Monthly Archives: January 2012

Rajma – Indian Kidney Bean Curry

Rajma - Indian Kidney Bean Stew

Rajma served with brown rice

So, I have somewhat of a backlog of recipes to post here, for the kind of stupid reason that I prefer to take pictures of my food in natural light – which is to say, daylight – but I’m often not home during the day. EVERYTHING – you dog, your grandma, your significant other, and the curry you just made – looks better in natural light. But I usually cook in the evening, so I have to wait until the next day, or, more often, several days later, to take pictures of my dishes. I currently have a backlog of leftovers in my fridge, waiting to be photographed. Oh, the trials of food blogging. (#firstworldproblems, I know.)

Anyway, I made this stew last week and, as usual, its extreme tastiness did not fail to boggle my mind. This recipe is actually what inspired me to start thinking about dishes in terms of their tastiness-to-simplicity ratio. I never make a recipe twice if it’s not tasty the first time around, but some things that I cook on a regular basis are tastier than others, and this recipe is near the top. Yet it lacks the long, long lists of ingredients and steps that a lot of supremely tasty dishes have. And it’s cheap to boot. Basically, it wins at everything good.

I reeaallllly recommend using home-cooked kidney beans here rather than canned – their cooking broth adds a lot of flavor and texture to the stew. This stew comes out best when you can overcook your beans a bit so that they’re starting to break down, so pressure-cooked beans are ideal. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, mash some of your beans against the side of the pot after they have cooked.) Serve this stew over rice.

I adapted this recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook, with very few modifications.


Rajma – Indian Kidney Bean Curry (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook)

1 lb. or around 2 cups dried kidney beans, soaked (or two large cans, if you must)
3 Tbsp. vegetable or coconut oil*
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1-inch piece ginger, minced (tip: if organic, leave the skin on – it does no harm)
2 serranos or other hot green chiles, chopped with seeds removed
1 lb. fresh tomatoes, if in season, diced, OR 1 15.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, depending on how much heat you want
2 Tbsp. dried mango powder (available in Indian markets) OR 2 Tbsp. lemon juice (I actually like the lemon juice better)
1 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

Cook the kidney beans: Place in a large pot, cover by a couple inches of water, and cook for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until done, OR cook in a pressure cooker for 12-15 minutes.

When the kidney beans are nearing done-ness, start the rest of the dish: Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion until it turns a reddish-brown color, about 15-20 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for one minute. Add the chile, tomatoes, and all spices (not including salt), and cook over medium heat for five minutes. Stir in the cooked kidney beans and enough of their cooking liquid to cover everything, plus the mango powder or lemon juice, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Season with salt, and serve over rice, om nom nom.

*A note on oils: I general substitute coconut oil for vegetable, because of its many health benefits. It is definitely not a neutral-tasting oil, but I think it adds a lovely additional flavor to basically any Indian or Asian dish. (I use olive oil or butter for all other dishes.) It’s SUPER expensive at food co-ops, Whole Foods, etc., but can be bought for a relatively reasonable price through Amazon – this option, for example, is $22 for a HUGE tub of it that should last you several months.


Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

1 lb. kidney beans @ $2.19/lb.= $2.19
1 large onion: ~$1.20
2 serrano chiles: $0.32
1 15.5 oz. can diced tomatoes: $1.49
1 lemon: $1.06
~3/4 lb. brown rice for serving @ $2.29/lb. = ~$1.72

Total for at least 4 servings: $7.98 + the cost of small amounts of oil, garlic, ginger, all spices, and salt.

Bon Appétit!



Filed under Beans, Gluten-free, Indian, Recipes, Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian

Ethiopian Lentil (Berberé) Stew

Ethiopian Lentil Stew

Way tastier than baby food

Hokay. Evil research grant application of DOOOOM is all submitted, and I am back to cookin’ up cheap stuff and blogging about it. Yay!

Right, so, Ethiopian lentil stew. Please ignore the fact that this stuff kind of looks like baby food, because it is SUPER tasty, and insanely cheap. It’s also really easy and straightforward, which makes it great for hectic evenings. Like harira (Moroccan vegetable soup), the many spices in this recipe are what really make it sing. Most of these spices are common and widely available, though you might have trouble getting your hands on ground fennugreek seed and ground cardamom – these are both available at Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African markets, but the stew is fine without them too. You can also buy a premade berberé spice mixture, if you’re so inclined, from Northeast African markets and the like.

