Top 20 dirt-cheap meals

Readers suggest delicious and cheap meals from cultures around the world.

Robert Harbison / The Christian Science Monitor / File
The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich is both nutritious (especially when made with whole-grain bread) and readily portable. Here, a photographer brought one to the Everglades National Park on his trip to celebrate its 50th anniversary, in 1997.

A few days ago on Facebook, I asked the fans of The Simple Dollar what their favorite dirt cheap meal was. The responses poured in, so I decided to pull out 20 of my favorites and share them with you.

Sticky rice, peas, and soy sauce (shared by Leslie) is pretty simple and not altogether different than something I used to make in college. I would just steam some rice, dump a can of whatever vegetables I had around into a dish, heat up the vegetables, then mix the vegetables and rice together with an unhealthy amount of soy sauce.

Black beans and rice (shared by Angela) is something we’re actually having for dinner this very evening here, with some assorted vegetables along with it. We like to add onions, lots of garlic, thyme, and hot sauce to it.

Eggs, black beans, and tortillas (shared by Dolores) is a common breakfast food around here – just really quick breakfast burritos for cheap. Scramble some eggs, toss some beans in the pan as the eggs begin to cook, and wrap the end product in a tortilla. I usually spoon on a bit of salsa and/or hot sauce, too.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup (shared by Colleen) is something that we often make around here for lunches, particularly when someone isn’t feeling good. Our oldest son particularly likes this meal and sometimes requests it out of the blue.

Spaghetti with homemade marinara (shared by Fran, who describes the marinara: “canned tomoates, chopped onion and garlic sauteed together”) is absolutely delicious and can make enough to fill a family of four for about $2, especially if the garden is producing.

Ham hock, beans and cornbread (shared by Amy) reminds me deeply of growing up. Each New Year’s Day, my parents would make an enormous pot of ham and white beans and then invite lots of friends and family to eat with us. My mom would make a huge pan of cornbread and the mixture of the aromas would just fill the house. That aroma today still makes me happy.

Japanese rice balls with meat/fish inside (shared by Salvador) are usually called onigiri and are really easy to make. Just make up some sticky rice, cook and chop whatever meat or fish you’d like into small pieces, then just make balls out of the rice and meat, with the meat forming the center and the rice packed around the outside. I love dipping them in sauces, too.

Oatmeal + mashed banana (shared by Sam) is a staple at breakfast-time around here. We are adherents to steel cut oats these days and we just mix in whatever fruits we have on hand.

Can of refried beans, leftover meat (best is a leftover chicken sausage), chicken stock, greens thrown in a pot (shared by Barrie) reminds me of our children’s favorite meal, which is literally just leftover taco ingredients mixed together in a bowl and sometimes moistened with whatever stock we have on hand. It’s really tasty.

Lentil stew (shared by Maria) is described as “2 C lentils, 1 big can diced tomatoes, 3/4 of a stick of butter, 1 chopped onion, 1 clove garlic (minced), and 1 Tbsp dried dill. Put it all in a big pot, add some water and then bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cover and let it simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring to make sure the lentils aren’t too dry. Add salt and pepper to taste at the end.” We make a stew quite a lot like this in the crock pot, usually starting it early in the day and just letting it sit all day. The house smells incredibly good by the end of the day.

Trash chili (shared by Cynthia) is described as “I save leftover tomatoes, ground meat, beans, tomato sauce etc in a container in the freezer. Then, when I have enough for soup, I add whatever I have on hand for chili: a can of sauce, stewed tomatoes, some beans, pasta and seasoning.” One thing we commonly do is keep “leftover” tubs in the freezer for various things. We have a “vegetable stock” leftover tub, for example, that collects vegetable scraps so we can make vegetable stock. I think we might have to start a “trash chili” tub.

Skint pie (shared by Seamus) is something he didn’t directly describe, but seems to be what we always called shepherd’s pie. In our mix, we mostly just cooked whatever vegetables and meat we had on hand together into a really thick stew, then made a batch of mashed potatoes and coated the top of the stew with the potatoes. This is then baked in the oven for thirty minutes or so until it’s sublime.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (shared by Kendell) is something I have for lunch twice a week, at least. Twelve grain bread, some great peanut butter, and some homemade jelly slathered on the top … mmmm.

Ratatouille (shared by Inge) is, in her description, made of onions, eggplant, zuchinni, tomatoes, basil, and oregano with rice. We made a slightly different ratatouille during the summer meal series earlier this year.

Matzo ball soup (shared by Ann) is something I’ve tried a few times and would love to try it again. It was pretty similar to the wonderful chicken and dumplings my mother would make when I was a kid.

Stuffed cabbage rolls (shared by Diana) are another staple from my childhood. Essentially, you just make several small meatloafs and wrap them in a large cabbage leaf. Pour some pureed tomatoes on top and bake them in the oven at 350F covered until the meat is warm enough.

Shockey Slurp (hilariously named and shared by Nicky) is described as “whatever cut of meat is in the freezer, onion and tomatoes simmered on the stove served over rice.” This just sounds delicious, especially when seasoned well with pepper and salt.

Mashed potatoes, with a soft boiled egg (shared by Patrice) actually involves mixing the soft boiled egg straight into the mashed potatoes. This could be a really good side dish with the stuffed cabbage rolls, perhaps.

Pancakes with slices of apple (also shared by Inge) is what we have for breakfast about every other weekend (either pancakes or waffles). We usually put fruit on top, or we use jam or a bit of syrup.

“Pizzas” made with thick slice bread or english muffins (shared by Jennifer) is as easy as it sounds. Take a piece of bread, put all of the toppings you would use for a pizza on it, and bake it in the oven for seven or eight minutes or so. Delicious.

All of these sound good enough for me to use them for lunch and, in many cases, for our family supper as well.

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