By Jack Peat
There’s no such thing as a frugal recipe. Indeed, the idea of a recipe negates the very concept of frugality. But there is method behind the madness.
Some mothers in Eastern Europe refuse to shop until all reserves in the pantry have been used up. It wasn’t until a Polish friend of mine went into my kitchen after a night out to find little more than a few cans of soup, stale bread and some dated cruciferous vegetables and emerge with a beautiful broth that I discovered the potential of frugality.
Like most people, I find the lure of living within a stone’s throw of three supermarkets to be too great when considering my mid-week meal after a hard day’s work. The pre-prepared meals packaged in ‘straight in the oven’ trays with a complimentary sachet of sauce and detailed instructions take the hassle out of cooking, but they also remove the fun.
Almost 50 per cent of the total amount of food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes. We throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.
Madness is in the method, not the recipe
In an age of hyper consumption, frugality could be the antidote that pulls our country back towards responsible eating and away from an unsustainable intake. But one common misconception is that frugal eating is something that can be taught in recipe books.
Considering that the term means pulling from the shelves what you can and getting creative with it, methodologies are far more useful than set recipes. If you buy fresh, you can pretty much do anything. But there are ‘enablers’ of frugality, most of which can be bought, stored and rarely require replenishing.
Frugal eating is a combination of must-have ingredients, regulars on rotation and a veritable smorgasbord of everything else. For the most part, seasonality plays a big role, and its best to keep with what’s good on the weekly shop, and just make it last.
Stocking the cupboard with prudent essentials is key to making this work. A good herb rack, salt, pepper, stock, flour, yeast, condiments and a good extra virgin olive oil can be stored for months on end, yet still regularly called upon.
The weekly shop should also revolve around some bare essentials. Fresh bread, free range eggs, potatoes and one other carbohydrate (rice, pasta etc…) should go in the basket before heading over to the vegetable isle to stock up on what’s good. For those with a wilder disposition, heading into the fields for flora, faunas and fungi will make for a truly ‘wild’ night.
Examples, not recipes
Recipes should be outlawed from frugal cooking, but below are few examples of meals I’ve prepared which can be used to get you off the mark. My number one tip would be to shop local. Eggs, bread and veg can all be found at a weekend farmers’ market, and the best meats will invariably be from the butcher, rather than packaged at the supermarket.
Fridge Stack Tart
This is a great way to clear out the fridge. Start by frying up some onions and finely diced potatoes and browning. Then add in whatever’s left from the week, from meats to veg, and fry together with herbs and your condiment of choice (mine’s whole-grain mustard). When the ingredients have had time to blend, throw into a small pot and sprinkle bread crumbs or crushed crisps on top with a sprinkling of cheese.
The Spanish Essential
Omelettes are for breakfast, but Spanish omelettes are for dinner. The difference between the two is that Spanish omelettes have more substance. Start by browning some onions and then adding diced potatoes and other raw vegetables into the pan and boiling with herbs. Once cooked, drain and add oil, throwing in other meats and veg from the fridge, before covering with eggs and placing in the oven.
Cracking a raw egg on top is a great way of providing a starter with the main. Tear of a little slice of bread and get dipping before tucking into the main meal.
I discovered this recipe when cooking veggie burgers, but found myself holding on to the patties and using them as side dishes on meals throughout the week. Start by grating a pack of carrots and courgettes into a bowl and frying up in a pan until soft. Add spices and cream before cracking an egg on the top and adding bread crumbs until it hardens. When cool, sculpt in to patties and save in the fridge for your daily meals.
Kitchen Draw Stew
Kitchen draw stew can comprise of anything and is a great way of clearing out the kitchen cupboards before embarking on a trip to Tesco. Boil the root vegetables in a large pan. When soft, drain the water, add spices and as much stock as required and make into soft paste. If you want a bit more sustenance, add potatoes at the start or use stale bread as croutons.