This recipe is adapted from the Berberé Stew recipe over at I’ve changed it to not be fat free, because I don’t believe anything should be fat free (low-fat, fine, but research shows that your body needs some fat to properly absorb the nutrients in your food, plus a little bit of fat goes a long way in making you feel full and satisfied).

Serve this stew over rice or with flatbread (for an authentic-ish Ethiopian meal, pick up some injera if you live near a market that sells it).


Ethiopian Lentil (Berberé) Stew (adapted from

1 lb. red lentils (about 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
A few cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground fenugreek seed
1/2 tsp.  ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp.  ground cloves
1/2 tsp.  ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp.  turmeric
1/4 tsp. cayenne (or more if you like heat)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp.  ground black pepper
1 28 0z. can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. salt, or to taste

Get the lentils cooking: Wash well (to reduce the amount of foaming when they start boiling, which is harmless but annoying), and cover with 6 cups of water in a large-ish pot. Bring to a boil, skim off the foam on the top, and then add all spices except salt. Let the lentils simmer, partially covered. Add more water if they become too dry.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a separate pan. Sauté the onion and garlic until the garlic begins to brown. Add this to the simmering lentils. Add the diced or crushed tomatoes, return to a simmer, and continue to cook partially covered.

Once the lentils have been simmering for 20-25 minutes, this dish is ready to eat, though you can keep simmering for longer if you want the lentils to break down completely and become creamy, like in an Indian dhal (you’ll probably need to add more water if you do this). Add salt to taste at the end, and serve over rice or with a flatbread.


Cost of core ingredients: Primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

1 lb. lentils @ $2.29/lb = $2.29
1 large onion = ~$1.20
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes = $2.49
1 lb.  brown rice for serving @ $2.29/lb. = $2.29

Total for at least 6 servings: $8.27 + the cost of small amounts of olive oil, garlic, and all spices.

Bon Appétit!


Filed under Gluten-free, Lentils, Northeast African, Recipes, Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian

Placeholder for a real post, plus a cool tip

Ohai, internets, long time no see. I’m in the middle of putting together some absurdly complicated applications for research grants to fund my Ph.D. work, so I’ve had absolutely no time to devote to cooking this week, let alone blogging about it. However, I’m cooking up a wonderful-smelling Ethiopian lentil stew even as we speak (this recipe is SUPER easy, so it’s great when things are hectic), and hopefully I’ll have time to post that and some other good stuff later in the week when things calm down a bit.

So, to hold you over until then, here’s a LifeHacker tip about creating a refrigerator “triage box” to help you identify which foods are going to go bad soon so you can eat them and not waste as much money. (This tip is compliments of one of my friends, who saw it and thought of this blog. 🙂 )

Leave a comment

Filed under Cheap Eating Strategies

Macedonian Wheat Berry Stew

Macedonian Wheat Berry Stew

Macedonian Wheat Berry Stew

Wheat berries are whole kernels of wheat – the part that gets ground up to make whole-wheat flour. They are commonly eaten whole in the Middle East, and often show up in stews like this one. (I am lumping this type of dish, from the Balkans, into the category of Middle Eastern cuisine because its primary ingredients and flavors are more closely related to Middle Eastern foods than to European cuisines.) Their chewy texture is somewhat different from the grains most Americans are used to, but they are tasty, filling, and cheap.

However, they aren’t commonly eaten in the U.S., and so they may be hard to get your hands on. Food co-ops in the Twin Cities all sell them in bulk bins, and other grocery and health-food stores with a good bulk selection should carry them as well. They can also be found packaged through the Bob’s Red Mill brand (either online or in some grocery stores), which carries specialty grains, beans, etc. If you can find them in bulk, they should be one of the cheapest foods you can buy – organic wheat berries are $1.19/lb. at my food co-op. (If, however,  you can’t find them at all, you can substitute cooked barley or rice.)

Wheat Berries

Uncooked wheat berries

Wheat berries come in hard and soft varieties, which basically differ only in their protein content. Any kind of wheat berry should be fine here. Similar to beans, wheat berries take a while to cook (90 minutes, or 30 in a pressure cooker), and require a pre-soak. However, once they’re cooked, this recipe comes together very quickly.

I’ve adapted this stew from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey. The original recipe calls for this stew to be used as stuffing for a stuffed tomato dish. I think it’s plenty tasty enough to be served all on its own. I generally serve it with plain yogurt, either mixed in or on the side, to give it an extra kick of flavor and protein.


