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There’s no hiding that you can feel more or less credit munched depending on the time of month. That first day, when money is a’ plenty, is full of the promise of the gastronomic adventures lying ahead, only to steadily wain with each passing week. That is until the final couple of days before payday when a leftover hunk of cauliflower, the block of cheese from the back of the fridge with the mould scraped off and some dubious smelling milk make a passable dish purely designed to physically keep you alive until money enters your account again.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! Lack of money doesn’t necessarily have to mean lack of taste (or the possibility of potential food poisoning). With a little bit of careful thought and a supply of kitchen essentials, it’s possible to turn even the most mundane food into something special. Or, make your life even easier and borrow some of my ideas.

This week – curries. Incredibly versatile and unbelievably delicious, there’s no end to the possibilities.

The key to cooking an inexpensive curry is making sure you have the correct spices in. True, it is more expensive to go out and buy spices from scratch compared to a jar of sauce, but you can make so many more meals over a long period of time. Plus, having a well stocked spice rack means you can put them to good use in other dishes – coriander in Greek food, cinnamon in Moroccan and even a sprinkle of ginger in some homemade ginger cake. Yum yum.

My other piece of advice is to browse ethnic food shops as their ingredients can often be a lot cheaper. Or if that isn’t possible, at least have a quick look down the ethic food aisle in a supermarket – most reasonable sized stores have them now. Ingredients like chickpeas and coconut milk carry a much lower price tag compared to even the own brand counterparts.

And my final tip? Make a big batch of curry at once. It doesn’t take any extra effort (aside for a little more chopping and simmering) and you can easily freeze them for lazier or more frugal times. All the recipes below make 3-4 servings, depending on your appetite, and easily lend themselves to creative changes. So get cracking!

Cheap

Tangy vegetable dhansak

I always think one of the important things about vegetarian food are the colours. Sure, this is true for meat dishes too, but when working with a range of fresh vegetables I love making sure I use a rainbow of ingredients. That is why I’ve enjoyed perfecting this tangy vegetable dhansak over the years, as it’s a delicious mix of textures and colours. It also packs quite a punch on the fruit and veg intake.

I personally always have a supply of tomato puree, some sort of chutney and bags of raisins and lentils constantly stocked in my cupboard – all of them last for ages and form an instant base to whatever surplus veg I’m looking to use up. Which is the secret behind the cost effectiveness of this meal. I estimate this recipe coming to £1 per portion, including sundries. That is taking into account items used as a whole and not – for example – the spices and tomato puree.

Cheerful

Slow cook rogan josh

It can often be tricky to differentiate one curry from another. Granted, I can tell the difference between a Biriyani and a Dhal, but when I get down to the Dopiazas, Baltis and Bhunas, not even the spellings remain the same from restaurant to restaurant, let alone the recipes. Take Rogan Josh for example. The meaning behind it’s name ranges from cooked in oil at intense heat (Rogan meaning ‘oil’ in Persian, while josh means ‘heat, hot or boiling’), to a meat dish which is red in color (rogan meaning ‘color’ and josh meaning ‘passion, hot or red’) to even the josh in the name as a variant of gosht meaning ‘meat’. Yeah – confusing eh?

But what I have gleaned from extensive restaurant experience (regardless of the bewildering amount of variations I’ve encountered) that it is usually rich in tomatoes, red in colour and slow cooked for extra oomph. So although this recipe for slow cook rogan josh contains either beef of lamb – whichever your tastebuds desire – it shows it is possible to buy cheap cuts of meat and cook them well. I strongly recommend making a huge vat of this on a Sunday afternoon and then grazing through it for the rest of the day.

I’ve actually entered this recipe into Lavender and Lovage’s Slow Sunday Blog Hop – a tasty celebration of warming winter foods.


Flush

Thai green curry

It always loathes me to see a thali that mixes Indian with Thai curries. To me, they’re nothing like each other and should never be eaten on the same plate. True, thai green curry packs a spicy punch, but its flavours are so much more delicate and do not mix well on the same plate as its Indian counterparts.

But then, I’m not advocating eating all these curries at once am I? So it is perfectly acceptable for me to suggest a range to suit every palette and price bracket. Featuring chicken breast AND prawns, this Thai green curry goes all out. You’ll notice that it is quite a thin consistency compared the Indian curries. Having never been to Thailand myself, I couldn’t comment of the authenticity of this. But this is how my old flatmate used to make it, and I love the excessive amounts of sauce perfect to soak up with rice and naan bread.

On the side

Homemade flatbreads

Why spend money on shop-bought naans that are full of stodge and disintegrate in your hands? For the same price you can purchase a bag of strong flour and several sachets of yeast and create your own authentic flatbreads.

I recommend this recipe from BBC Good Food. It was simple to follow and they were incredibly tasty. The simple addition of fresh coriander (depending on your finances) also went down a storm.

Pushing the boat out?

What? Still got change jingling around in your pockets?

I’ve used dry herbs and spices for all these recipes, but nothing compares to the taste of fresh products. Fresh coriander and fresh chillies are a must, closely followed by ginger and cinnamon sticks. For everything else, go crazy as you see fit.

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