Spicy Tomato Chutney – Cooking on a Shoestring Budget

There is something very basic and wholesome about tomatoes. The acidic, tangy taste, the thick pulpy flesh, the gorgeous red color, and last but not the least, the awesome nutritional profile – every single aspect of the tomato makes it a much-valued addition to every meal.

Tomatoes are known for their high Vitamin C, A and K content. The lycopene is tomatoes is cherished for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer preventing properties. Most importantly, lycopene has been known to be very beneficial in promoting prostrate, colon and pancreatic health. Regular intake of tomatoes also reduces the risk of heart disease, cholesterol, migraines and diabetes.

In the west, tomatoes are generally used in salads, as a base for soups, gazpacho, and as a sauce in chili and other dishes. In India, tomatoes are eaten during every single meal: as a base in gravies, in sambar and rasam, as chutneys to be used as an accompaniment to nearly every main course. This tomato chutney recipe is very easy to make and very popular in India. In the summer, when there is an abundance of fresh tomatoes, the Indian housewife always makes this chutney. It stores well – for a couple of weeks (if you make large enough quantities and it is not polished off the first day!), and is a handy accompaniment for any main course. It goes well with rice, chapathis, tortillas, idly (steamed rice cakes), dosa (Indian version of crepes!), oothapam (Indian version of pancake) or even smothered on a slice of whole wheat bread!

Here is what you need:
8 tomatoes (medium size)
1 tbsp red chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
handful fresh garlic pods (peeled and washed)
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
Pinch asofoetida powder (optional, if you cannot source it, but very good for health so try to incorporate – available at any Indian grocery store)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted, chopped peanuts (optional)
Here is how you make this:
Wash and chop tomatoes into small cubes. Heat oil in a pan. Add the mustard seed and wait until they crackle. Now add the cumin seeds and roast for 10 seconds. Add the asofoetida powder. Immediately add the garlic pods and roast for about 30 seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes, salt and chili and turmeric powder.

Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the juice evaporates and the tomato chutney takes on the consistency of a thick paste.

Remove from fire and garnish with roasted, chopped and unsalted peanuts. Store in the refrigerator for upto a couple of weeks. Serve with any main dish.

Tomatoes (about 1 lb): $1.49 or $3.99 (if organic)
Oil : $0.50
Spices: $0.20
Peanuts: $0.30
Total : $2.49 or $4.99 (if organic)

Makes 15 servings of 1 tsp each.

Cost per serving: $0.16 or $0.33 if organic tomatoes are used.

Curried Yellow Pumpkin – Cooking on a Shoestring Budget

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One good thing about the Pumpkin is that while it is abundantly available during the harvest season after Halloween, it is almost as easily available throughout the year. One more good thing is that it is quite inexpensive and easy on your pocketbook. And yet another reason to incorporate pumpkin into your diet is that it chock full of goodness. Not only is pumpkin loaded with vitamin A and antioxidant carotenoids, particularly alpha and beta-carotenes, it’s a good source of vitamins C, K, and E, and lots of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iron.

If you’ve only eaten pumpkin in a pumpkin pie during Halloween, here is a fabulous recipe that will entice your tastebuds and satisfy every craving. This Curried Yellow Pumpkin dish is a wonderfully sweet and spicy dish that will go very well with hot parathas (Indian whole wheat flat bread) or phulka (Indian whole wheat puffed bread). The natural sweetness of the pumpkin is enhanced by the spicy red chili powder. It is a simple dish – a two-minute dish that you can whip together after a long day’s work. It is a winner, in terms of taste, nutrition and cost.

You won’t believe that it costs so little. I bought a piece of fresh yellow pumpkin at my local supermarket for just $0.99! It served 6.

Here is what you need:
1 large piece (4″ X 4″) yellow or orange pumpkin (washed, peeled and chopped)
2 tsp red chili powder
1 pinch turmeric powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
Couple of stalks green onions (washed and snipped for garnish)

Here is how you make this:
Heat the olive oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, add the black mustard seeds. Wait until they crackle and add the chopped pumpkin. Add salt, chili powder and turmeric powder. Coook over low heat until the pumpkin is cooked and soft. Remove from pan and garnish with chopped green onion.

Serve with hot phulkas or parathas.

