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Budget-stretching ingredients


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POSTED: Wednesday, April 29, 2009

» Salsa: It's not just for chips. Salsa is a quick way to add a dose of veggie-based flavor to many dishes. Pour a cup or so over a big hunk of beef chuck and cook it slowly for an easy pot roast (works great in a Crock Pot). Read labels, though, and avoid versions high in sodium or additives. Consider fresh salsas found refrigerated in grocery stores.

» Okara: This byproduct of tofu-making is a soybean meal that's full of protein, low in fat. Find it sold near the tofu. Okara can be simply heated and eaten with rice, or use it to stretch dishes such as meatloaf or burgers.

» Ramen: One of the cheapest, easiest carbs around. Discard the flavoring packet and use the noodles to stretch soups and stir-fries, or toss them in salads (cook them first for a somenlike salad, or just break up the dry noodles to add a cheaper-than-crouton crunch).

» Carrots and bean sprouts: On most days, these will be the least expensive vegetables in the produce section. Eat them the obvious way—raw—or add them to stir-fries or soups. Carrots are particularly versatile. Shred them to add to salads or sandwiches, or for real depth of flavor, roast them (toss chunks with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes at 400 degrees).

» Apples: Cheapest among fruits and available year round. They can be sliced into slaws or chicken salads. Or cook them (a few minutes in the microwave will soften apple chunks nicely) and puree to make natural applesauce.

» Tortillas: A great way to recycle leftovers. Wrap any type of meat, even pot roast, in a tortilla and you've got a dish that will fool the kids into thinking it's brand new, especially if you add a little cheese or salsa.

» Sauces with punch: Invest in a couple of bottles of pungent sauces that add a lot of flavor in just a few drops. From the Western point of view, consider Worcestershire sauce or Tabasco; from the Asian, fish sauce (patis) or seasoned rice vinegar. The latter is made for seasoning rice for sushi, but can also be used as a salad dressing or as a sweeter, milder alternative to cider or white vinegar. Combine it with patis for an intriguing dressing or dipping sauce.

» Garlic and ginger: These two G's might seem pricey by the pound, but you don't need much to make an impact. They're a perfect pair in everything from fried rice to marinades to salad dressings. And in fresh form they're so much better than any jarred equivalent.

» Rotisserie chicken: Ready to eat as is, but you can get at least two more meals out of the leftovers, all for around $6. Make a chicken salad by adding mayo, onions and crunchy veggies such as bell peppers. Use shredded chicken in omelets, quiche or plain old sandwiches. Use the bones to make a basic broth by simmering them in water for 30 minutes, then strain and skim the fat. Steep a big scoop of miso in the broth and you've got a very healthful third meal. (The one drawback is these chickens can be high in salt, so be careful if that's a concern. Removing the skin can help.)