Eating well doesn’t have to break the bank: here are 20 dinners for two that are inexpensive, but delicious.
Hearty and unbelievably tasty, this dish costs just a few cents per serving. Sautee thinly-sliced onions in oil with some cumin, salt, and pepper until they’re well-browned and caramelized. Combine equal amounts of cooked rice and cooked lentils, and then blend in the onions. Adjust seasonings, add a dollop of yoghurt if you like, and enjoy.
2. “Bean Thing”
A term coined by my husband and I, this is a simple dish that’s made with stuff that’s usually on hand. Chopped onions and sweet potatoes are sauteed in olive oil, and to that is added a can of un-drained black beans, some tomato paste (or drained canned tomatoes), along with whatever spiced we have at hand—normally just chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and a dash of chipotle. This is simmered until everything’s mushy and delicious, and then it’s either served with tortilla chips, bread, cornbread, leftover rice, or whatever other carbs are on hand.
An Irish dish made with potatoes, onions, and either cabbage or kale, this is a hearty, filling dish that’s quick to prepare, and is inexpensive comfort food. To make it, just boil several potatoes and then mash them well—feel free to leave the skins on them if you like the taste and texture. Add in minced green onions or chives, and finely shredded cabbage or kale while the pot’s still on the stove so the greens will wild. Mix in salt, pepper, and butter to taste.
4. Arros Rojo
Mexican-style red rice: sautee onions and garlic in oil until they soften, and then add rice and toast until it’s slightly translucent and golden. Add stock, chopped tomatoes, and herbs/spices (like cilantro, parsley, salt, pepper, chili powder) cover, and simmer until the rice is fork-tender. Take off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes or so before serving.
If you’d like other vegetables such as celery, peppers, peas, etc. in this dish, add them with the tomatoes and stock.
5. Stuffed Peppers
Slice the tops off yellow, red, or green peppers, hollow out the insides, and stuff the with a pre-cooked mixture of whatever you have on hand: rice, tofu, vegetables, pasta, beans… the sky’s the limit. Then pop the tops back on and bake for half an hour or so until the peppers are fork-tender.
6. Fried Rice
A perfect way to use leftover rice, this is a Chinese-inspired version of “fridge supper”: you take whatever veg and protein you may have in the fridge, and fry it up to mix with the rice. Start by frying ginger, garlic, and green onion in some oil in your skillet or wok, and add in chopped veg, meat or tofu, and a hearty slog of soy sauce. Once the vegetables have softened, add in the rice. Blend in a beaten egg and toss it all together until the egg bits and rice have browned a little, adjust seasonings to taste, and devour.
Just about anything can go into a frittata. If zucchini’s on special when you go shopping, excellent! Shred it finely, chop some onions, and sautee them in a pan with butter or oil until they soften. Beat a few eggs with a spoonful of flour, add salt and pepper and a pinch of baking powder, then add that mixture to the vegetables. Stir to combine, and either cover it and turn down the heat to let it cook through, or pop it in the oven at 350F until it’s golden brown.
8. Beef and Barley Soup
Stewing beef is basically a very cheap cut of meat that can be put to excellent use in soups such as this one. Sautee 1 cup each of onion, celery and carrot in a soup pot until they’ve softened, then 2 cups of chopped meat to sear it. Deglaze your pot with a splash of wine or beer, add in about 6 cups of beef or vegetable stock and 4 cups of water, along with the contents of a large can of diced tomatoes. Add in 1 1/2 cups dry pearl barley, and simmer for about 45 minutes until the barley is tender. Adjust liquid and add salt and pepper as needed.
This is a simple, comforting Israeli dish of eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce. To make it, I sautee onions, garlic, and peppers in olive oil with cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper, ’til softened, and then add a large can of whole plum tomatoes (undrained). This is simmered for a while, and then eggs are cracked in to poach in it. This can be served with crumbled feta and chopped parsley on top, or just as it is, with toast or pita bread on the side.
