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There is something magical about a recipe that can turn the simplest ingredients into something remarkable.  A recipe that causes one to dig through the dish looking for the secret ingredient, the one that turns an otherwise plain looking pile of beans and greens into something worth looking forward to.  This is such a recipe.  A deceptively simple list of parts come together into a whole that is bursting with flavor, texture, and depth.  If you pay any heed to the opinions of my son (and you should because eating is his favorite pastime- lucky for me), you should know that he likes this dish “to infinity!”

My husband brought this recipe home.  It was a rare valuable fruit from his long hours spent on the road, commuting and listening to the radio.  All Things Considered on NPR ran a series on how to feed a family for under $10.   This dish may look like college potluck fare (at least if you went to school in Oregon like I did), but the tastes are elevated well beyond.  Playing a lead role are the garlic cloves which are browned in ample olive oil, then mashed with bread fried in the same garlicky oil.  The toasted bread, sweet rich garlic, along with notes of saffron and cumin turn this simple dish into one worth planning a meal around.  The recipe below is modified from the original in a couple of ways.  Most notably, I subbed in kale for the recommended spinach.  Kale holds up well if you choose to make this a bit in advance, it is also more available this time of year. I have made it with spinach as well though and it is delicious.  The bean cooking method is simplified a bit and salt measurements are added.  This dish is a one-pot wonder that necessitates no sides, but do not forget a nice glass of wine to wash it down.

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Our country is awash with cheap fast food options.  As companies increasingly market these inexpensive, yet low quality foods to us in the drive-through and the supermarket the questions arise: Are fast food and prepared foods the only option for families on a budget?  Can nutritious and delicious foods also be economical?  For our family, we make almost all of our food from scratch, yet still adhere to a strict food budget.  Absolutely, YES, nutritious and delicious foods can be economical!  September 17, 2011, Slow Food USA is hosting a $5 Challenge.  They seek to counter-act the myth that slow food has to cost more than fast food.  The challenge calls upon us to serve a meal to our friends and/or family for less than $5 per person.

Truly, $5 per person is quite generous.  At this cost, a meal can be more than just a way to feed our hunger, it can be special.  Back in May, my Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart won Best Dirt Cheap Dinner on a food52 contest. This tart, though inexpensive to prepare, is suitable to serve for a dinner party.  For $5 per person, you can afford the tart, a salad, and a bottle of wine!  Most of the meals I serve my family come in at about half that price- closer to $10 for our family of 4.  In fact, the more of the preparation I take on myself, the lower the cost.  The base ingredients for bread, sausage, and soups are very low.  We also have a productive garden which helps to cut the costs of our produce.  Preserving the bounty of the seasons is a great way to ensure low cost, high quality food throughout the year.

Cannellini Beans with Tomatoes and Greens is a perfect late summer stew.  It is for those days when tomatoes are still abundant, but the air slightly hints of fall.  The flavors are rich without being too bold and the light color of the beans makes the dish seem light enough for even a hot night.  It is a perfect example of a delicious meal that does not cost much nor take exorbitant amounts of time to prepare.  In fact, the total cost of this meal is less than $10 total, or even less if you have garden tomatoes and cook with dried beans instead of canned ones.  This meal came together on a Thursday night, when the cupboard was nearly bare and the young natives of the household were restless and hungry.   Taking stock of the pantry, I found two cans of cannellini beans.  Heading out to the garden, I collected a pile of tomatoes and a handful of basil.  These humble ingredients cooked up with a small amount of sausage for flavor and protein made for a tasty dish.  The little man gave his seal of approval stating that it was “very, very good.” For an extra treat, bake up a loaf of Weeknight No-Knead Bread to serve on the side.   Nutritious, delicious, homemade food does not have to be expensive.

What will you make for the September 17th, $5 Slow Food Challenge?

Other My Pantry Shelf meals for under $5 per person:

Soups and Chili

Big Beef Chili, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Mexican Pozole Rojo, Split Pea Soup with Ham and Beer Bread, Vietnamese Hue Noodle Soup

Pasta, Pizza, and Tarts

Perciatelli and Meatballs, Green and Brown Spaghetti with Basil Pesto, Roasted Asparagus Pizza, Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart

Poultry and Meat Dishes

Chicken Satay, Biscuit-topped Chicken Pot Pie, Corned Beef, Divine Indian Butter Chicken, Fresh Ground Bacon Burgers with Homemade Bun, Huevos Diablos con Chorizo, Lamb Kebabs with Greek Salad, Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken, Sesame Ginger Meatballs, Southwestern Chicken Burger, Swedish Meatballs (Kottbullar), Thai Lettuce Wraps, World’s Easiest Carnitas with Grilled Tomatillo Salsa

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Thai Lettuce Wraps

May 26, 2011

The end of the school year is near, which always means my life, as a teacher, becomes temporarily overwhelmingly busy.  The good news is that in two weeks I will be off for the summer with nothing to do but play with the kiddos, work in the garden, and of course cook.  The canning jars are all nearly empty, taunting me with possibilities.  But right now, in between writing finals and grading the last of the lab notebooks, there is little time for much else.  Thank goodness for quick and easy meals that still make dinner seem like a special time of day.

In between all of the bread and the cake that we have been eating lately, I thought we needed to have at least one meal that lacks a substantial carb load. Thai Lettuce Wraps always satisfy on many levels. The combo of sweet, salty, and spicy is so completely delectable that it distracts from the fact that there is no bed of rice or noodles (of course you can add those if you choose).  They are super quick and budget friendly.  Let us not forget that they are also fun to eat!


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