If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t have you already looking to your pocket book, the recession following hard on its heels soon will.

What is more, many people were caught off guard by a frenzy of panic buying that swept more than just toilet paper from store shelves. Put those two things together and one needs both skill and creativity to help keep their monthly food bill under budget.

For my part, I’m handy in the kitchen and recent years have given me much experience in the fine art of turning a negative into a positive. So it was that I went to the supermarket the morning after the governor announced all bars and restaurants would close to exercise this trio by playing a game, one that I called “what can I make with what remains?”

Quite a bit, as it turned out. Here are some recipes I have either already made or will make in the coming days, the outcome of my game, complete with my estimate for the total cost per dish. As I’m a longtime devotee of James Barber’s The Urban Peasant, the cost will always be low. The best part is that although I’m not a vegetarian, all of the dishes listed can be made for vegetarians, sometimes, even vegans.

Tomato and Celery Soup, pot on stove

Tomato and Celery Soup

Tomato and Celery Soup

$2.25 to make six bowls worth

What the store had:

  • 2 14.5 oz. cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 bundle of celery

What I already had on hand:

  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Dried parsley
  • Vegetable bouillon
  • Olive oil

Preparation: Pull four sticks of celery off the bundle and wash them. Peel the onion and garlic. Chop them all up, pour enough olive oil in the skillet to coat the bottom, and place the skillet on medium heat. Put the celery, onion and garlic in until it’s all soft.

Transfer the vegetables to a blender and puree them. Then add the contents of two cans of tomatoes into the blender, and puree again.

Heat up two cups of water to boiling and place these in a pot with two cubes/spoons of bouillon. Once that has dissolved into broth, pour in the puree from the blender. Stir and heat to a rolling simmer. Add the dried parsley. Leave all this to sit on low heat on your stove for 10 to 15 minutes, and its ready to serve.

The not-vegan version of this soup uses chicken instead of vegetable bouillon, but everything else remains the same.


Chana Dahl, vegan dish, vibrant background, bowl of rice

Chana Dahl

Chana Dahl

$3.50 makes four or five meals worth

What the store had:

  • 1 2 lbs. bag of chana dal (split chickpeas)
  • 1 2 lbs. bag of brown basmati rice
  • 1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • Frozen cilantro

What I already had on hand:

  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • Powdered ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Cumin
  • Garam masala
  • Asafetida hing
  • Cooking oil

Preparation: Pour out a cup of chana dal and soak it in water for a minimum of 1 hour. Drain and transfer the dal to a pot with four cups of water. Cover with a lid, but leave a crack for some steam to escape, and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.

While the dal cooks, combine the can of tomatoes, garlic, ¼ tsp each of turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, paprika and half a tsp of salt in a blender.  Puree it. Add this to the pot with the dal and cook for a further 15 minutes.

While that cooks, make the tempering. Coat the bottom of a small skillet with a thin, but distinct layer of oil and bring it to medium heat. Add the cumin, asafetida hing, garam masala and cayenne pepper while stirring the oil to season it. After a minute or two, pour the tempering into the chana dal pot. Give that a stir, add a tablespoon of frozen cilantro, stir and allow that to heat up in the mixture for a minute. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Cook the basmati rice while you wait, in the usual manner.

This recipe is as northern Indian as they come and is already vegan. For a non-vegan version, just add a small dollop of cream to the top.


Pasta Bake, on stove top

Pasta Bake

Pasta Bake

$7.50 makes four meals worth

What the store had:

  • 1 jar of spaghetti sauce
  • 1 14.5 oz. can of mushrooms (I normally use fresh; the supermarket didn’t have them)
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 2lbs bag of mozzarella cheese (all the smaller bags were gone!)

What I already had on hand:

  • 1 yellow onion
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1 lbs. box of penne

Preparation: Take a medium baking dish and pour enough penne into it to fill it with halfway with an even layer. Boil the pasta as directed. Drain in a colander and set aside.

While the pasta boils, peel the onion and core the green pepper. Chop them and sauté in a skillet with a light coat of olive oil.

Combine the penne, onion and garlic in a mixing bowl. Open and drain the can of mushrooms before adding those. Add about 12 oz. worth of cheese and 3/4s of the jar of spaghetti sauce, and stir until the mix until it’s evenly blended.

Grease the baking dish with a thin coat of olive oil, and spoon the pasta mix out into the dish, filling it evenly. Coat the top with the remainder of the sauce and a thin layer of cheese.

Bake at 375F for 30 minutes.

This dish is vegetarian; a carnivore’s version could be made by placing pepperoni across the top or adding pre-cooking Italian sausage to the pasta mix.