Zucchini, Carrots & Mushrooms: Budget Meal # 7 February 10, 2010

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 7:06 pm
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When you hear “zucchini” do you get excited?  I don’t, but I try to eat it maybe once every two months.  I like it for making muffins or bread because it gives these baked goods sufficient moisture (they have a high water content).  You know that feeling, don’t you:  “I don’t mind eating it as long as it’s tucked in somewhere…”

Yet, I make it a point to eat it…even if it’s in full view!

I’ve decided that zucchini is the kind of vegetable that tastes better when combined with other vegetables or other ingredients like beef or pork.  On its own, it has very little character or taste.  Carrots even taste better.  Zucchinis are a plain Jane. 

But before we turn up our noses…

They are packed with Vitamins A & C, potassium and calcium.  A nutrition web site said that the flavor of zucchini is better when it is less than six inches long.  (Oh…okay).  It can grow as large as a baseball bat, but are flavorless when they get to that size.  It’s the best vegetable you can put on your plate when you’re counting calories (and pennies).  Choose the darkest green you can find, and please…don’t peel them.  The skin is where you get all that wholesome goodness. Half a cup of uncooked zucchinis is equivalent to 13 calories.  Now…that’s a very good reason for falling in love with this Plain Jane, isn’t it?

Here’s a completely vegetarian dish that won’t break the bank.  One thing good about zucchini is it does not fluctuate in price with the seasons, unlike broccoli that seems more expensive in the winter.

This budget recipe is rather simple.

You need:

3 zucchinis (about 4-5 inches long)

2 medium carrots

1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms (you can use the ones in a tin)

2-3 tbsp onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

canola or vegetable oil

beef broth (next time I’ll use oyster sauce diluted in a few drops of water for more flavor)

salt and pepper to taste


Cut up your zucchini, carrots and mushrooms as shown in the picture.  Heat oil in a large frying pan (about 2 minutes).  Sauté onions and garlic (1-1/2 minutes).  Add your veggies in this order:  carrots (cook for 2 minutes), zucchini (cook for 2-3 minutes or until tender but not soggy), mushrooms (another 2 minutes).

Pour your vegetable broth (or oyster sauce) just before serving.

Unless your fellow diner(s) adore vegetables, I don’t think this dish is going to be an instant hit or evoke fond memories…so you may want to have a luscious and evil dessert on stand-by.  Reward them for giving this meal a try.


Quebec Cabbage + Chinese Sausage: Budget Meal # 5 December 18, 2009

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 7:26 pm
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The holidays are not the time to scrimp and save, especially when it comes to eating.  Christmas is a time to share and to let go off the purse strings no matter what.  Putting plentiful food on the table mirrors our desire for prosperity in the New Year.  Abundant food and drink chez nous is de rigueur as it is in many countries.

Back home, grapes were a luxury (we can’t grow them because of our tropical climate), and my parents would shell out more money without an ounce of hesitation to buy good quality imported grapes; to us they symbolize good fortune for the coming year.  We’d also have lots of noodles as they symbolize long life.  Grapes and noodles plus a dozen other gourmet treats laid out beautifully was our way of celebrating the birth of Christ and welcoming the New Year – not to mention the deafening fire crackers that go off at midnight on the 31st, making you feel like the country is under siege. 

With all the good food eaten at midnight on the 24th and all day on Christmas Day,  there’s that period after Christmas and before the New Year when we get that desire to give our digestive tract a break by eating more simple and less expensive meals.  You know you’ve eaten too much rich food when you start yearning for a no-fuss, frugal meal.

My budget meal # 5 is so easy to make…it won’t chisel off your already dwindling budget.  If you haven’t yet tried Chinese sausage, don’t wait until the Chinese New Year to do so.  I combined the sausage with Quebec cabbage.  You can use ordinary cabbage for this dish (and of course any kind of sausage).  I don’t know if Quebec cabbage is available outside the province – I believe it’s home grown.  The inner leaves are curly, have a dark green color and feel just a tad rubbery.  I love it!  They can be used to decorate salads too.

chinese sausage quebec cabbage

This meal is good for 2 people.

  • take 6-7 leaves off the cabbage and cut into julienne strips, rinse in cold water and then set aside (one head of cabbage costs about $2.80)
  • chop onions and garlic (about 2 tbsp each).
  • cut up 3-4 Chinese sausages into thin slices using a diagonal stroke as in picture above (simple pack of 6 sausages about $3.50)
  • oil, salt and pepper

Total cost:  about $7.00.