Macedonian Wheat Berry Stew (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook)

1 1/2 cups wheat berries
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2-3 green chiles, chopped/minced
1/2 bunch parsley (stems and leaves), chopped/minced
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried rosemary, very finely crushed in a mortar and pestle or using your fingers
1 tsp. salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Plain yogurt, for serving (optional, but tasty)

Soak the wheat berries for at least 8 hours in 12 cups of water. Cook in the same water, either on the stove for ~90 minutes, or in a pressure cooker for 30. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid, and then drain in a colander.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onion and garlic for five minutes or so, until softened. Add the chopped chiles and canned tomatoes, and simmer for another 3 minutes. Add the drained wheat berries, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and 1 cup reserved wheat berry cooking water. Bring to a quick simmer and cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with several spoonfuls of plain yogurt mixed into the stew, or a bowl of yogurt on the side.


Cost of core ingredients: Primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

1/2 lb. wheat berries @ $1.19/lb = $0.60
1 onion = ~$1.20
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes = $2.49
2 green chiles = ~$0.16
1/2 bunch parsley = $1.00
1/2 tub of plain yogurt for serving (I will use the rest elsewhere) = $1.40

Total for at least 4 servings: $6.85 + the cost of small amounts of olive oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper.

Macedonian Wheat Berry Stew

Served with yogurt

Bon Appétit!

1 Comment

Filed under Middle Eastern, Recipes, Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian, Wheat

Harira – Moroccan Vegetable Soup


Harira - Moroccan Vegetable Soup

You guys, this soup is AMAZING. I discovered harira while traveling through Morocco. After days of paying through the nose for crappy, bland couscous-and-sauteed-veggies kinds of dishes in touristy restaurants, my friend and I happened upon this man in an alleyway who was serving up steaming bowls of this stuff for the equivalent of 25¢ US. And we never ate crappy tourist food again.

Harira is traditionally made with lamb meat, but there are many vegetarian versions as well (like this one, and the one served by the alleyway man). I’ve never tried a version with lamb, and I’ve never felt the need to, because this one is so incredibly tasty and satisfying.

Spices in a Moroccan Souk

Spices at a market in Fes, Morocco

The spices are what really make this dish. It calls for a lot (eight), but all of them are common and widely-available. Harira is also traditionally served with a Moroccan chile and garlic paste called harissa, which does add a nice additional kick to it, but it’s expensive and entirely optional. If you do go for harissa, I recommend this one. You can also make your own, though I personally find this way more trouble than it’s worth.

Served with a filling bread, this soup makes a lovely and hearty meal, and it’s great in the winter. The recipe below was adapted from this recipe on eCurry, which I’ve changed a bit to make it simpler to follow and a bit cheaper. I’ve also upped the spices because this soup needs LOTS of spices.


Harira – Moroccan Vegetarian Soup (adapted from eCurry)

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. ground ginger OR a 1 inch-long piece of fresh ginger, grated/minced
3/4 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 to 2 tsp. paprika (smoked, if you have it, but regular is fine)
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
1/2 cup red lentils, well-rinsed
1 medium potato, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup cooked chickpeas (about 1/3 cup dried), OR 1 14.5 oz. can chickpeas
8 cups water, stock, or water + bullion
1/2 bunch cilantro (stems and leaves), chopped/minced
1/2 bunch parsley (stems and leaves), chopped/minced
1/2 cup orzo, white rice, or other small grain item
1 Tbsp. flour + 1/2 cup water (as a thickener – omit to make gluten-free)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Harissa paste for serving (totally optional)

First, measure out all spices (including the cinnamon stick) into a bowl and keep it by the stove, to make things a bit simpler later.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onion, celery, and carrot until the juices evaporate and they begin to brown or stick a bit, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chop the rest of the veggies and wash the lentils while this is happening.

Add the lentils and the spices, stir, and let fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Add the chopped zucchini and potato, and fry for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomato puree, water/stock, and chickpeas. Bring to a boil and let simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes.

Whisk together the flour and 1/2 cup of water, and pour it into the soup. Stir to incorporate. Add the parsley, cilantro, and orzo/rice, and simmer, partially covered for another 20 minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Serve with a dollop of harissa in the middle of each bowl (expensive and optional), if you like heat, and a nice, hearty bread. Brace yourself for mouth-gasms.


