Budget-Friendly Meals

Reel in runaway food costs the bistro way with this easy, herb-rich plan.

| August/September 2009

If your budget is stretched so thin you can practically read this article through it, take heart. As you strain to work that food budget, herbs prove that they truly are the useful plants. Put flexibility back into your food allowance by bumping up the quality and flavor of meals as you shrink their weekly cost. Read on to see just how easy and delicious it is to reel in runaway food bills by learning from the professionals.

Inspiration for this article comes from one of the fastest-growing trends in dining: the neighborhood bistro, where herbs are the true heroes. Chef Laurent Tourondel (owner of BLT bistros in Washington, D.C., New York and Puerto Rico, and Bon Appetit’s 2007 Restaurateur of the Year) defines the bistro as an “informal, comfortable restaurant where the portions are generous, straightforward and full of flavor.” In most true bistros, the menu is modest and the food traditional but with the chef’s very personal stamp. For example, adding just a tablespoon of our Mediterranean Herb Paste to a simple baked macaroni takes that dish from ordinary to bistro-style.

Budget-Friendly Recipes

• Citrus Almond-Basil Cake
• Roasted Squash Soup
• Ginger Marinated Flank Steak
• Pasta with Seasonal Vegetables
• Eggs Baked with Spinach, Parsley and Ham
• Fennel, Celery and Apple Salad
• Blue Cheese Dressing
• Cannellini Bean Salad with Savory Vinaigrette
• Savory Vinaigrette
• Roasted Meditteranean Herb Chicken
• Meditteranean Herb Paste
• Rosemary Custard and Wine-Poached Pears
• Lemon Rice 
• Mediterranean Herb-Baked Macaroni
• Pureed Squash
• Tart Tatin
• Cucumber Yogurt and Mint Salad
• Lemon Rice Pudding
• Fresh Figs with Ricotta Apricots

Budget Strategies

Strategy #1: Seasonal Fare. Bistros are famous for their use of seasonal foods, but their home-style comfort foods change only subtly as the seasons bring new produce to the markets and from the garden. Having a core set of favorite recipes that can be adapted to seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs makes dollar sense at home as well. For example, our late-summer version of Pasta with Seasonal Vegetables with eggplant, bell peppers and tomatoes is a reasonable summer dish, but expensive in any other season. With the substitution of dried thyme and sage, it easily morphs into a winter version featuring white fish, rutabaga, and carrot and parsnip matchsticks. The pasta and the Mediterranean herbs never change, but the budget doesn’t spike.

Strategy #2: Vegetarian Entreés. A key feature of the bistro menu is that it always includes one or two meatless dishes, divinely accented with fresh herbs and custom-blended spices. Legumes, lentils, peas and beans are a welcome, healthy change to both wallet and menu. Robust herbs, like thyme, sage, tarragon, savory and oregano, complement high-protein vegetarian dishes that rely on inexpensive beans and root vegetables.

Strategy #3: Grow Your Own. Because most bistros are chef-owned and family-operated, their approach to the establishment’s food budget is similar to our own. For years now, many of these innovative chefs have been cultivating a kitchen garden with fresh greens, herbs and some vegetables. Naturally, many of them preserve not only fruits and vegetables, but herbs as well. By making their own herb vinegars, drying whole sprigs or freezing chopped herbs in purees; rubs; butters; pastes; and pestos, they ensure flavorful winter menu items. 

3/20/2015 4:21:02 PM

There are some very pricey ingredients in those 'budget friendly' meals, like fennel and flank steak. Anything that costs more than 4$/lb is not budget friendly if you have to use it as a main ingredient.

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