10. Black Bean Fritters
Basically just a savoury pancake, drained and rinsed black beans are combined with flour, milk, a beaten egg, finely-chopped onions and peppers, and seasonings like cumin, salt, pepper, chili powder, and garlic powder. Fry until golden-brown on both sides, and serve with sour cream.
11. BLT Wraps
Simple, but scrumptious: fry bacon, drain it, fold it into wraps with shredded lettuce and chopped tomato, then toast the wrap slightly. You can add scrambled egg, avocado, mayo; whatever makes you happy. Any way you make these, they’re good.
12. Pasta Primavera
Sautee onions and mushrooms in olive oil with a bit of Italian seasoning, or fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, and thyme if you have them. Once softened a bit, add in pureed tomatoes, a bit of tomato paste, a splash of wine, salt, and pepper, and let simmer until it’s thickened. Turn the heat down very low as you cook your pasta. Just as the noodles are approaching al dente, add some finely-chopped spinach to the sauce, stir briefly, and turn the heat off. Ladle the sauce over drained pasta, and serve. (You can garnish with a tiny bit of cheese, if you have it on hand.)
Breakfast for dinner: pancakes, eggs (however you like them), fried potatoes, and either a bit of fruit, or a small salad. Easy to make, inexpensive, and so good.
14. Split Pea Soup with Sausage
This pea soup is cheap and easy to make—it just takes time to simmer, so be sure to start it early. Onion, carrot, garlic, and celery are sauteed in oil until soft, not browned. Add in your split peas and toss them around with the other ingredients, then add your stock and let simmer for an hour or so until it’s a delicious, sludgy consistency. You may have to add more stock as the peas can thicken things up a lot. You can either cut the sausage into 1/2-inch slices and drop them into the pot to cook in the soup, or you can fry the slices separately and add them to each dish before serving.
Amazingly simple, and so good. Sprinkle shredded cheese such as cheddar or pepper Jack on tortillas, along with chopped green onions and mashed beans (if desired). Toast until the tortillas are golden-brown and the cheese is melty, and serve with salsa and sliced avocado.
16. Chicken, Leek, and Lemon Pie
Assemble a pie crust and bake the lower portion for 10 min, or until firm. In a skillet, sautee onions, thinly-sliced leeks (white and light green portions only), and sliced chicken (breast, thighs… whatever you have on hand) until the chicken is cooked through and the leeks soften. Add a tiny bit of chicken stock, the juice and rind of 1 small lemon, and a generous handful of peas. Mix well, and add a tablespoon or so of heavy cream. Pour that mixture into the pie shell, top with the other crust, and bake until golden-brown.
17. Potato and Corn Chowder
Sautee onion and garlic, add vegetable or chicken stock, diced potatoes, whole-kernel corn, some parsley, salt, pepper, and a splash of liquid smoke. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, puree 1/3 of it to thicken, add a bit of cream (if desired), and serve hot, garnished with cracked black pepper and chopped green onions. Cornbread makes a great side dish.
Simple, cheap, and filling, this can be made with whichever beans you have around. Just sautee onions, garlic, and peppers until softened, add in a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, a couple of cans of your favourite beans, some beer, cumin, chili powder, molasses or brown sugar, salt, and pepper, and simmer for an hour or so until all the flavours have blended. For chili con carne, sautee ground beef with your onions and garlic.
19. Cheesy Pasta
Unlike lasagna, which takes a fair bit of prep work and a million ingredients, cheesy pasta is more like a casserole than anything else. Cook your pasta of choice (seriously, anything from macaroni or penne to farfalle or spaghetti) until it’s al dente, then drain it and pour it into a greased casserole dish. Follow it with an undrained can of diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, spices of your choosing, and grated cheese. Mix together, top with more grated cheese and some breadcrumbs, and bake until bubbly.
Who doesn’t love pancakes? These can be made with whatever you have on hand: bananas, blueberries, apples, an almost-expired pack of M&Ms… anything you like. Sometimes it’s fun to be a kid for an hour or two and spend dinnertime as a sticky mess while watching cartoons.
Quick dinner ideas: Great Ideas for Dinner in Under 10 MinutesFeatured photo credit: Family Enjoying Meal Together At Home via Shutterstock