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Eating well on $4 a day – free ‘Good and Cheap’ cookbook shows you how

Recipe Swap: Cornmeal Crushed Veggies, Brussels Sprout Hash and Eggs, Peanut Dipping Sauce

The cookbook is free. The meals made from it will cost $4 a day.

The creator of Good and Cheap is Leanne Brown, a former Edmontonian, who was earning a food studies master’s degree in New York City when she began noting how poorly Americans on low incomes ate.

What sorts of meals could be made with food purchased on the meagre grocery budgets of recipients of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the U.S.? she wondered.

Brown worked from the premise that wiser shopping and careful allocation of scarce food dollars can go a lot further than you might think.

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“There are thousands of barriers that can keep us from eating in a way that nourishes our bodies and satisfies our tastes,” she writes in her introduction to Good and Cheap.

“Kitchen skill, not budget, is the key to great food,” says Brown.

She’s not suggesting it’s easy getting by on $4 a day. She’s saying it’s easier — if you know how to cook.

Nor is this a challenge to try living on so little. An estimated 46 million Americans receiving food stamps already do, she writes, not to mention untold millions more students, pensioners and others on fixed incomes.

Brown’s $4-a-day meals builds on ongoing U.S. research that’s evaluating the cost of food by types of eating patterns (processed versus unprocessed foods).

A dollar goes a lot further — and makes meals a whole lot healthier — if you’re spending it on staples like oatmeal, pulses, in-season vegetables, and the occasional splurge, like butter or meat, says Brown, whose other cookbook From Scratch is on vegetarian cooking for those just starting out in their kitchens.

Good and Cheap contains recipes for making big batches with those staples, like two dozen tortilla (costing about $1.70), or cooking a family-sized feast from a single roast chicken (about $1.50 per serving), or a vegetable jambalaya (65 cents a serving) when the vegetables for making it are in season and less costly. She has multiple tips, from learning to buy staples that are versatile ingredients for multiple meals, to building a pantry and slowly saving up for the semi-expensive ingredients that can really add zing to meals, plus bulk buying and purchases of seasonal vegetables.

The real deal comes with having the know-how of method and simple recipes for putting it all together, says Brown.

“I think everyone should eat great food every day. Eating well means learning to cook. It means banishing the mindset that preparing daily meals is a huge chore or takes tremendous skill. Cooking is easy — you just have to practise,” she says on her website.

Of course, if your means are so limited, and you lack neither kitchen nor places to store food, this cookbook isn’t for you. That’s a reality of poverty that’s a bigger issue, says Brown.

“I simply cannot hope to do those issues justice within the bounds of one cookbook,” she writes. “Let’s all agree that we need to keep striving to address those other issues that make it difficult for so many people to eat well.”

Good and Cheap is found on Brown’s website. After she posted it earlier this year, it went viral on places like Reddit and Tumblr. By midsummer it had been downloaded over half a million times.

Brown also kick-started a campaign enabling supporters to donate funds that helped print 8,000 copies for free distribution to those without computers.

Below is a sampling of recipes found inside Good and Cheap.

Cornmeal Crushed Veggies

A key to eating well is being flexible and knowing how to substitute one ingredient when another isn’t available. If you don’t have green beans, try an alternative vegetable such as zucchini or bell pepper sticks, winter squash, cauliflower florets, broccoli florets or carrot sticks.

  • 1⁄2 lb. green beans, stems cut off
  • 1⁄2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1⁄4 c. milk
  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1⁄2 tsp. garlic powder

Heat the oven to 450 F.

Set up your breading station. On one plate, spread out the flour. Crack both eggs into a bowl, add the milk, and mix lightly with a fork. On another plate, spread the cornmeal, salt, black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Mix the plate with your fingers.

Spread a small amount of oil or butter across a baking sheet. A few at a time, take the green beans (or whatever veg you’re using) and dredge them in the flour. Next, transfer the flour-covered beans to the egg mixture. Cover the beans lightly with egg mixture, being careful to shake off any excess egg. Then transfer to the cornmeal mixture and coat them evenly. Carefully spread the crusted green beans onto the baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve done them all. If you run out of any of the three mixtures, just mix up a bit more.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden and crispy. Enjoy hot with a favourite dipping sauce!

Serves 4.

Brussel Sprout Hash and Eggs

  • 4 c. brussels sprouts, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 6 olives, finely chopped
  • Lemon juice
  • 2 eggs

Chop off the ends of the sprouts. Slice them in half, then finely shred each half. Place the shreds in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Swirl it around to coat the pan. Add the brussels sprout shreds and garlic, then leave it to cook for about one minute. Mix it up and toss it around. Add the olives and mix again. Crack the eggs into separate areas of the pan. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Pour in two tablespoons of water and cover with a lid. Let the eggs steam, undisturbed, for two minutes. Once the whites of the eggs are cooked through, turn off the heat and sprinkle everything with lemon juice.

Serves 2.

Peanut Dipping Sauce

  • 1 jalapeno or other chili, finely chopped (or 2 tbsp. chili paste)
  • 3 cloves garlic1 shallot (or equivalent of any onion)
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 tsp. turmeric (optional)
  • 1/2 to 1 c. coconut milk
  • 1/2 c. sugarless peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. sesame oil

Finely chop the pepper, garlic, and shallot, or use a food processor to make them into a paste. (If you’re using chili paste instead of a fresh pepper, hold off on it for now.)

Splash some oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Once it’s warm, add the chili, garlic, and shallot and sauté until everything’s translucent. Add the turmeric, coconut milk, and chili paste if applicable. Let it come to a boil, then turn the heat down. Add the peanut butter and soy sauce and stir to combine. Once it’s all combined, taste it and add whatever you think it needs — but think about the salt and spice in particular.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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