Pumpkin: $0.99
Oil : $0.20
Spices: $0.20
Green onion: $0.10
Total : $1.49 – Serves 6

Fusion Garden Omlette – Cooking on a Shoestring Budget

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Sunday mornings are meant to be for lazing, relaxing and recuperating after a strenuous week. And so it was almost a family tradition that Sunday breakfasts were eaten out. It seems like Sunday breakfasts at restaurants is a family tradition for many, because the restaurants I frequent are filled to bursting on Sundays. 🙂

When I used to live in India, our Sunday breakfasts consisted of Idly (Steamed rice cakes) and Vadai (Crispy fried lentil doughnuts!) served with Coconut chutney, Sambar (Spicy tamarind lentil sauce) and a spicy tomato onion chutney. We used to stand in line for a table at some of the popular joints in Chennai for this breakfast. By the time we finished, it was usually noon and we would be replete and more than ready for a siesta. I know, I know, eating heavy meals and sleeping it off sounds indolent and slothful, but I do think that we sometimes need days like this when we do nothing other than eat and sleep! 🙂

Since we moved to the US, Idly-Vadai-Sambar-Chutney is a distant dream, unless I am willing to spend a couple of hours in the kitchen preparing all this. So, we’ve substituted our Indian breakfast with our 2nd favorite breakfast, the Omlette. There are many mom and pop or family restaurants sprinkled all around the US, where you can get a delicious omlette. The scene  is pretty much the same: you have to wait in line for a table at some of the good restaurants. The difference between the breakfasts, though, is that for one, it is relatively simple and quick to make an omelette at home, while, like I mentioned before, the Idly-Vadai is quite a big production of pre-preparation. In addition, the cost of an Omlette breakfast in a restaurant can run into nearly $6 or $7 per person, while the effort of making an Idly-Vadai breakfast will easily justify the cost of eating this meal at a restaurant.

So, continuing with our series of Cooking on a Shoestring Budget, try out this Fusion Omlette at home. Breakfast can be served within 10 minutes, you can control the butter in the dish and best of all, the whole breakfast, including coffee, will cost less than $1.50 per person.

Here is what you need:
2 eggs or 2 egg whites and 1 yolk
1/4 red onion (chopped fine)
1/4 green pepper (chopped fine)
1 green chili (chopped fine)
couple of sprigs of cilantro (washed and snipped fine)
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper powder
Pinch turmeric powder
Grated cheese (optional)

Here is how you make this:
Separate the egg whites from the yolks. In a bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric beater until frothy. Add salt, pepper and turmeric powder and yolks. Beat for a few more minutes.

Heat oil in a non-stick pan. When the oil is hot, add the beaten egg. Sprinkle chopped onion, green pepper, green chili and cilantro. Sprinkle cheese if desired. Cook on one side and fold over and cook the other side.

Remove from pan and serve with pan-toasted whole wheat or 7 grain bread.

2 eggs: $0.20
Oil : $0.10
Filling (veggies): $0.20
Cheese: $0.05
Total : $0.55

Add a couple of slices bread and coffee and your meal is less than $1.50! Better still, use organic or cage-free eggs and your meal is still much less than a restaurant breakfast.

Black Sesame Seeds and Sugar Beet Whole Wheat Fusion Bread – Cooking on a Shoestring Budget

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There can be nothing more satisfying than breaking bread with a group of your friends to seal the camaraderie. From time immemorial, breaking bread signifies a shared bond, a sense of togetherness and every warm, fuzzy and friendly feeling.

Baking bread is my favorite pastime. The aroma of freshly baked bread must surely be one of the very best olfactory enticements for a human being. In fact, let me modify that: not just for a human being. The smell of fresh baked bread also entices my normally aloof cat, right onto my lap, licking his chops, smacking his whiskers and staring unblinkingly at my mouth, hoping to grab a fallen crumb!

When I bake, I love to experiment. Mostly, I use a basic bread recipe but will work with a plethora of ingredients, vegetables and spices so I can blend the eastern and western cuisine. And ever since I’ve switched to whole grains and unrefined carbohydrates, I try to bake bread at home so I can bake with my favorite King Arthur whole wheat flour – so yummy, tasty and oh, so satisfying!

Home-baked bread has many advantages: the aroma of the bread that fills the house for at least a day, the satisfaction of being an “artist” and a “creator”, the knowledge that you can control what goes into your body, and best of all, since we are on our Shoestring series – the cost of the bread!

So go ahead and try this wonderful Fusion recipe of Black Sesame seeds and Sugar Beet Whole Wheat Bread. The grated sugar beet makes this bread moist and soft, the black sesame seeds add the crunch, and the whole wheat gives it bulk and texture.

