I wish autumn days lasted longer. Now the frosts are here in the mornings and all my windows are wet with condensation, our boiler has decided to stop working and I’m longing for those mild dry days with the sun still warm and the leaves crunchy.
I’m also experiencing a bit of a broke feeling right now! Rent is high and Christmas is coming and I’m very conscious about how much money we are spending. This has definitely coincided in part with the installation of our new smart meter. I used to leave lights on all over the place and I’m now rushing around turning lights off like my dad used to!
Being broke doesn’t really worry me too much to be honest. I don’t really shop for clothes a lot and I’m quite a bargain hunter when I do! The thing that I seem to spend a lot on (other than rent), is food. I don’t really do instant dinners ever, I only eat real butter and the best quality meat I can afford, and I love baking. I bake two loaves of sourdough bread per week and at least one cake. I love trying new recipes and feeding my friends.
Whilst I love cooking and eating a lot, being broke really doesn’t affect the way we eat too much. I guess we might eat more meat as we only tend to eat it once or twice a week. Making tasty food can actually be so simple and cheap. I thought I would share a few of my go to cheap dinners. I’ll try and price them up based on what I use and where I purchase – I often buy herbs and spices at the small Asian and Turkish supermarkets round the corner from my house. If you have one near you do check out their prices as they often beat supermarket prices (also more environmentally friendly not to buy glass jars which they almost always use in supermarkets!)
One of my current favourite dinners, maybe because I’m still wishing for October and Halloween and pumpkins, is roasted squash and sweet potato topped with spicy giant couscous. It’s so flavoursome and always makes me feel like I’ve been really good. I add some garlic and herb cheese to the top of it and top with some middle eastern herbs and spices and pomegranate molasses.
One huge sweet potato or two small ones
One butternut squash
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
150g giant couscous, cooked
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 chicken stock cube
2 chillis, sliced
1 large courgette, diced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley
My favourite toppings:
Garlic and herb soft goats cheese from aldi
Sumac (a large pinch)
Zaatar (a large pinch)
A big drizzle of pomegranate molasses
I’ve totalled the cost of this meal at £6.56 if you shop at Aldi for all your ingredients (minus the toppings). Please bear in mind that this dinner actually fed me, my sister and her friend with enough left over for a small lunch each for me and my sister the next day. I’ve included all of the herbs and spices in the costing at 49p each as this is the price of herbs and spices in Aldi. You will have LOADS left over for other dishes. If you want, miss out the spices you don’t have if you can’t afford to add them to your food shop. It will still be delicious.
For toppings, if you go for the same ones as me a whole log of goats cheese with garlic and herbs is around £1.59 in Aldi and 1/4 of it would be enough so there would be plenty left to stir through pasta or eat on toast. Pomegranate molasses is a bit of a specialist ingredient and I guess it could be expensive if you shop in Waitrose or somewhere but I buy mine from a local Turkish shop for about £1.29 – it lasts ages as a drizzle is all you need! Sumac and Zaatar also come from the Turkish shop and cost pennies – I think about 70p a packet. They aren’t essential but I LOVE the flavour and the extra fanciness I feel it adds to this dish.
Peel the squash and cut lengthwise and then half again. Quarter the large sweet potato or halve the smaller ones. Toss in olive oil, cumin, cinnamon, chilli flakes, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 180ºC
Cook the giant couscous and drain
In a shallow pan fry the carrots for a few minutes in olive oil. Then add the onions and cook til translucent. Add the garlic, chillis, chicken stock cube, red pepper, courgette and herbs (I used dried but you can use fresh if you prefer, just use more!)
When the pepper and courgettes are just cooked but still have bite add the cooked couscous. Stir to ensure the couscous gets coated in the flavours from the pan and it’s not stuck in little clumps.
From here you’ve got a choice – you can serve the roasted sweet potato and squash topped with the couscous – OR you can top the oven dish of roasted potato and squash with the couscous mixture and bake for a further ten minutes. I like to bake mine in the oven so that some of the couscous has a crunchy toasted texture and some has the chewy density that I also like! It’s totally your pick. You can also top this lots of creative ways to really own it. I love the combination of sumac, zaatar, goats cheese and pomegranate molasses but I’ve listed some other awesome combos below:
– Balsamic glaze, rocket leaves and pumpkin seeds
– beetroot and mint dip, Greek yoghurt and nigella seeds
– Sriracha, coriander and crushed nuts
– Hummus, harissa paste and pumpkin seeds