Tasty Meals on a Tight Budget - Week 2

Thursday, January 17, 2013

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This month, we at Thursday Life have launched a campaign to cook and eat for less than we have done in the past. Last week (see Thursday, January 10, 2013 at www.jamaicaobserver.com) we prepared five meals on a budget, and today we continue creating culinary delights that should not break the bank. For less than $1800, we can each eat five hearty suppers, with one costing less than $200 per head, another for under $250, two for less than $360 per head, and one slightly extravagant dinner for under $600 per head. As you will see in the recipes below, a couple of the meals can stretch to serve six people rather than four, making for an even cheaper dining experience.

The key is to stick to as many locally produced foods, of course, but we have brought in a little Thai, Indian and Italian influences, to show that it doesn't all result in dumplings and bully beef, when you are forced to watch those purse strings.

Again, we advise that you head to the market for the fresh ingredients: Hamilton's Smokehouse at 11 Sandringham Avenue (or the supermarkets) for the sausages; Pricesmart for the canned food; MegaMart for the Thai fish sauce and oils; and call Barbara Calo (472-9886) for the roti skins.


Rosemary & Olive Oil Infused Tofu with Peppers, Tomatoes & Baked Sweet Potato: Serves 4


1 lb tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes - $196

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil - $20 (you may use regular olive oil, which is cheaper)

2 tablespoons freshly chopped rosemary - $60

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus extra - $2

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus extra - $2

2 medium (1/2 lb) green sweet peppers, cut into 1/2 inch pieces - $150

3/4 lb tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes - $100

4 (2 lbs) 'white' sweet potatoes, roasted in the oven at 350F for 1 hour - $140


Mix 3 tablespoons olive oil, the rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl, add the tofu and coat well. Place in a plastic container, with a lid, and store in the fridge overnight, or for a few hours.

When ready to eat, make sure the sweet potatoes are baked, then start cooking the tofu.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan, add the peppers and cook for a few minutes until they start to soften.

Turn up the heat, then add the tofu, along with the olive oil and rosemary, and sauté until the tofu starts to show a bit of colour.

Pour in the tomatoes, stir well and cook on a high heat until they start to soften. You may add about 2-4 fl oz water to create a little sauce.

Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

Place four hot sweet potatoes, which have been cut in half, on four plates, then divide the tofu mixture between the four plates. Serve immediately.


Hearty Vegetarian Omelette Served with Watercress: Serves 2


2 tablespoons olive oil - $2

1 medium (1/4 lb) green sweet pepper, diced - $75

2 (1/4 lb) tomatoes, diced - $35

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro - $90

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil - $60

6 eggs - $165

1 oz soft goat cheese - $160

Sea salt & black pepper - $2

Watercress to serve - $85


Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the sweet pepper and cook until softened.

Pour in the tomatoes, cilantro and basil, and cook for another couple minutes until the tomatoes soften.

Meanwhile, mix the eggs in a bowl with a little salt and pepper.

Push the vegetables in the pan over to one-half of the pan.

Pour the eggs into the pan, and leave to set for a minute or so. Ensure the heat is on low-medium.

Using a spatula, gently lift the edges of the egg, and tip the pan so that raw egg flows to the bottom. Leave to set for about 30 seconds, then gently lift the edges again, tipping the pan so that raw egg flows to the bottom. Repeat until nearly all the egg is set.

Crumble the goat cheese over the half of the omelette where the vegetables are, then using the spatula, lift the other half over the vegetables and goat cheese.

Turn the heat right down, and cover the omelette with a lid. Cook for another minute or so.

Set two plates with a large helping of washed and dried watercress on one half of the plate.

Turn the heat off, cut the omelette in two, and serve half on each plate with the watercress.


Vegetarian Curry with Roti: Serves 4


6 tablespoons olive oil - $6

1 lb eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes - $90

1 lb pumpkin, cut into 1 inch cubes - $50

1 tablespoon freshly chopped ginger - $20

4 fl oz water

2 sticks celery, sliced - $50

1 tablespoon Madras curry powder - $50

1/2 lb turnips, peeled & finely sliced - $35

3-4 (1/2 lb) tomatoes, cut into 1/2 chunks - $70

1 large handful of cilantro, roughly chopped - $180

Sea salt & black pepper - $2

4 roti skins - $400 (buy plain, whole wheat, dahl or potato roti skins from Barbara Calo 472-9886)


Heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the eggplant, and stir well to coat with the olive oil. Cover with a lid and leave to cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the pumpkin and the ginger, and fry for 3 minutes.

