Adding Vegetables to Make Your Meals go Further
Ouch! Just as everything seems to be getting more expensive, we’re hit with that payroll tax increase. If you are like me, you’re finding that little 2% change is making a very big change in your budget. With not much income at the moment, I'm working very hard at reducing every costI can think of.
Having cut most of my other expenses to practically nothing, I’m finding myself working even harder to keep food costs under control without resorting to rice and beans for every meal. Since I have a lot of food intolerances I’ve had the opportunity to explore different uses for ordinary vegetables and I’ve discovered that, not only am I keeping my intolerances at bay, I’m eating cheaper and healthier than ever before. There are already many recipes available for beans, lentils, rice and potatoes, so I’d like to focus on some of the less common uses for foods.
Cauliflower is really an awesome vegetable. It’s a member of the cruciferous family, high in vitamin K, low in calories and usually cheap to buy. It’s very mild flavor makes it an excellent add-in to recipes you may already be using. Rice it first: Bake your cauliflower until it’s soft, and barely starting to brown. Let it cool, then zap it in the food processor a few times until it’s about the consistency of rice. Many low-carb eaters use this as rice in their menus, but I find it’s far more versatile as a filler.
Add a cup or two to your ground meat recipes to add volume and texture. It will cook in and disappear. You can add more, but be prepared to increase the spices and cook a little longer to decrease the water.
Mix into potato, tuna, bean, or other cold salads. The rice-like texture adds interest and volume without changing the taste.
Blended cauliflower is used by the dairy intolerant to create cream-like soups. Use an immersion blender to add inexpensive creaminess to soups, cream sauces or salad dressings. Blend it into gravies or tomato sauces to thicken them.
Another member of the cruciferous family, cabbage comes in different colors and flavors. Each variety has its own balance of nutrients and can be used in different ways.
Revisit your mom’s cole slaw recipe using the different varieties. Make a tasty and attractive rice side dish by cooking in finely chopped cabbage of different colors. Add to lettuce salads for taste and interest.
As a filler, I like to use green cabbage as I find it’s flavor the most mild. Finely chopped cabbage added to ground meat cooks in and disappears. I feel that too much cabbage starts to taste bitter, so I limit my addition to about 1 cup of chopped cabbage per pound of meat.
Shredded raw cabbage can be added to soups, used as a bed for lentils or goulash, or sprinkled on pork dishes as a crunchy topping. Mix a little into your potato salad for a slightly different flavor.
Beans are high in many nutrients including iron and protein. Their mild flavors and high fiber make them a healthy, easy addition to meals. There are so many different kinds of beans, and each has it’s place as a meal-stretcher.
Add black beans to red meat meals. Smash them a bit for thickness and texture or leave them whole to create a new dish.
Cream cannellini beans with your immersion blender to thicken sauces. Cannellini beans are white and very mild tasting. You can smash them up and add them to almost anything without really changing the taste. They can be ever-so-slightly gritty so I don’t use them in cold salads the way I use cauliflower. Mix them into mashed potatoes to add protein to a vegetarian meals, or add them whole to a salad. Cook them with tomatoes and noodles for an excellent hot pasta dish.
Actually almost any cooked bean can be added to salads for flavor and texture. Throw a handful into your soup or mix into potato salad. I love pinto beans mixed into my ham salad or smashed into a ham and cheese omelet. Try blending your favorite bean with avocado and garlic for a tasty guacamole, or with garbanzo beans to create a new taste for your hummus.
Squash grows just about anywhere, which means, with a little planning and planting, your zucchini can be almost free. Although free is a pretty nice attribute, the coolest thing about zucchini is that you can put it in almost anything.
Add shredded, drained zucchini to any sauté and it disappears.
Mix it into cookies, muffins, cakes, pancakes; just about anything that you could add pumpkin to, you can sub in zucchini.
Slice it on a mandolin to make zucchini noodles for cold pasta salads.
Cook it down with cinnamon and sugar to make something very like applesauce.
Use it in place of, or in addition to, shredded potatoes for zucchini pancakes. Cook it with rice or quinoa, mash it with potatoes, mix it with tomatoes and cucumbers for a salad. Yep. Zucchini is fabulous.
Don’t forget the ordinary vegetables. Add extra onion to dishes to take the place of more expensive ingredients. Bell peppers of all colors are an excellent addition to most meals. Extra celery in cold salads, spinach in your lasagnas, kale in your quiche. I sauté leaf vegetables into leftover rice and quinoa to create a new dish. Lentils mix well with many things and a lentil salad is a good use of leftover vegetables.
As an example of how I use these tips, here’s my basic spaghetti sauce recipe:
1 pound ground beef (or turkey or chicken)
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
Sauté these together until onion is translucent. Add in:
1 or 2 bell peppers (usually 1/2 red and 1/2 green)
1 cup riced cauliflower
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup mashed black beans
1 can chopped olives (if I’ve gotten them on sale)
2 or 3 roma tomatoes
Basil, oregano, thyme, pepper to taste
Cook slowly for several hours until most of the juice is gone. Add 1 can tomato paste and stir it up. You made need to add either more tomato paste, or tomato sauce depending on how thick you like your spaghetti sauce.
Add a big handful of chopped kale and stir in.
Salt as needed
Serve over noodles or rice. This makes about 8 servings. Even if you aren’t ready to add in this many vegetables, even a few will cut your costs and increase your veggie intake for that meal.
An extra bonus for me is that all of my vegetable scraps go to feed the chickens. I get to recycle my food waste into eggs! If you have creative ways of adding vegetables to your meals please let me know! I'm always looking for new recipes!
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