Austerity eating

A London friend has grumped about my current decadent lifestyle and told me to “Sod off with all that ‘we’re in Greece…enjoying’ business. I want austerity recipes highlighting how to eat well in a bankrupt country with zero credit ratings.” So here’s what I cook when I’m skint –

1) Beans on toast. Yeah, I know, not original but I elevate the humble Heinz from giro-cheque to gourmet by adding half a teaspoon of rosemary. Seriously, it makes it taste totally speccy. If you’re really hard up, you don’t even need to buy the rosemary, just nick it from the neighbour’s hedge. Of course, your neighbour’s more likely to have it if you’re on a Greek island.

2) Everything in the fridge soup. I don’t want to glamourise this and call it minestrone because there’s no Italian obsession with fresh, seasonal or local here. This soup uses those last 3 potatoes going wrinkly and sprouting eyes, the 2 halves of dessicated onion in the crisper previously used for salad last week, the half a jar of passata in the fridge with a mohair blanket of mould and those bendy carrots you forgot were at the back of the vege box. If you have frozen peas (crucial remedy for sprained ankles) then you’ve got your 5 a day covered and it only cost about 75p.

3) Everything in the fridge Spanish omelette. Similar to the above, but in omelette form. Also works well to give you the impression of eating meat if you bastardise the purity of the Spanish original (potatoes, onion, egg) by adding a chopped up ham end that go cheap at the deli counter. Ask the nice lady at Waitrose and she’ll pull out the poor person’s bowl of ham odds and sods. Some of them are even off HR Duchy tractor man’s farm.

4) Sardines on toast. Again, a classic elevated to “cooking” by a) ensuring the toast is well buttered and, most of all, b) adding hot sauce to the squashed sardines. No hot sauce, it’s just not the same.

5) Dahl: lentils; onion; garlic; chilli; ginger; other spices as desired/ afforded. Yoghurt to eat. Cheap. Filling. Farty.

6) Aglio e olio. Pasta is the go-to carb for the credit crunched and this one is a real cheapie. All it is is spaghetti, oil, garlic and chilli. If you’re a gourmand fallen on hard times and still have a couple of anchovies hanging about, whack them in too. It’s best if you add finely chopped parsley. If you can’t afford it, snaffle a few sprigs from the neighbour’s window box or the local primary school’s kiddies’ veg patch. They won’t mind, really.

My mum used to make something me and my sister called Tuna Slab. She’s usually a good cook, but there were many tantrums about avoiding this! Rice layered with celery, tuna and maybe white sauce? Filling and cheap but not good. sorry Mum.

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15 Responses to Austerity eating

  1. London Grump says:

    Thanks for this. I feel less grumpy (sort of) and more hungry already. Agree beans on toast is a timeless classic. But doesn’t need any gourmet treatment. Actually the less gourmet the better. Absolutely must be white bread. I know south european peasants have been cooking austerity food for centuries and duping the rest of us into thinking it is fine food. However, the anything in the fridge approach doesn’t always work – less can be more. Mushroom risotto. Spaghetti with garlic and chilli oil. I believe some grim folk up north eat a dish called ‘blind scouse’ – Irish stew without meat. Of course during the potatoe famine blind scouse was Irish stew without stew. But for me one of the traditional mainstays of humble British home cooking is due for a timely come back. Egg and chips. With a side of bread and butter for the must have chip butty. Foodies can add sea salt.

  2. Katie says:

    I’m sorry, but beans on toast makes me want to puke. The thought and sight of it makes me gag. Soup in a can tho..timeless.

  3. Katie! Don’t let them hear you say that or your visa’ll be revoked! beans on toast is a national treasure

  4. Aahhh. you’re right London Grumpy. the chip butty deserves a comeback. haven’t had one in ages… but then I haven’t been hungover in ages either.

    An aside, related to egg and chips, did you know HP Sauce stands for ‘Houses of Parliament’? I didn’t till the other day. Explains the label

  5. Anzacdaygirl says:

    I think that the choices of recipes using cheaper ingredients is determined by who will be eating the meals. By this I mean that when my children were young I had to cook cheaply and therefore it was important that cheap meals were also nutritious… hence the Tuna Slab! This dish did start its life with a pastry bottom but making the pastry was too much of a faff for a busy working single supporting parent, so replacing this layer with rice was both speedy and much more nutritional. For the record, the onion was sauteed with the finely chopped celery, then put on top of the rice (there may have been times when the rice was brown!), then the drained tin of tuna and yes, white sauce which may have had a dash of curry powder in it – it’s been at least 25 years since I cooked this!) and then a mixture of grated cheddar and romano cheeses. Other children liked it, so I think it’s worth reprising! (Apology accepted xx)

    In our house a soup with less is always less – we can’t cook soup any other way! The virtue of The everything in the fridge soup is that kids will eat it, it has loads of nutritional value and with bits of different pasta thrown in, is filling. I often made corn meal muffins to go with it, which was another good filler. Having a Grandfather from Yorkshire I understand the need for a good filler in austerity cooking.

