This method for shrimp is inspired by Mark Bittman: cooking the shrimp fast in a hot oven. The flavor is inspired by Amanda Hesser, who zests citrus to flavor the quick-cooking shrimp. The onions are all mine: they're the cheapest accompaniment I could think of, and by flavoring them with pantry basics (mustard, dried herbs, and red pepper), you roast them into the perfect foil for the juicy, lemony shrimp.
'eat for eight bucks' on Serious Eats
I rarely cook anything that doesn't include onion and garlic, especially simple soups. But with leeks in the picture, you don't need much else. This soup is easy and cheap (always good). It also celebrates my favorite springtime vegetable, with just a hint of lemon and dill to make the whole pot sing.
As spring approaches, I feel less hesitant about presenting a sandwich as dinner food. Me, I'm happy when two slices of bread protect just about any filling, but I'm also the type who's plenty satisfied with a $1.50 slice of pizza stuffed in my face on the street. In spring and summer, a sandwich is totally justifiable, easy to prepare, cool, and transportable for when the time comes to eat outdoors.
Making pizza at home becomes a great vehicle for leftovers. I've found some of my most creative and interesting topping combinations by simply dumping a few Tupperware containers on top, adding a lot of cheese, and hoping for the best.
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.
I realized that by turning my favorite side into a soup, I could indeed get away with serving a bowl full of cauliflower to guests. This soup is simple: basically my cumin-roasted cauliflower pureed with stock and a little bit of cream, garnished with cilantro. The result is fragrant and velvety.
There are two tricks to incorporating red meat into a budget meal. One, buy cheaper meat. The very cheapest meats tend to need a long, slow braise, but skirt and flank steak are good options for grilling or searing. Two, stretch that meat further. This idea is enabled by bowls full of carbs—best of all, a big bowl of pantry-staple white rice.
Last fall, during the first bout of cold weather the season had to offer, Cara wrote about this Asian Noodle Soup. It was chicken-free and packed with good veggies—cabbage, carrot, peppers—and fresh cilantro. But should we call it Asian? That was a heated point of contention.
One of my favorite meals these days is a whole chicken roasted on top of potatoes. The chicken is flavorful with garlic, olive oil, and herbs. The potatoes are perhaps even better: they get seasoned with the chicken's juices, plus more olive oil and more herbs. But easy as it may be, roasting a whole chicken isn't that cheap, and it takes a while. So I've been experimenting with roasting chicken thighs and legs, and adding flavor even during a shorter cooking time.
Risotto gets a bad wrap for being difficult. I happen to think the opposite. And the reputation of this dish will only further yours if you pull it off.
Cheese is the obvious answer to what goes inside a quesadilla. Freshly roasted tomatoes are a little more counterintuitive, when we're talking cheap and when the season is winter. But pints of cherry tomatoes are relatively flavorful, even in January, and roasting them brings out all their sweet fruity tones—so much so that a bite into one of these quesadillas could almost transport you to summertime. A dollop of herbed sour cream on top brings all the flavors together and makes the presentation plenty attractive to serve to a guest.
In this version, black beans get beefed up with chunks of sweet potatoes. The result is rich, sweet, and spicy, and should you be cooking for a group of your friends for the Super Bowl, it could be the perfect cheap option to impress your guests, even the guys.
When I lived in France, my host mother used to heat up purchased buckwheat crepes with ham and eggs as a dinner last resort, when she was short on time and ingredients. Though she was a good cook, I liked that simple meal as much as anything else she made. You can in fact buy pre-made crepes over here, too, but frying the crepes yourself adds only a little in the way of time and really nothing in the way of ingredients. If your appetite is hardy, you can also crack two eggs over each crepe without straying from the eight-buck budget.
When the world outside my apartment screams stew but my body says salad, I'm torn. For these cold winter days, the answer is soup. This Moroccan lentil soup is both healthy and warm, light yet satisfying, jam packed with hearty ingredients and easy on the budget.
Sardines seem to be having a moment in the sun. They're not just an easy-to-prepare bachelor food, they're also apparently a health food—just see Alton Brown. But I'm in it for the flavor. Gather a mess of Mediterranean ingredients and go to town. Chop up some pitted black olives, sweet and tangy sundried tomatoes, and fennel to complement the pungent fish.
This crostini, topped with pureed acorn squash, savory bits of bacon, and crispy sage, may seem fancy, but it's really easy and cheap.
Potatoes and cabbage remind me of the diet Charlie Bucket and his family survived on before Willy Wonka's golden ticket came their way. But prepare these humble ingredients with a little Italian flair, and you'll have an elegant, affordable dish.
Winter, as a season, is especially conducive to saving money by using inexpensive cuts of meat. When the weather begins calling for rich stews and slow-braised roasts, I put the cheapest selections at the butcher to their best use.
I love soft tacos, at home and at restaurants. Since a taco's filling is infinitely variable, the choice lies in your hands to make them cheap or expensive. You could buy fresh fish, for example, but that would up the price a bit. You could also consider a wide range of potential garnishes, everything from salsa to shredded cheese to cilantro to black beans. On the other hand, if you're looking to save money, the trick is to minimize. Use a filling that's hearty but cheap, and practice rigid discipline with respect to your garnishes.
Those adhering to the eight buck budget can't necessarily afford the inflated air fare that turkey day travelers must endure in order to enjoy a table filled with family, and topped with a very big, very expensive bird. For these fellow quarter-lifers, or for those too lazy to brine and bake a whole bird, here is an everyday poultry solution: turkey piccata.