Monday, June 20, 2011

Dhal and Shopping on a Budget

I knew this challenge would be distortive - I didn't want to use things already in the pantry, because we keep it so well stocked that we'd only need to spend $20-30 on produce to have a normal week's food. Because most people have a few basics (flour, sugar, spices) we're a bit more limited. I did make a concession on spices - we bought a couple (since we've planned some spice-heavy meals) but decided it was okay to use some we already had. I also decided we could use oil, salt and pepper we have already since a) the overall cost of these over a week would be tiny and b) we are in no way short of any of them and buying more would be stupid (although we're doubling up on some things they're things we go through quickly, so that's not an issue).

So what did we buy? I won't go through everything, but here's the haul:

Oats for breakfast porridge, plus a couple of tins of peaches to jazz it up; bread, peanut butter, hummus and sliced beef for lunch (not all together! And the latter is for Mr Cake, who is very tolerant but who I don't wish to drive insane - definitely a luxury); and for dinners, we've planned dhal (two nights); pumpkin, kumara and peanut soup (two nights); pasta with tomato sauce and veg (two nights) and mince and veg (we'll probably spice the mince and maybe add tomatoes, and we may yet reconfigure the last two meals). We also bought plenty of fruit (kiwifruit and mandarins were both very cheap, yay), which Mr Cake chews through at an unbelievable pace.

We were lazy/weak (it was raining sideways!) and skipped the Sunday vege market, though that probably would have saved us another couple of dollars (and many of you recommended it as a great budget option). Living in Wellington CBD and not having a car means that for the rest of the shopping we have the choice of New World, New World and New World, which is easily the most expensive supermarket - so again that drives prices up. 

We have already added to the original shop - omitting yoghurt turned out not to be viable for the protein-hungry Mr Cake - but though I'll add it to the tally it didn't actually cost us anything, due to us having the misfortune of getting a moldy bag of oats. Sadly we didn't notice until we had made a massive potful of porridge (to last a couple of days) with about a litre of our precious milk - so while the supermarket's policy of replacing the oats and refunding the cost seems generous, we'll probably be spending more on milk later in the week (unless we make the porridge with water, and I'm not sure if I can face that!).

All up, so far: $80.20. We opted for budget/on special products wherever possible, and went for brands we wouldn't normally choose for bread, yoghurt and peanut butter - and yes, all three are very noticeable. The biggest surprise for me was the taste difference in the peanut butter. While I love the really fancy stuff we chew through it way to fast for me to be buying Pic's all the time, so we normally have Sanitarium - I didn't think there could be that much difference between that and Pams but oh, there is, believe me! (guess I'm showing my inner peanut butter snobbery, forgive me)

Last night and tonight we had dhal for dinner - not too much vitamin content but certainly not unhealthy, and very hearty and filling (and tasty!). We'd normally use liquid stock rather than stock cubes, but taste-wise I couldn't really tell the difference (though I would normally have added salt, which we didn't need to do!) - otherwise this is a standard meal for us (actually, we had it last week too - wouldn't normally have it again so soon but it's so cheap to make...).

So tell me - have you seen any obvious savings I've missed yet? What are your favourite inexpensive dinners?

Doesn't look that pretty, though...
Curried Red Lentil Dhal (from Alison and Simon Holsts' Very Easy Vegetarian Cookbook)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 cup split red lentils
2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, or 2 teaspoons stock powder and 2 cups water
1 -2 tablespoon chopped coriander, leaf

Heat the oil in a large pan. Cook onion and garlic until the onion has softened and is turning clear. Add bay leaf and measure the spices then add all at once and cook, stirring continuously, for 1-2 minutes longer.

Add the lentils and stock, bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pan and cook until the lentils are tender, 20-30 minutes. Stir in the coriander and serve with rice.

(note that we omitted the bay leaf and coriander due to cost. We made double as it's so cheap and filling - it might be lunch tomorrow as well)


  1. Next time you're at New World, look out for the Pams branded spices for dried bay leaves and ground coriander. They're a lot cheaper than Gregg's and come in re-usable zip lock type pouches. Agree with the Pam's peanut butter - uck! And when the heavens aren't pouring, take a walk up to the sunday vegetable market up on Willis Street. Its much bigger, slightly cheaper, and have better variety than the one by Te Papa.

  2. Forget the Pams/ Sanitarium peanut butter... make your own!!! It tastes so good that you will never go back to buying it!- YUM!
    recipe here:

  3. Thank heavens it's finally decent weather today - I'd almost resigned myself to gummies until the end of winter ;P Dhal never is very pretty - such a shame since red lentils are so beautiful before they're cooked! I made a lovely Rick Stein one the other day which I can definitely recommend - it had a slurp of coconut milk in and embarassing amounts of ghee.

  4. Shirleen, thanks, I did spy them and managed to get cumin in the sachet, but the range isn't very big. They didn't even have chilli!

    tartankiwi, thank you, I'm going to give that a go - I think we're going to run out of peanut butter and I don't want any more of the Pams stuff!

    Sasa, I know! It was so horrid over the weekend. Dhal is perfect comfort food, despite its humble looks. Coconut milk sounds fab - next time I will try that for a decadent twist. :-)

  5. Well that was a resounding success! I wasn't sure about dishing it up to an almost 3 year old and a 1 year old but they ate it all up in no looks like we'll be having dhal meals more often. I did use a little less curry and chili than in the recipe but it still was quite hot I thought. Yum! (William & Grace say thanks cousin Rosa!)

  6. Haha, glad to hear my cuzzies are enjoying dhal. :-)


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