    What about fish cakes? Made from tinned salmon, a dash of tomato sauce, mashed potato, shaped into cakes and rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Serve with tomato sauce or HP. I still like them but now serve them with sour cream, capers and chopped dill on top.

    For Katie – here is a ‘recipe’ that you might like. It takes the beans off the toast and puts them in a soup…gently heat 1 tin of baked beans with another tin that has been mashed up, add some Worcestershire sauce and maybe a bit of stock to make a consistency you like. Toast soldiers on the side.

  6. Gretchen says:

    M gave me the recipe book which has Tuna Slab in it. She added a post it note saying “I like this but the girls don’t”

  7. togram says:

    A fish cakes – tinned tuna goes well in those too, and is even cheaper than the salmon. Mackrel is also very cheap here in tins, and goes well with hotsauce like a sardine.

    Our most recent austerity eating was after the 2008 layoff, and my biggest fallback is dried pulses. These are so cheap it is laughable. I know there is a bit of stuffing around soaking them, but it isn’t extra time, rather it is a little bit more organisation the day before. Some dried pulses, like lentils, can be added direct to soups without pre-soaking.

    Pearl barley was another staple that we soaked and added so vegetable soups when we were little. I’ve rediscovered it in the past two years, and I really like it. Very cheap, nutrituous, filling, doesn’t produce (ahem) gases the way pulses do and makes a nice change from pasta.

    My cheapie pasta is the chilli and garlic, and then I add anything fresh I can find (lemon zest, parsley or basil and a tomato or capsi) chopped on top. This is my little nod to “not getting scurvy” and in a place like Perth most of those items can be successfully nicked (begged, borrowed) from your neighbours’ gardens.

  8. Togram – pearl barley is the bomb! I made Scotch broth using lamb neck and pearl barley last winter. Probs only cost about £3 all up. A bit fiddly prising the meat off the bone using the lamb neck, although it was really, really cheap.

  9. fleg says:

    hmmm never tried rosemary in me beans, sounds a bit western suburbs to me.

    the ONLY way to have beans on toast is :-

    1/ heinz english variety beans.
    2/ heat gently (do NOT boil!).
    3/ butter some toast.
    4/ spread peanut butter on buttered toast.
    5/ pour beans all over toast.

    or, if you’re feeling hungry…

    as above, but fry an onion in some butter first till the onion is soft,
    then pour your beans on top of the frying onion and heat thru.

  10. hmmm sorry Fleg, I’d have to be famine level hungry before the peanut butter and baked beans combo looked appealing. Peanut butter and cheese though, well, that’s different…

  11. Back on Facebook, I’ve been roundly told off by various aunties for dissing Tuna Slab. I’m sticking to my guns: it’s yuck. One of the aunties reminded me that one of the other aunties used to make it with crushed Weetabix on top… shudder… I thought I’d surpressed that memory… 😉

    • Anzacdaygirl says:

      OK, we need the recipe for Tuna Slab/Slice: Gretchen, can you help us out with this?

      • Twilson says:

        Don’t knock tuna slab! We had it tonight. You put eggs in the white sauce – let’s call it bechamel and it might taste better.

  12. Kaleidoscope girl says:

    How about “Toad in the Hole”? I’d never had it before, but after reading Roald Dahl’s “Danny the Champion of the World” to my four year old daughter, (where this was his father’s favourite dish from he was a kid) thought I’d give it a whirl last night.

    It was surprisingly good. I liked the batter well enough, but next time will use pork sausages rather than beef. Does this take us away from austerity eating though? I get the feeling sausages may be relatively more expensive these days than they used to be.

  13. Welcome Kaleidoscope Girl! Like your avatar. I haven’t worked out how to get one yet. I’m still so 20th century…
    I think toad in the hole is a worthy addition – saussies is batter sounds like it could feed a football team for $5.

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