Pour in 2 fl oz water and the celery, and cook for another 3 minutes.

Add the curry, stir well, and cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the turnips, add another 2 fl oz water (more if needed), cover with a lid, and leave to cook until all the vegetables are soft.

Just before serving, stir in the tomatoes and cilantro, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Reheat the roti skin in a hot oven for 5 minutes, or microwave for 1 minute, ensuring the roti are wrapped in a cloth kitchen towel. Spread each out onto four plates.

Divide the curry between the four roti, placing near the edge of each roti. Roll, slice in half on the diagonal, and serve hot. You will find that there is a lot of vegetables, so you could even buy 2 more roti and stretch the vegetables to serve six people, making the meal cost less than $200 per head.


Mince, Plantain & Brie 'Lasagna' Bake: Serves 6


1 tablespoon olive oil - $1

1 lb beef mince - $400

1 onion, finely chopped - $15

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped - $20

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary - $30

4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil - $120

1 tin of diced tomatoes - $150

1 tin of tomato paste - $100


Sea salt & pepper - $2

1 lb brie, sliced thinly - $1500


3 tablespoons vegetable oil - $3

5 plantains, peeled, cut in half crossways, then sliced lengthways - $250

Sea salt - $1

Mixed Salad Leaves with Lemon Dressing:

1 box mixed salad leaves - $800

Juice of 3 lemons - $30

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil - $20


Heat the olive oil in a pot on high heat, add the mince and onion, and saute for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, rosemary and 2 tablespoons basil, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and about a cup of water, bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.

If the sauce is still fairly runny after an hour, remove the lid, turn the heat up, and evaporate off some of the water until the sauce is nice and thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan until relatively hot, and fry the plantain until soft and golden. Adjust the heat accordingly. When ready, place on a plate covered with paper towel, and sprinkle with a little salt.

The above may be done in advance and kept in the fridge.

When ready to eat, preheat the oven to 400F.

Lightly grease a large baking tray which will hold 6 portions of the 'lasagna'.

Divide the tray into six spaces in your mind, and place 3 pieces of plantain, side by side, in each space. Top each set of 3 plantain slices with 3 tablespoons of mince, then top each with 1 1/4 oz of brie, and then with another 3 plantain slices. Top this with another 3 tablespoons of mince on each, then use the remaining basil to place on top of the mince. Add the last layer of 3 plantain slices on each, and complete by topping with the remaining brie.

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until piping hot, and the brie has melted and turned a light golden colour.

Using a spatula, place the 'lasagna' on 6 plates.

Mix the lemon juice and olive oil with the mixed salad leaves, and divide between the plates. Serve immediately.


Thai Stir-Fry Smoked Sausages: Serves 4


Thai Stir-Fry Smoked Sausages: Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil - $1

2 medium (1/2 lb) green/red sweet peppers, finely sliced - $150

1 lb turnips, peeled, halved & finely sliced - $70

4 sticks of celery, sliced - $100

2 tablespoons freshly chopped ginger - $40

1 Scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped - $15

1 pack (just over 1 lb) Hamilton smoked sausages, sliced thinly on the diagonal- $615

4 fl oz Thai fish sauce - $45

Juice of 2 large limes - $15

1 pack/bunch/head of Chinese greens - $100

Large handful of cilantro, chopped - $180

1 1/2 - 2 cups long grain rice, cooked according to instructions on the packet - $90

Heat the oil in a large saute pan, or wok.

Add the peppers, turnips, celery, ginger and Scotch bonnet pepper, and fry for about 5 minutes until they soften. If it starts to dry out, you may add a little water.

Stir in the sausages, and fry on a high heat until golden.

Pour in the Thai fish sauce, lime juice, Chinese greens and cilantro, and fry for a couple minutes.

Serve with white rice on four plates. You will find there is plenty, so you may serve another two people, making it less than $250 per head.





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