Top 10 Cheap Ingredients
One of the keys to cheap cooking is learning a repertoire of cheap recipes, and stocking your kitchen with affordable and versatile staples. Here are some food items that I always keep stocked in my kitchen:
1: Tortilla Shells
Besides being a staple in Mexican dishes, you can use tortillas to make thin-crust pizzas, appetizer roll-ups, homemade tortilla chips, and more. Consider buying whole wheat tortillas for added nutritional value.
I always, always have bouillon stocked in my kitchen. It’s much cheaper than canned broth, takes up less space in your pantry, and once incorporated into a dish, produces similar results.
Bouillon can be used as a base for soups, sauces, meat dishes, casseroles, and other savory dishes. It’s available in chicken, beef, vegetable, chipotle, and other flavors. I buy non-MSG boullion whenever possible (namely the brand Better Than Boullion).
I am constantly amazed by the versatility of eggs. You can scramble them, fry them, bake them, poach them, and hard boil them. And when you separate the yolk from the white, amazing things can happen (like meringues, soufflés, fluffy frosting, and custard).
I recommend buying quality eggs (organic and cage-free) because they taste better and they’re better for you. Even if you’re spending more on organic eggs, the cost per egg/serving is still low.
Learn how to make an amazingly fluffy omelette at home.
Learn how to make perfect scrambled eggs.
4: Real Parmesan Cheese
Shredded Parmesan cheese packs more flavor than its dried and grated counterpart. Since it is so flavorful, you can generally use less than is required in a recipe – which saves calories as well as money.
There are virtually unlimited ways in which to prepare pasta. Pasta and sauce (without meat) is one of the cheapest meals out there. Again, consider buying whole wheat pasta for added nutritional benefit.
6: Sweet Chili Sauce
You can find sweet chili sauce in the Asian food section of most supermarkets. I use it all the time:
- As a dipping sauce for egg rolls or samosas
- As a sauce on a veggie pizza
- An chicken
- In stir-fry
It’s one of the most versatile and budget-friendly sauces that I use. It costs about $3.00 for a large 25-ounce bottle. Alternatively, you can make homemade sweet chili sauce at home.
7: Chipotle Peppers In Adobo Sauce
Nothing beats the heat and smoky flavor of chipotle. In the Mexican food section, you can buy chipotle peppers packed in spicy red adobo sauce.
To get more use out of a can of chipotle in adobo sauce – instead of using just the peppers or just the sauce – pour all contents into a blender to liquefy and then freeze. You can use the liquid as needed in recipes such as soups, salsas, tomato sauces, and Mexican dishes.
8: Fresh Lemons and Limes
Using fresh lemons and limes in your cooking (versus bottled juices) can make a world of difference. Nothing beats the flavor of fresh citrus.
Before juicing a lemon or lime, roll it firmly under your hand a couple of times. This maximizes the amount of juice you can get.
9: Beans and Lentils
Besides being cheap and healthy, beans and lentils can be prepared a million different ways. Nothing beats the ease of canned beans, but dried (and prepared) beans are the real deal in terms of flavor, texture, and cost savings. Lentils are easy and quick to prepare. They cook in about 15 minutes.
10: Sea Salt
If you’re used to using table salt in your cooking, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by sea salt and its flavor impact (kosher salt is also good.) Both fine grain sea salt and kosher salt can be used in lieu of table salt in cooking and baking.
Where You Shop Matters
If you’re new to cooking on a budget, you have to know where to shop. Find out how drastically prices vary at 8 different types of grocery stores:
My cheap ingredient list is inevitably different than yours. So let’s start a conversation: what are your favorite cheap food staples? Please leave a comment below.