Cost of core ingredients: This recipe is a bit pricier than others posted here, due to all the veggies and herbs, but overall it’s still pretty cheap – if you omit the harissa paste or use homemade. Ingredients listed are primarily organic and were all purchased at my food co-op.

1 onion: ~$1.20
2 carrots: ~$1.15
1 potato: $0.96
1 zucchini: $1.83
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes: $2.49
1/2 bunch parsley: $1.00
1/2 bunch cilantro: $1.00
~1/4 lb. red lentils @ $2.29/lb. = ~$0.57
~1/4 lb. chickpeas @ $2.29/lb. = ~$0.57
~1/4 lb. orzo @ $3.19/lb. = ~$0.80

Total for at least 6 servings: $11.57 + the cost of small amounts of olive oil, celery, all spices, flour, and bullion.


Bon Appétit!

1 Comment

Filed under Gluten-free, Moroccan, Recipes, Soups, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggies

Beans!!! (And a Flowchart!)



Okay, beans!! I love beans so much that I once read an entire book about the history of beans. They are cheap. They are tasty. They come in about a billion varieties. They show up in basically every regional cuisine on earth.

They are also a bit more involved to cook than some other things, like lentils. And there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there in internet-land about what you should do with them. I have cooked, and eaten, a LOT of beans since I started cooking for myself, so I feel qualified to weigh in on the topic.

Here is the Culinary Cheapskate’s Very Authoritative and Official Guide to Cooking with Beans™, with an emphasis on doing beans on the cheap while still keeping things (relatively) quick and simple.

1. Use dried beans.
Canned beans are super quick and convenient, but they’re about twice as expensive, as well as bulkier to store, and they lack the cooking liquid of home-cooked beans that adds flavor and nutrients to soups and stews. Canned beans are fine in a pinch, but I recommend getting in the habit of cooking your own dried beans over the long run.

Depending on the type of bean and age, dried beans can take anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours to cook. If you stick with the quick-cooking types (including black/tuttle, kidney, lima, adzuki, canelli, and navy beans, all of which should cook up in under an hour if relatively new, assuming they’ve been soaked) and spend the time during which they’re cooking to get your other meal prep done, cooking with dried beans won’t take that much longer than using canned.

2. Soak.
I’m a big advocate of soaking beans. It’s not necessary with beans that cook extremely slowly (such as chickpeas and pinto beans), because the beans will absorb enough water as they cook. However, quick-cooking varieties will generally not absorb their full capacity of water during cooking (particularly if cooked in a pressure cooker), and can turn out dry and mealy.

It might be tricky at first, but if you get into the habit of remembering to throw beans in a bowl to soak in the morning when you’re planning on cooking with them in the evening, soaking your beans is pretty much no harder than not soaking your beans. (If you end up not using your beans that day, you can toss them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.) Dried beans need four to six hours to fully rehydrate.

However, if you do find yourself making a quasi-last minute decision to use beans in a meal and don’t have any soaking, the quick-soak method is a big help. Wash and sort your beans, and put them in a pot covered by two inches of water. Bring this to a full boil and keep it there for one minute, then shut off the heat, cover, and leave your beans to soak for one hour. They will absorb water more quickly this way.

3. Use a pressure cooker and/or a slow cooker.
If you’re going to cook a lot of beans, particularly the slow-cooking varieties (chickpeas, pintos, and anything that’s been sitting around in your cupboard for ages), then it might be worth investing in a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers cook food at a higher-than-boiling-point temperature, which results in the food cooking faster. The upshot of this, for beans, is that you only need to cook your beans for maybe 20-30% of the time required by regular stovetop cooking. This makes a huge difference when cooking slow kinds of beans like chickpeas and pintos. I recommend soaking beans before you pressure cook them (even though a lot of sources say you don’t have to), as they tend to come out dry and mealy otherwise.

Slow cookers provide another potential way to simplify the process of cooking beans. Most slow cookers reach about 300 degrees on the high setting, which is plenty hot enough to cook beans. However, the food in a slow cooker does take quite a while to reach this temperature, so beans will still take several hours to become fully cooked this way. In my experience, fast-cooking varieties of beans cook in about 3-4 hours in a slow cooker; if you leave them cooking all day, however, they can get overcooked and fall apart completely. Slow-cooking varieties of beans can take from 6 to 8 hours to cook fully in a slow cooker, making this a nice option for cooking slow varieties of beans during the day while you’re at work. Generally, you don’t need to soak beans before cooking them in a slow cooker, which makes this a bit simpler as well.

