Eat for Eight Bucks: Coconut-Vegetable Rice Pilaf with Peppercorns

Eat for Eight Bucks

Dinner recipes that will keep your stomach and wallet happy from Cara and Phoebe of Big Girls, Small Kitchen

[Photograph: Cara Eisenpress of Big Girls, Small Kitchen]

We hear it often from budding cooks who have recently gotten their own apartments: stocking the spice rack is intimidating and confusing. Once you own oregano, cumin, chili powder, and dried coriander, making that bowl of chili is a breeze. But if you don't, even making a dish as budget-friendly as chili can become an expensive, annoying undertaking.

This rice pilaf gets much of its flavor from plain old pantry peppercorns, to the dismay of the rest of my stocked spice rack. By frying the whole peppercorns in oil at the beginning you extract much of their flavor; cooking them slowly with the rice mellows them enough to make them palatable. Vegetables, almonds, and fatty coconut milk add to the savoriness of the pilaf, but in large part the deliciousness of this hearty rice is owed to these peppercorns—which is good news for your wallet, no matter how stocked your spice rack is.

Shopping List: 2 cups basmati rice, $1.00; 1 zucchini, $0.75; 1 carrot, $0.50; 1 serrano pepper, $0.35; 1/4 cup sliced almonds, $1.00; One 14-ounce can coconut milk, $1.50.
Pantry Items: Canola Oil, Peppercorns, Onion, Salt, Sugar.
Total Cost (for 2 portions): $5.10