This bread will assault all your senses – visual, olfactory and sensory. It looks enticing with the glorious red of the sugar beets, the shiny black of the sesame seeds, and the earthy brown of the whole wheat. It smells simply heavenly. And it is tasty and filling. In addition, it is healthy and low-fat. What more reason do you need to try this out on a Sunday afternoon?

Here is one more: it costs $1.40 and makes about 25 – 27 slices. Each slice is so filling that you can only eat a slice for each meal. That makes it $1.40 for 25 servings!

So without more ado, let’s start.

Here is what you need:
3 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour
1/4 cup + 1 tsp sugar (brown sugar, if you want to ensure the bread has no whiff of refined stuff!)
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium sugar beet (peeled and grated fine)
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 cup water
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 egg white

Here is how you make this:
Heat one cup water in the microwave until warm. Test the temperature by dabbing a drop onto your wrist. The water should be just warm and bearable. Add 1 tsp sugar, salt and active dry yeast to the water and let sit for about 10 – 15 minutes in a warm place until the water froths up.

In a large bowl mix together the whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup sugar, olive oil, grated sugar beet and 1/4 cup black sesame seeds. Slowly add the yeast mixture and knead thoroughly. Cover with a clean, wet kitchen towel and let sit on your warm countertop for a couple of hours. Punch down, knead, and cover once every hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Shape the dough into a loaf. Brush the top of the loaf with beaten egg white and sprinkle with 1 tbsp black sesame seeds.

Bake for about 40-50 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven, cool and slice. Store wrapped in an aluminum foil for upto a week.

Whole wheat flour: $0.60
Oil : $0.20
Sugar : $0.10
Beet : $0.30
Sesame seeds : $0.10
Yeast : $0.10
Total :$1.40 – Serves 25 about $0.05 to $0.06 a slice!

Spicy Okra in yogurt sauce – Cooking on a Shoestring Budget

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The great city of Chennai, in Southern India, has its own very unique culture. Chennai has a churning, roiling, ebbing and flowing mass of humanity, which manages to co-exist in relative peace. Like every other large metropolitan city in the world, Chennai too has its class divide between the rich and the poor. In addition, it has a unique class divide that is not based on economic strata. This class divide is based on India’s ancient culture of caste system. However, I like to think that the caste system boundaries have slowly eroded and no longer do people identify themselves as belonging to a certain caste.

Despite all that, there is one way of identifying people of a certain caste: their eating habits. Based on whether they are Hindus, Muslims or Christians, people in India have varying dietary habits. And amongst the Hindus, various castes have different methods of cooking, utilizing spices, and different favorite foods. The distinction is so great, that sometimes, the Chennai-ites refer to people of a certain community by the name of their favorite dish! This is usually done with friendly banter and in a teasing manner. The targets of the banter also take it in the spirit it is meant and do not mind being referred to by the name of a dish!

And so it was, that when I lived in Chennai, I was fondly referred to as “Thair Sadam” or Yogurt rice by my friends. I belong to a community which HAS to end its 3-course meal with Thair sadam. Yogurt is such an integral part of the meal that it is considered a panacea for all illnesses. It is a ubiquitous, favorite food. And any dish made with yogurt is a hot favorite.

Here is one such dish – so very easy to make, so yummy and such a fabulous accompaniment with any main dish – rice or chapathi. The recipe for Spicy Okra in yogurt sauce is one of the series of Cooking on a Shoestring budget. You will see just how easy this dish is on your wallet. Enjoy!

Here is what you need:
10 fresh Okra pods (washed and chopped in about 1/2″ pieces)

1 cup fresh homemade yogurt (if you cannot make yogurt at home, buy Stonyfield low fat or whole milk yogurt)
1/2 tsp salt
1 pinch turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili powder (reduce as necessary)
1 tbsp olive oil

Here is how you make this:
Heat a pan and add olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the chopped Okra, salt, turmeric and red chili powder. Stir fry on high heat until the Okra is fried crisp and nearly blackened. Remove from the stove and cool.

In a dish, lightly beat yogurt with a fork. If you are using Stonyfield yogurt, add half cup of water to the yogurt and then beat with a fork. Add the fried Okra into the yogurt.

Serve with Rice, chapathi, or Edamame and Green Onion Rice Pilaf.

Okra:      $0.50
Yogurt: $0.90 (for Stonyfield yogurt. If you are using homemade yogurt, it will probably cost $0.15)
Spices:  $0.10
Oil :        $0.10
Total : $1.60 – Serves 4