A Recipe for Bad Money Weeks. (And how to eat well on a small budget.)

If you can’t buy groceries this week or if you find your food budget suddenly shrunken, this post is for you. Here you will find a recipe, and some other ideas for eating well on very little money. You can look up statistics on millenial poverty and the inadequacy of food stamp benefits on your own. Today it’s just practical advice.

This is a bean soup. It is cheap. It is filling. It can easily be vegan. And it tastes really, really good.

At least I think so.

No measurments here. Because, well, in this particular recipe they don’t actually matter. It’s less about precision and more about making whatever you have work- in a way that still manages to be tasty. It does presuppose that you have a few things…pepper, oil, boullion, access to clean water and a stock pot or similarly giant soup making vessel, but all in all you can make it with next to nothing, and it will fill you up with warmth and food and cozy feelings.
(I didn’t take any pictures while cooking today. I’m sorry. I’ll try to paint a picture with my words.)

Ingredients:

An onion, some dried beans, water, oil or another shortening, pepper, a little garlic powder, and some boullion.

That’s it. You might think such a sparse list of ingredients wouldn’t yeild a hearty meal, but it does. Oh, it does. Trust me there.

Here’s how you do it:

First and foremost, soak some dried beans. You can do this overnight or over a few hours, depending on how much time you have to actually cook the soup. Mixed beans (or “16 beans”) are the best for this soup, since they come in all shapes and colors and have some texture and flavor variety. You will need about half a bag.

Take your onion (i used a gigantic red onion, but any kind will do) and chop it into pieces. They can be as large or as small as you like, but i prefer to have bigger pieces, since they’ll add more color and shape to your soup.

Put your onions in your soup pot with a little oil, butter, or really any shortening you like and fry them until they are barely softened and perhaps a little browned, but not anywhere near mushy. Keep those guys a bit crisp.

Next, add as much water as you will need – depending on your pot- and a teaspoon of boullion paste. (I used Better than Boullion’s vegetable base, which happens to be vegan.) If you’re using a premade broth or a dried boullion cube, prepare your liquid soup base ahead of time.

Stir in your boullion, as much pepper as you like and anywhere from 1-3 teaspoons of garlic powder. At this point you should start to see it turn into soup. Add the beans, turn down your heat, and simmer forever. I cooked mine for about two hours.

There will be bubbles and perhaps some foam on the top. It won’t hurt you (it’s a normal bean thing), but feel free to get rid of it if you want. Stir occasionally and taste to see if you want to add any spices.

When the beans are soft enough to eat, it’s done. If all goes well you’ll have a somewhat thick, brown soup full of gorgeous beans and softened onions. It will taste as good as it looks (or better, depending on your definition of comfort food).

And that’s it! You have a full pot of 2-5 meals, depending on the size of your family. Enjoy♡.

Tips & variations: More beans = more food, since they are the most filling part. Adding cloves of fresh garlic to your onion sautee is delicious (just skip the garlic powder). Mushrooms also taste amaaazing  when added at this step. Rice or barley would be a great way to give it a little more heart. Canned tomatoes, diced or pureed, will shift the flavor a bit if that’s your thing 

Some other tips for eating well, inexpensively:

  • Lentils. Lentils!! LENTILS. They are tasty, inexpensive and good in soups, salads and wraps as well as alone. 
  • Pasta. A broke-young-person stereotype for a reason. Always keep a few boxes in the back of your cupboard.
  • Couscous. It grows exponentially when you cook it, and a box is cheap and usually serves two.
  • Frozen vegetables. There are real possibilities here, if you can stop steaming them plain. Frozen corn can become cajun with some butter and spices. Squash or zucchini can be roasted. Carrots are wonderful with a little butter, honey and parsley. Stir fry mix, with a little effort, can actually become a spicy noodle dish. You are missing out, friends.
  • Frozen fruit. Sounds terrible. But frozen fruit actually come in a lot more variety than you think, and maintains its texture if you thaw it corrwctly. Put frozen mangoes and blueberries in your yogurt, make strawberry smoothies- either with a blender, or a fork and some determination, put  mixed berries on your pancakes. It’s good for you.
  • And the usual tips: buy in bulk, less packaging is cheaper, try the store brand, use coupons, etcetera. These common wisdoms are not baseless, they do work.

Do you have any thoughts, tips or opinions? Let me know in the comments.