Many of us lead busy lives and everyone, especially those of us with families, is trying to get dinner on the table as quickly and easily as possible. Occasionally we fall back on using prepackaged meals from the grocery store or calling for takeout. Those meals have more fat, salt and sugar than we need, they produce a lot of garbage from the packaging and they are more expensive than cooking from scratch.
In these uncertain economic times, we need to look at our food costs and start to spend more wisely. Here are six recipes that will cover your dinners for a week, with some leftovers for lunch. They are as quick as takeout, as easy as many processed dinners, and more economical and nutritious than either.
My son eats a lot of tofu and I'm always encouraging him to add more legumes to his diet, so I decided on something with chickpeas. I had in my mind a recipe from Julie Sahni's cookbook "Classic Indian Cooking" as a starting point and we made our own version. I had some dried Mexican chilies that Hugh had brought from his store. I've always rehydrated chilies, but Hugh put them in the bottom of a dry pan until they were fragrant, chopped them finely, added a bit of olive oil and then crushed them with a mortar and pestle until they made a paste. We had some leftover rice and carrots from the night before and tossed them in as well. You could add vegetables such as zucchini or cauliflower as well. Here's a variation on the Curried Chickpea recipe.
Beans with Tomatoes and Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is the perfect green element for this dish. (Photo: tracy benjamin/Flickr)
We actually ended up getting a number of meals from the Swiss chard I grew in my garden this summer, and I really enjoyed them. I had a good handful to harvest and I cooked them up with some fresh tomatoes and mushrooms for a quick, throw-together meal that was easy and cheap. All the measurements are approximate, and you can easily put together other legumes such as chickpeas or lentils, or other leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach. You can eat this as is, in a bowl, or serve it over pasta or rice. If you have any leftovers, you can eat them as a cold salad or add some liquid and puree it into a soup. Here are the step-by-step instructions for Beans with Tomatoes and Swiss Chard.
If you feel like a party, invite a few friends over and make this easy, delicious chili. Or better still, make it the day before and then you don't have to do anything but heat it up when your guests arrive. I looked at lots of recipes for vegetarian chili, but in the end I adapted my regular meat-based chili because I like the seasonings. Without the meat to soak up the heat, I found the chili a bit too hot. I have reduced the amount of dried chili peppers by quite a bit, so if you like your chili on the spicy side you could increase it. Use the list of vegetables as a guideline, and feel free to toss in whatever you have on hand. I used kidney beans, but you could add some chickpeas or black beans, as well. If you do want meat in the chili, brown 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef before you add the other ingredients. The rest of the tricks for Vegetarian Chili are in the recipe.
Orecchiette with Lentils, Onion and Spinach
I have a confession to make. In an attempt to make lentils more palatable for my husband, I did something I've never done before. I took a totally healthy vegetarian dish and added bacon. Not just any bacon, but some magnificent pancetta that my son brought from the store he works in. It was just a bit, but enough to elevate this dish from nice to delicious. Of course, you can always leave the bacon out. Here is the full recipe for Orecchiette with Lentils, Onion and Spinach.
Dal and Pumpkin Soup
Dal and pumpkin soup has a way of warming up the soul when the weather gets cold. (Photo: stu_spivak/Flickr)
I'm a big fan of Nigel Slater and his book, "The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen," which encapsulates his theories about food and cooking. I turned to the very front of the book and decided to make his New Year's Day soup. Slater apparently has a tradition of making soup on New Year's Day and I heartily approve. He calls this "a bowl of soup that both whips and kisses." It seems like a pretty good meal to have as the weather gets colder, and we have the long winter before us. All the details for whipping up Dal and Pumpkin Soup are in the recipe.
Mushroom Tomato Tofu Stew
Big chunks of meat and potatoes are usually what come to mind when you think about stew. But many university students either don't have the money or the inclination to eat that kind of meal. I was looking for something that was vegetarian and would be hearty and nourishing while still being easy on the pocket book. And like all of the recipes in this series, you have to be able to make it all in one pot. This recipe fulfills all of those requirements, but, while delicious, I will freely admit that it isn't the most beautiful dish I've ever made. Make Mushroom Tomato Tofu Stew using the recipe.
This story was originally written for Treehugger in 2008 and was republished on MNN.com with permission. It has been updated to reflect more recent recipes.