Make the most of seasonings. These can be as simple as salt and pepper, or as complex as your own special blend of herbs. The key to flavorful cooking is to be fearless when using them. It’s true that seasoning can’t be removed once it has been added to a dish, and that rationale makes people timid for fear of a super-salty, overly seasoned dish. The way around this problem is to add half the amount you anticipate needing, taste the dish, and then season again, accordingly. Chef Danilo Alfaro, Guide to Culinary Arts has written a great article on easy and delicious methods for seasoning food.
Use Your Cutting Board
An excellent, yet little-known, tip for stretching your food budget is to cut Allium vegetables (onions, shallots, garlic, chives) in smaller pieces. These pungent foods contain sulfoxides, the compound that makes your eyes water when you slice into an onion. As the knife cuts through the onion, it crushes the sulfur compounds and releases the familiar scent. The same goes for flavor; the more you cut an Allium vegetable, the more flavor it releases. Try making a quick onion confit to experiment with this trick.
If a recipe calls for 1 small onion, cut 1/2 of the onion into small dice for the dish, and store the rest for a another dish.
If a recipe calls for 2 cloves of chopped garlic, use 1 clove of garlic, crushed.
Cook with Beans
Studies have shown that a “poor man’s” diet, full of beans and grain, leads to a healthier, longer life. Beans have a silky, almost creamy texture and the capacity to take on the flavors of any recipe. What’s more, they can stretch a recipe by replacing some or most of the meat, and while providing an excellent source of protein. This is showcased deliciously in the classic, frugal French recipes for chicken and sausage cassoulet or a rustic herbed white bean soup. Try replacing half the ground beef in any soup or stew recipe with heart-healthy cooked lentils.
Roasting vegetables gives them an extra kick of flavor for the cost of heating the oven. Get comfortable with roasting with this simple tutorial: Turn your oven up to 425F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick foil, and roast your favorite vegetables (with a drizzle of oil) for 10 to 40 minutes, depending on your special mix. Check and stir them every 5 minutes to evenly distribute the oil. The vegetables are done when they turn fork tender and golden brown. The fantastic payoff is deep caramel notes and a wonderful texture in otherwise bland ingredients; this method provides a stunning transformation for a frugal recipe. Use your roasted vegetables in salads, soups and stews, or tossed with spices for a healthy main dish.
Nothing is new under the sun, and using grains to stretch a food budget is certainly not an innovative trend. Although it may be old-fashioned, it is a very healthy way to cut costs in the kitchen. Simply add a cup of cooked rice or barley to any soup or stew, or arrange a saucy meat dish atop a bed of couscous, rice, or pasta for a filling meal. Try this money-saving tip with dishes like braised halibut Provencal, beef burgundy, and ratatouille.