4. Freeze ’em.
Beans freeze and defrost beautifully, so a good way to simplify your life as a bean-cooker is to cook more than you need and freeze the excess in small containers (1- or 2-cup sizes). I generally just cook as much as I can fit in my pot/pressure cooker/slow cooker and freeze what I don’t use in the meal at hand.

5. Don’t be finicky.
I often encounter recipes that instruct you to keep a close eye on your beans, lest they tragically begin to break apart. I think that this is the kind of finicky nonsense that makes cooking a chore rather than a fun activity. There’s nothing wrong with beans that are breaking up a bit, and in soups and stews, this adds thickness and texture to the dish. (Plus, in my experience, beans that are cooked enough to start breaking apart are less likely to result in epic farting.) So don’t sweat it too much.


Okay. I love beans so much that I actually made a flow chart about how to cook beans. Click for the full-sized image.

How Should I Cook My Beans?


Filed under Cheap Eating Strategies

Moros y Cristianos with Brown Rice

Moros y Cristianos

Moros y Cristianos - Black beans with rice

If you’re looking for food that’s tasty, filling, and cheap, it’s hard to beat rice and beans. Rice and bean dishes come in all sorts of varieties and flavors. Moros y Cristianos is a Cuban recipe, and is one of the best-known rice and bean recipes. The name is Spanish for “Moors and Christians”, and refers to the black beans (Moors) and white rice (Christians) that comprise the bulk of the dish.

I prefer to make this dish with brown rice. In addition to the health benefits of whole grains, I’ve found that brown rice is more filling and satisfying than white, and I rarely go back for seconds when I eat brown rice dishes (even thought they’re tasty!), which is better for my budget as well as my health.

This dish is usually made by cooking the rice in with the other ingredients, but I’ve had trouble getting brown rice to come out well this way, so I prefer to cook the rice separately and then add it to the dish at the end. (I use my roommate’s rice cooker, but you can cook it on the stovetop if you don’t have a rice cooker.)

The recipe below was adapted from this recipe on I’ve changed/increased some of the quantities, as well as changed the cooking process in order to allow for the rice to be added at the end. If you’d prefer to use white rice, I’d recommend consulting the original recipe.


Moros y Cristianos – Cuban Black Beans and White Brown Rice (adapted from

1 1/2 cups dried black beans (about 3/4 lb.) OR two large cans of black beans
1 1/2 cups brown rice
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
A few cloves garlic, chopped/minced
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 to 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar, more if you really like kick
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Cook the beans, if using dried: Sort and rinse the beans. Soak for at least five hours, or quick-soak for an hour. (Quick-soaking instructions: Place the beans in a saucepan and cover with 1 to 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, let boil for one minute, then shut off the heat, cover, and leave for an hour. The beans will absorb water faster this way.) Cook the soaked beans until they are soft. Relatively new beans should cook up in under an hour. (Older beans take longer to cook.)

While the beans are cooking, get the rice cooking as well: Rinse rice. Brown rice varieties vary in how much water they require, so add water as per package instructions. Bring rice and water to a simmer, cover tightly, and cook on a very low simmer for 45 minutes.

While the rice and beans are both cooking, get everything else going: Chop/prepare veggies, and then saute onion, bell pepper, garlic, cumin, thyme, crushed red pepper, and bay leaf in olive oil until the onion is tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, salt, and pepper. When you’re at this point, add the beans, even if they aren’t done, and simmer – they can finish cooking along with the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer the bean mixture for ten minutes or longer, until the beans are fully cooked and the rice is done cooking as well. Add the rice to the mixture, stir, and let sit for an additional ten minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Remove bay leaves and season with additional salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar to taste.


Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

3/4 lb. black beans @ $1.99/lb. = $1.49
3/4 lb. brown rice @ $2.29/lb. = $1.72
1 green bell pepper = $1.28
1 onion = ~$1.20
1 28oz. can diced tomatoes = $2.49

Total for 6 servings (3 if you’re my roommate Jack): $8.18 + the cost of small amounts of olive oil, garlic, cumin, thyme, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper.

This dish gets better as it sits and the flavors meld, so it makes for great leftovers!

Bon Appétit!

1 Comment

Filed under Beans, Gluten-free, Latin American, Recipes, Rice, Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian