As I promised earlier, I wanted to talk about yesterday’s budget, including some more info about our dinner. One of the harder things to do when following a strict budget is finding a way to get all the nutrition you need without spending lots of money. My go-to ingredient in cases like this is the nutrient-dense lentil.
When served with rice, lentils are one of the few vegetarian sources of complete protein. Along with their protein comes iron, B vitamins, and fiber–all very important when on a restricted diet. Adding in some vegetables helps round out the nutrition, and ethnic stores often have inexpensive produce. I chose some tindora (technically a fruit), available for $2.40 per pound. If you’ve never seen or eaten tindora, I’d describe it as somewhere between okra and zucchini.
The flatbreads in front are chapati, made with a finely ground whole wheat flour. Not pictured, but also on the table was some plain basmati rice. The dal (lentil dish) on the left is a simple red lentil dish, cooked with a touch of ginger and turmeric, tempered with some cumin seeds, mustard seeds, hing, dried chillies, all fried briefly in butter. It’s a favorite in this house, and costs only a few dollars to make 4-8 servings (depending on how many other dishes). I’ll try to recite the recipe below.
The dish on the right is an improvised tindora curry. It was inspired by this video made by a Chicago chef who has become a YouTube star under the name vahchef. The tindora was sliced into 1cm rounds and fried in a little cumin and mustard-scented oil with a diced onion and then a few cloves of sliced garlic until they softened a bit. I added a can of tomatoes and let it simmer until everything was cooked through. More spices were added to adjust the final flavor, like coriander and a little home-ground garam masala. While that was going, a pot of split moong dal was cooking until the lentils were tender. I added the lentils in and let it all simmer for about 10 minutes to let the flavors meld together.
Both dishes were delicious. Even our guests (one of whom is Indian) really enjoyed everything. Looking back, I thought that we overspent yesterday, but our total for the day was only about $15.70 (compared to our daily allocation of $18 for 4 people).
Today I made matar paneer (a tomato-gravy curry of peas and cheese, seen above), which left plenty of leftovers. Breakfast was similar to yesterday, and Megan’s lunch was the same. I had food from yesterday (already counted in that total), and dinner for us included the matar paneer. Our younger daughter had some yogurt and a banana… she ate very well at daycare today. Our older daughter ate some leftovers from the weekend (cost accounted in today’s total). Today’s total is only $13.69!
To be honest, this week isn’t terribly different from how I cook sometimes. Okay, I didn’t even make it to the farmer’s market this past weekend (like I normally do), and only a couple ingredients were organic (because that’s what I had). So far, I haven’t made any big meat dishes. When I look at it, we’re all full, happy, and have many different flavors to keep us interested. It may not be 100% nutritionally complete, but we have fruit, vegetable, dairy, grain, and fiber all represented.
Our Favorite Dal
The toasted spices in the tempering give this dal a rich, smoky flavor that goes well with any Indian dish, or by itself with some rice.
serves 4-8 (depending on whether it’s a main or a side)
- 10 oz. red split lentils, washed
- 1/2 – 1 tsp dried ginger powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 Tbsp butter
- pinch of asafoetida (hing) (optional)
- 1 tsp brown mustard seeds
- 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 2-4 dried red chillies
- Put lentils, ginger, and turmeric in a heavy saucepan with enough water to cover by 1/2 an inch.
- Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, reduce to simmer, covered loosely, until lentils are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
- Add salt to taste, about 3/4 – 1 tsp.
- In a small heavy frying pan, melt the butter.
- Add the asafoetida, if using, then immediately add the mustard seeds.
- After a few seconds, add the cumin seeds, then after another 10 seconds, the dried chillies.
- In about 30 seconds, when the mixture is very fragrant and the seeds and chillies have darkened just slightly, dump it all over the cooked lentils and stir to combine.
- Taste for salt and adjust, as needed.
P.S. If the recipe seems a little daunting, don’t despair! I hope to be starting up some ethnic cooking classes through Common Ground. I’ll show you all the techniques and shortcuts you can use to make these kinds of dishes at home–fast, easy, and cheap.