To cook:

Heat oil for 1-2 minutes.  Sauté onions and garlic, and lower your heat to medium or low-medium (to avoid the garlic from getting too roasted).

Throw in your strips of cabbage and continue sautéing until they’re crisp (don’t overcook them; you’ll end up with wilted strips).  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Fry your sausage slices in a little oil – about 1-3 minutes (be careful not to burn them although they would still taste good)!

Arrange your cabbage strips on a serving platter and sprinkle your sausages on top.  Serve!

Chinese sausage is available in most oriental stores and come in different varieties (some are made with duck liver).  When you buy them, buy only the quantity you need because Chinese sausages have a distinct taste – I’ll go as far as saying they’re an acquired taste.  Their taste ranges from very sweet to very spicy.  Asian stores sell them in vacuum-packed plastic bags.  The ones that are available in Canada are manufactured mostly in Vancouver and Toronto where there are large Chinese communities.  Note, however, that Chinese sausages are not exclusively from China.  The generic name is used to describe any one of the varieties from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan or Singapore.

To know what they look like, google “Chinese sausage” and you’ll see about four different images on the first page.

This meal goes great with rice, by the way…


Eggplant with Shrimp Paste: Budget Meal # 4 December 8, 2009

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 10:35 pm
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aubergines Here’s a recipe that will feed two people for under $10.00.  The bonus is if you eat it for lunch, you’ll have enough left for dinner (that is, if the one you’re eating with agrees to leave some for later).

You need:

  • 3 slender eggplants like the ones in the picture.  They’re sold in Asian stores (don’t buy the fat ones that supermarkets sell).  About $3.00.
  • Shrimp paste (picture below, about $2.50 to $3.50 per bottle)
  • garlic (5 cloves, diced or smashed)
  • small onion (diced)
  • Italian tomatoes (2 small ones)

Wash the eggplants well and wipe them dry with paper towel.  Cut each into 3-4 pieces and then slice the pieces lengthwise.  Turn on your broiler (I have two broil levels – high and low.  I use the high level).  Arrange eggplant pieces on a cookie tray.  Brush with olive oil.  Place the eggplants in the broiler (in my oven, I leave them for 10 minutes, rotating the tray every 3 minutes so all the pieces are evenly browned).  These are what the eggplants look like after the 10-minute broil:

At this point you have two options:  (a) slice the eggplants into bite size pieces or (b) scoop out the flesh, discarding the the skin.  I leave the skin on because I like it.  It’s edible and does not cause any indigestion…


Set aside your eggplant.  In a frying pan, heat some Canola oil (any oil will do), and then add your garlic.  Sauté for a minute and then add the onions and tomatoes.  Continue sautéing for about 3-4 minutes.  Take 2-3 tablespoons of shrimp paste (the amount will depend on how salty you want it) and lower the heat.  Using a teaspoon, take a small amount of the mixture and taste it.  If it’s too bland, add more shrimp paste.  Note that shrimp paste is VERY salty, so there is no need to add salt or pepper to this dish.

Take your onion/garlic/tomato/shrimp paste mixture and pour it over your eggplant.  Mix well to make sure that all eggplant pieces are coated.


Word of caution:  shrimp paste will not appeal to everyone.  In fact some people who have never eaten Asian fare will probably be repelled by it.  It’s an acquired taste, a favorite among Filipinos and other Southeast Asians.  If you don’t think you can stomach shrimp paste (it doesn’t look palatable either when you look inside the jar :)you can vary this recipe by mixing your onions, garlic and tomatoes in a few tablespoons of vinegar (or you can be creative and use your own vinaigrette or a store-bought dressing).

If you’re a daredevil and think you’ll survive after consuming shrimp paste, here’s a picture of what it looks like.  The word “Lingayen” on the label is the brand.  There are other brands.  Ask your Asian grocer for shrimp paste and you’ll be taken to the right aisle.  It keeps well in the fridge for months, thanks to the high salt content.


I know some cooks boil eggplants in water and then when they’re soft, they are peeled and mashed (almost like puréed form) and then mixed in with a nice dressing.

So many ways really!  They can also be grilled and used as a garnish for pizza.

How do you cook yours?