If there’s one rule to cooking on a shoestring, it’s to be adventurous. Hundreds of ingredients cost just pennies, but you’re unlikely to find them in the fresh or chilled aisles of a supermarket. Turn to frozen, tinned and dried foods. Here, among the packets of beans and pulses and bags of frozen mince, fish and veggies, you’ll find plenty of bargains. Classic cheap dishes such as stews and pasta have fed families for generations. But new ingredients and millions of free recipes online mean many more dinners can be 15 minutes away.
Be honest about what you can afford. An egg can cost as little as 15p. Highly flavoured meats such as sausages, chorizo, ham and bacon are also often inexpensive and you only need a little to make a delicious sauce or frittata.
Keep your cooking simple. Ready-meals have made elaborate dishes everyday, but these can be expensive to recreate at home. Egg dishes, stews and simple traybakes are flexible enough to use up what you have and will taste better for being fresh.
Finally, shop around if you have time. If you’re adventurous you can shop like a pauper and eat like a prince – especially if you visit markets or Asian and Middle Eastern shops to stock up on spices or buy fruit, veg and herbs.
Brilliant cheap pasta dishes
Who doesn’t love pasta? At around 10p per 100g portion, it’s easy to cook pasta with all sorts of sauces – or even a pasta bake – for a few pence. Make a sauce with garlic, tinned tomatoes, mixed dried herbs and whatever veggies you have in your cupboard. You can add browned mince, pieces of grilled sausage, tinned tuna or tinned beans, then just cook until you have a thick sauce. Grow your own fresh herbs to add at the end to make your sauce really luxurious.
Eggs on everything
A simple rule for budget cooking is if you like it then you should put an egg on it’. You can put an egg on almost anything. Every culture has a simple, cheap egg dish, some of the best being Middle Eastern shakshuka, egg curry, Japanese ramen. Spanish tortilla, Mexican huevos rancheros, Chinese egg fried rice and French galettes.
Rice and easy
Sizzle rice in a jambalaya or Chinese egg-fried rice, simmer it in a soup, add it to a salad or stir it into a risotto. Just one bag of long-grain or basmati rice will open the door to all sorts of cheap dishes, and can cost as little as 15p for a 70g portion. But grab a bag of inexpensive arborio rice and you can make risottos, soups and rice puddings too. Brown rice puts salads and rice bowls in reach.
Meals that cost beans
Packets of lentils and tins of cooked beans can be used to make all sorts of easy, cheap and tasty meals. Dals, curries, chilli con carnes, soups and salads are all easy to make. A couple of handfuls of lentils or a can of beans will feed a family of four, and can cost less than 50p. It’s cheaper still to use dried beans, but if you’re in a hurry the ready-prepared ones will mean you can put a meal on the table in minutes.
Chocolate orange cake
Ingredients75g/2¾oz cocoa powder6 tbsp just-boiled water2 medium oranges, well-scrubbed, finely grated zest and 2 tbsp juice only225g/8oz unsalted butter, cubed and softened, plus extra for greasing225g/8oz caster sugar4 large free-range eggs225g/8oz self-raising flour1 tsp baking powderFor the candied orange zest½ orange, well-scrubbed25g/1oz caster sugarFor the…
Hairy Bikers’ Black Forest gateau
Rich with fruit, chocolate, and cream, this 70s classic still has a place on our tables. This recipe uses dried sour cherries, but you can substitute good-quality bottled ones. Ingredients225g/8oz butter, softened, plus extra for greasing225g/8oz caster sugar160g/5½oz self-raising flour65g/2¼oz cocoa powder½ tsp baking powder4…