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I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Think Vegetarian

Frugal Kitchens 101When it comes to finding those great vegetable sides it really pays to think vegetarian.  The reason being is vegetarian dishes add creative touches a bit outside of the norm because they are not relying on meat to make the dish.  For that reason, it is possible to find a wide variety of dishes that are strictly vegetable, grain, lentil and legume based.  There are different classifications of vegetarism with the strictest being vegan where no animal or animal product is used in cooking including honey.  Meat is generally the most expensive component of any meal.  By thinking vegetarian it is possible to liven up your meals and discover new ways to use ingredients while saving on your food dollars.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 focuses on thinking vegetarian.

There is the misconception that vegetarian dishes are boring simply because they don't include meat but that is furthest from the truth.  While vegetarian dishes avoid the use of meat, some use dairy (eg. eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese), fish or seafood depending on the degree of vegetarism.  Many of the ingredients bought in bulk are less expensive than bought in the grocery stores but this is one area where you do need to know prices as some items like rices and beans may be less expensive in the grocery store.  Here's a few tips for incorporating vegetarian dishes into your meals.

  • herbs/seasonings - Just as in meat based cooking, vegetarian cooking relies on the creative use of seasonings and herbs.  Grow fresh herbs on your windowsills and buy in dried herbs in bulk in the quanties you need.
  • think raw - Many fruits and vegetables can be enjoyed raw so take advantage of those dishes like salads and sandwiches on hot summer days.
  • beans - Dried beans come in so many varieties that it is hard to get bored with them.  Traditionally they are the ultimate frugal food but they also play a large role in vegetarian cooking.  Black beans in particular form the basis of vegetarian burgers, spreads and dips.  Dried beans cost about 90¢ per pound with one pound yielding 4 to 5 cups cooked beans making them a true budget stretching food.  Keep mung beans on hand for sprouting to be used in salads, stir fry and breads.
  • legumes - Legumes are a popular soup ingredient but can also be cooked then added to other ingredients like beans to make vegetarian burgers.
  • nuts and seeds -  Nuts are often used as a source of protein in vegetarian dishes as well as providing texture, flavour and visual appeal.  Be warned that some nuts can be quite expensive with pine nuts being quite expensive.  I paid a little over $15 for about 1 c of pine nuts!  Other nuts (eg. walnuts, pecans, almonds and peanuts) are usually quite reasonably priced. Sesame and sunflower seeds are quite inexpensive.  Some seeds (eg. alfalfa, mustard) are quite delicious when sprouted for a rich source of Vitamin C that adds both colour and texture to salads, sandwiches and breads.
  • stocks - Vegetable based soups and stews are delightful.  The stock can be vegetable (eg. made using a mixture of vegetables), tomato, or mushroom.  Flavours are built from there adding rice, legumes, beans or pasta along with chunks of vegetables if desired.  
  • soy - There are three main soy products used in vegetarian cooking.  Tofu has a soft cheese consistency and surprisingly little flavour.  It is often added to stir fry, soups or stews where it picks up the flavour of the other ingredients.  TVP (textured vegetable protein) comes in pellet form with a cooked texture similar to ground beef.  It is used mainly as a meat substitute for soups, chilis, meatloaf and burger.  Soybeans are roasted to be used as a snack. 
  • grains - Whole grains and various ground grains should be kept on hand for baking and cooking needs.  In general, all grains tend to be rather inexpensive.  By far the largest demand for grains in cooking is baking and that holds true to vegetarian cooking, with wheat being the most commonly used grain.  Bulgar, is a thick cut of wheat that is excellent for salads (eg. tabouli) or adding texture to vegetable burgers and vegetable meatloaf.  Rolled oats can be used as a cereal, for a wide variety of baked goods or to add texture to vegetable burgers.  Flax is a wonderful grain that can be used as part of a hot cereal or added to other dishes.  Of the grains, bleached white flour is the poorest nutritional value for your food dollar.  Rices are a grain as well.  Many think of vegetarian dishes using wild rice which really is not a true rice.  All rices though can be used in vegetarian cooking.  Rice is also a traditional frugal food.  It is inexpensive with white rice being the poorest value nutritionally.
  • produce - The key ingredient in many vegetarian dishes is vegetables although not always so.  Keep the costs down on produce by growing whatever you can organically.  When choosing fruits and vegetables, buy local produce when it is in season.  Shop farm stands and farmers' markets for lower priced produce.  Join a produce co-op if there is one in your area to help stretch you produce budget.

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