Tofu is widely regarded with suspicion by those on low-income budgets as it can smack of sprout-loving vegans, but I think it’s often overlooked. It’s high in protein, low in fat, endlessly versatile and inexpensive, about $1.50 a pound, or 38 cents per four-ounce serving.
What to do with it? Mike makes great Thai food, so I’ve never tried it. But inspired by the most recent issue of Fine Cooking, I wanted to see if Thai curry could work as a vehicle for budget cooking. At an Asian grocer, I found small tins of curry for 79 cents, a can of coconut milk (99 cents) and a can of chicken stock ($1.10). Since you use half of each can per four-serving meal, the three cans together can be leveraged for two meals up to eight servings.
Instead of using the more expensive lemongrass or lime leaves as an aromatic, I grated the skin of the lime (25 cent each) and then later added lime wedges. We loaded the curry with a pound of diced tofu and inexpensive vegetables including a quarter onion (20 cents), two large carrots (18 cents), a wedge of cabbage (20 cents) and a handful of mushrooms (25 cents). I skipped the fish sauce, kind of heresy for Thai food but I couldn’t justify the cost of getting a $3 bottle to use one teaspoon. I did add in some chili flakes in bulk (16 cents for a full ounce) and added in a few pinches for heat. I keep a basil plant on my window sill year round, so I chopped up a few leaves to add in at the end. I served our curry with a wedge of lime over brown rice, slightly more expensive than the white variety ($1.65 per pound versus $1.20, in bulk) but a better nutritional choice.
Breakfast: We opted for what I refer to as “skinny deviled eggs,” a simple preparation of boiled eggs stuffed with the mashed yolks, dry mustard (purchased in bulk, in place of the Dijon I’d normally use), cottage cheese ($2.10 per pound) and salt and pepper. I decided I couldn’t live without coffee, and bought some in bulk to make a pot (60 cents). Cost: $2.40 for two servings.
Dinner: Ok, I’m just going to fess up. I had to go to a business dinner on Monday night. (I realize this ruins everything.) However, Mike was virtuous and ate half the leftover curry for dinner. We both had a small bit of cottage cheese and a carrot as a late-afternoon snack.
Cost for the day: If you counted the rest of the curry as my dinner and add in my coffee and our afternoon snack, $9.86.
Observations: I’m a big believer in protein at breakfast, rather than carbohydrates such as cereal or toast, as it keeps you satiated longer. I missed fish sauce in our curry. I used packets of Sugar in the Raw shamelessly pilfered from a coffee bar, a tactic that I picked up years ago as a college student. I had major guilt eating out and while I ordered a simple chicken dish, even that single entrée exceeded our daily budget. I never cease to be grateful for a basil plant in the kitchen. Every few weeks, I start a new set of plants with seeds from a $1 packet I bought a year ago. Although there’s an investment in the soil, pot and seeds, in the long run growing herbs is a big money saver.
Recipe: Skinny Deviled Eggs
I love deviled eggs, but when they’re loaded with store-bought mayonnaise, they’re not so good for you. This is a guilt-free staple in our house, especially at breakfast.
4 large hard-boiled eggs
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon Cajun seasoning (optional)
coarse salt, fresh ground pepper
Slice the hard-boiled eggs lengthwise and remove the yolks. In a bowl, mash the yolks with the other ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Stuff the mixture back into center of the eggs.
Tip for hard-boiled eggs: Start the eggs in a pan with cold water. Bring to a boil, then cover and remove from the heat and let sit for 12 minutes in the hot water. Shock with cold water and peel while still warm.
Recipe: Thai Curry
This is from the nifty “RecipeMaker” app for Thai Curry found on the Fine Cooking site. We make Thai curry regularly. It’s quick and you can keep the foundation for it in your pantry, plus it works well for using up leftovers. We normally keep some frozen lemongrass and lime leaves in our freezer, too. Although I didn’t use it, I left the fish sauce in the recipe.
½ of a 14-oz. can of coconut milk
1/4 cup red curry paste
1 cup lower-salt chicken broth, or homemade chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon light brown sugar or light brown palm sugar; more as desired
1 tsp. fish sauce; more as desired
Couple pinches of red chili flakes
6 whole fresh or thawed frozen wild lime leaves
(or substitute 1 tsp. finely grated lime zest)
1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into bite-size pieces
½ cup sliced button or cremini mushrooms (1/4-inch-thick slices)
1 cup sliced cabbage (1-inch-wide bite-size strips)
¾ cup sliced carrots (sliced 1/8-inch thick on an angle)
¾ cup sliced onions (1/2-inch-thick slices)
Lime wedges, for garnish
A few basil leaves, chopped
Fresh red chiles, cut into 1/8-inch strips or sliced into rings, for garnish (optional)
Shake the can of coconut milk or stir it well to mix the solids and liquids. Add a half cup of coconut milk to a 3- to 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Reduce by half, stirring occasionally. This should take about five minutes. Whisk in the curry paste, stirring for about a minute. Then add in the broth, sugar, fish sauce, chili flakes, lime zest and another half cup of coconut milk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
Add the carrots and onions continue to simmer. After 2 minutes, add the tofu, mushrooms and cabbage. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about three more minutes. Serve over rice, garnished with chopped basil and lime wedges.