1 pound flank steak: $8.00
1 bunch carrots: $1.50
1 bunch chard: $1.50
1 cup lentils: $0.75
1 lemon: $0.50
Pantry items: Salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar, garlic.
Total cost (per meal serving 2): $6.13
Here are two menus for—well, not the price of one, but, I'd say, for the work of one. Broil a pound of flank steak to serve as two dinners (or one dinner and one lunch) for two people. The first meal is warm flank steak with carrot salad and sautéed chard. The second meal is a lentil salad full of tender bits of carrot and chard stem and topped with slices of leftover flank steak. Put the lentils on to simmer while you prepare everything else, and by the time tonight's dinner is ready, tomorrow's will be, too.
These dishes are very simply flavored but easy enough to tweak with your favorite spices or whatever fresh herbs happen to be around. Many of you could probably make these meals in your sleep, but I've written instructions out below since this kind of choreography helped me when I was learning how to cook. If you know that four ounces of meat and a heap of vegetables will not fill you up, you should be able to add a slice of cheese or a loaf of bread without breaking the budget.
Until Colwin made me put flank steak under the broiler, I always had bad luck with those relatively inexpensive "steaks" (skirt, hanger, etc.) that we're told to cook quickly to vivid pinkness before slicing in some crucially specific way. No matter how carefully I followed instructions, my steaks were ruby raw in the middle and tough throughout. That Home Cooking magic made me give it another go, however, and I discovered a reliable and all but effortless way to put meat on the table. It isn't even a recipe: season a flank steak, broil 5 minutes per side, and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing very, very thinly on the diagonal. If you like very rare meat, you'll want to cook the steak 4 minutes per side or perhaps even a bit less, depending on your oven. I have the kind of broiler that is a drawer beneath my gas oven and cannot speak to this method's success with the kind of broiler that is at the top of an electric oven.
- 1 cup (7 ounces) lentils
- 1 bunch chard (mine weighed about 12 ounces)
- 1 pound carrots
- Olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 cloves garlic
- Sherry or red wine vinegar
Put the lentils in a pot, pour in water to cover by 3 inches, and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and adjust the heat to hold a not-too-vigorous simmer. Cook until tender, 30-45 minutes.
While the lentils cook, prepare the other vegetables. Slice the ribs out of the chard. Chop the leaves into large bite-size pieces and wash. Wash the ribs. Scrub and peel the carrots.
Make the carrot salad. Put aside 1 or 2 carrots. Use a box grater or your food processor to grate the rest of the carrots (I find that the box grater produces the nicest texture, but it’s such a pain in the neck). Put 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice in a bowl large enough to hold the grated carrots, season with salt and pepper, and whisk to emulsify. Toss the grated carrots with this dressing; taste and correct seasoning if necessary.
Prepare vegetables for the lentil salad. Cut the remaining carrot or carrots and the chard ribs into small dice, about 1/3 inch. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed, and push it around in the oil for about half a minute, until it is fragrant. Add the diced carrot and chard ribs, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook until tender, 5 to 10 minutes.
Cook the chard (if you are making the flank steak, now is a good time to broil it). Pour into a medium saucepan enough water just to cover its bottom and turn the heat to medium. When the water starts to steam, start tossing in handfuls of chard, allowing each one to wilt a bit before you add the next. When all the chard is in the pot, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until the chard is tender but not yet limp. Drain the chard, push out as much liquid as possible with the back of a wooden spoon, and wipe out the pot. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the pot and add a peeled, smashed clove of garlic, as for the diced vegetables. When the garlic is fragrant, carefully put the steamed chard into the pot (if it is too wet, it will splatter) and stir until it is coated with oil, just a minute or so. Season with salt and pepper.
Check to see if the lentils are done. If they are, drain. You may assemble the lentil salad now or later. Toss the lentils with a tablespoon of vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper. If you made flank steak, you can add any juices under the resting meat to the lentils as well. Stir in the sautéed carrot and chard dice. The salad is good warm or at room temperature.