheap noodles or rice and and bits of veg.
At the moment the Iceland near me have MASSIVE bottle, 375 ml, of Blue Dragon dark soy sauce for a pound. That goes into most sauces, stews, soups and stirfries and will last months.
I also made Jack Monroe’s pearly barley mushroom risotto tonight which I saw featured in the Guardian, and it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Instead of parsley at the end I used really cheap spinach from a local shop and it cost less than a pound to make and feed 2 generously. A bag of 500g pearl barley (the recipe called for 200g) cost 55p from Sainsbury’s. Really really delicious and filling and moreish. It’s on the Guardian website
One of my staples when I’ve been really, really low on money, was a 1kg bag of basics porridge oats. Oats are very nutritious, and have both a texture and flavour of their own.
In addition to straight-up just making porridge to eat, and then slicing cold leftover porridge for my dinner carb, I’d use it to make leftovers veggie burgers – wilted carrots, brocolli stalk, the solid rooty bit at the heart of a cabbage, wrinkled mushrooms, all stuck in a blender with some lentils, a stock cube and a good cupful of porridge oats. I’d roll burger-sized dollops of the stuff in yet more oats and then stack them between sheets of toilet paper in the freezer drawer of my fridge, because I could make enough fake meat to last me for a surprising number of meals from something like that. Also, when I was down to plain pasta, cooking oil and oats, I’d toast the oats in a dry pan and top the pasta with them – added crunch and flavour and nutrition, and was a way of making myself feel less poor for not being able to afford cheese.
Also bags of dried broth mix – those bags full of lentils and barley and shredded pasta. The butchers that used to be in my town (they closed down a couple of years ago and I cried because I was so reliant on them to afford meat-based protein!) would sell a 4-pack of raw pigs trotters for under £1, and ONE trotter would make a massive pot of thick, rich, sticky broth (you know its good when it turns to jelly when it cools) that turned into a good week’s worth of food once I cooked it with the broth mix.
Plus, if I was careful about taking the skin off the trotter when I was done boiling it, I could lay that flat, salt it and roast it for a treat – shredded crackling on top of my peanut pasta recipe (at minimum, peanut butter stirred into cooked pasta – is made amazing with the addition of onion and shredded cabbage or other greens and the flavour packet from one of those packs of ramen you can get in multipacks from the 99p shop) resulted in a meal that would fill me up for a whole day, and that was very soothing emotionally because it had a comfort food and a luxury feel to it.
Oh yeah, and those cheap ramen packs of noodles. Do yourself a favour – if you have any kind of asian supermarket near you, GO TO THEM. I got some amazing packs of instant noodles that, at about 20p a packet, included a sachet of flavoured shrimp paste or other flavoured paste, a sachet of chilli powder and a sachet or either sesame oil or coconut oil depending. Cook the noodles plain or in broth, and use the flavour packets to season stir-fried veggies, then combine, topped with chopped peanuts, or shredded crackling, or sesame seeds if you’ve got them, or a handful of porridge oats toasted in a dry pan.
They also sell massive, like 1kg weight, jars of mashed garlic, mashed ginger and both sweet and hot red pepper pastes for around £3 a jar. The garlic and chilli paste jars will last a good 6 months even eating it for every meal like I do, and a tablespoon of sweet pepper paste stirred into a cup of hot water makes a thick and delicious pasta sauce. That and the 100g bags of herbs and spices that cost the same amount as the 20g jar you can get in the supermarket.
I’m Canadian but I lived in the UK for about 5 months, and considering how my dollar was worth about half of the pound at the time, I tried to grocery shop as cheaply as possible.
I went to the local farmers market for my eggs because I could get a pack of 15 for £1.99, and if you go to places like Asda and Morrison’s you can find a kilo bag (or sometimes 1.5 kilos) of frozen veggie for around £1 give or take.
If you’re like me and can’t afford to eat much meat (if any at all), I always go for green veggies like broccoli for the iron. Also avocados are really not that expensive, maybe £1 for 4 at Morrison’s if I’m remembering correctly, and they have a lot of good natural fat among other things. I usually ate about half an avocado per serving and usually only used it for one meal per day, so 4 could easily last me the week.
Also, don’t be afraid to buy things like pasta from Poundland or places like it. I could get 2 large packages of pasta for £1 there. Although, some things like canned goods are often cheaper at supermarkets than Poundland because of package deals and such so shop around!
Aquafaba – that’s bean water to you, aka the gunk at the bottom of a tin of beans that is normally thrown out. It works like eggs. Seriously. You do need an electric hand mixer or similar thoug. But it can be whipped up with caster sugar (think it needs this not regular, sorry!) to make meringues; folded into dark value melted chocolate to make succulent choc mousse; added to oil, mustard and salt to make mayo… and much more. Just google for aquafaba recipes, you’ll be amazed. I’m a vegan so won’t eat eggs anyway but whatever your diet, this stuff saves money, is a frugal wizard (and nobody dies).