5-spice lentils topped with balsamic vegetables

If I were asked to give my top five tips on frugal living, they would definitely include one on onions. If you can get hold of a catering size bag of onions, they seem to be about half the price of smaller packs, they keep well and they form the base of savoury meals from all over the world. Having large sacks of red and brown onions available to me means I’ve never been at a loss for how to start a meal throughout these challenges. Chop up an onion or two and take it from there!

Earlier today I fried up about 2/3 cup of chopped red onion in a large saucepan, threw in some salt, five-spice powder and about a cup of red lentils, covered with water and boiled them for a few minutes, then put the lid on and left them for a couple of hours while I thought about what to have with them or add to the pot. I remembered still having half a red cabbage and a couple of carrots left, so I fried up another red onion in a different pan, added strips sliced from half a carrot and about a quarter of the cabbage, a glug of balsamic vinegar and some soya sauce and a few frozen peas for the heck of it. It’s not meant to be any particular style of food, but I really thought the whole lot came together very well, and I feel like it probably contained a few vitamins. It’s a pity I didn’t do this while it was still daylight as the colours came out very pretty, my phone cam under artificial light doesn’t really do them justice.

bowl full of lentils topped with vegetables

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Jan62 day 21 – lentil bake and yet more pumpkin pie

£6.57 still remains on day 21, so that’s just over a tenth of my original allowance to see me through the last third of the month. Fortunately, the extra work I’ve been offered later this week is within walking distance so I’ve no call to spend money on bus fare yet.

In case anyone is interested, here’s what I ate today:

Leftover marmalade cinnamon rolls (I didn’t get round to freezing them after all),

Toasted homemade bread, spread with leftover pumpkin seed sauce and mustard, topped with red cabbage coleslaw,

Smoothie made from frozen apple, frozen raw pumpkin (this goes really well in smoothies!), a tablespoon of flax seeds, a spoonful of frozen blackcurrants, a few sour dried cherries and a single piece of frozen rhubarb plus about half a pint of soya milk. This was an excellent combination, though it sadly finished off the expensive cherries. Must get more when February comes!

Lentil bake in a homemade roll with more coleslaw.

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The coleslaw was made yesterday. I used half the red cabbage bought on Sunday, a large carrot, and made the dressing from half a cup of pumpkin seeds blended with about a cup of water, a dash of olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons cider vinegar, a clove of garlic, a teaspoon of flax seeds and half a teaspoon of Herbamare seasoning. I was chuffed with how this dressing turned out once I’d blended it up, it worked really well to bring the coleslaw together in terms of both flavour and texture.

The lentil bake was of necessity. I’d tried making rissoles yesterday but hadn’t drained the lentils thoroughly enough and after adding sautéed onions and carrots plus some leftover jarred pasta sauce they were hugely mushy, so I then had to keep adding more and more ingredients to get the mixture to firm up – I started by adding a cup of breadcrumbs, then got some chickpeas out of the freezer and whizzed them to crumbs in the food processor. Still no good! Added in some oats and even more breadcrumbs and finally they were just about okay but by then I had so much mix I would have ended up with about fifty rissoles if I’d made them all up! So today I just shoved the remaining mix in greased Pyrex dishes and baked them until they were starting to go brown. I’ve frozen some, and there are four portions in the fridge, so that’ll keep me going for a while!

The pumpkin pie was to use up the last of the pumpkin puree, continue my experiments with marmalade and experiment with caraway (as I have a 300g bag that until today was unopened). I used roughly the same recipe as last time but added in a teaspoon of caraway and instead of lemon juice and zest I used 2 tablespoons of marmalade.For the press in crust I used walnuts in place of almonds as I’m out of those. Verdict: a success, although on further nibbling I’m not sure the caraway adds much to this. It’s useful to know marmalade stands in well for lemon in this recipe though.


Spicy squash stew (£100 challenge, day twenty)

Finally got up the courage to hack open the pumpkin my mum gave me last weekend. Anything that big is daunting, not only because I worry about being able to use or process it before it goes bad, but things with thick skin requiring removal always seem to lead to minor injury for me. This time was no exception; I thought I was being careful and still managed to peel my thumb a bit along with the pumpkin! Oh well, it doesn’t hurt at the moment so is nothing serious.

With the last of the lentils, around 1/6 of the pumpkin and one of the remaining courgettes (so this has both summer and winter squashes in it), along with another of the red chillies given to me, I made a super warming autumnal stew.

white bowl half full of mostly orange-tone stew, garnished with fresh green coriander, on a blue tablecloth

I’m not sure the recipe is going to be much use to people who like measurements, but here goes anyway!

Spicy squash stew

Ingredients:

2 onions, chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon cooking oil

1 tin tomatoes

1 red chilli

1 big clove of garlic

dried red lentils – maybe 2/3 cup?

a medium-large courgette

about 1/6 of a medium pumpkin

Seasoning to taste – I used a couple of spoonfuls of Marigold bouillon powder

Fresh coriander leaves to garnish.

Method:

Heat oil in medium-large saucepan, fry cumin seeds for a minute, add onion and lower heat, sweat them until softened. While that’s happening put tomatoes, chilli and garlic in blender and whizz until smooth. Add to saucepan. Fill tomato can with water then pour that into blender so as not to waste any of the spicy tomato goodness. Briefly turn blender on, then pour liquid into saucepan. Add lentils, turn up heat until bubbling then down to simmer. Start chopping up the pumpkin into bite-sized pieces after taking the skin off (hopefully of the pumpkin, not yourself!). Add them and whatever seasonings such as salt and pepper, stock cube, etc. you are using. Chop the courgette into bite sized pieces and add that too. Simmer until everything is cooked (probably about 12-15 more minutes) and serve garnished with fresh coriander.

I enjoyed this very much, it’s light yet filling. I had planned to have a sandwich on the side but didn’t need one in the end. There are probably about 3-4 servings left in the saucepan as well.

Now I just need to think of what to do with the remaining pumpkin. If anyone has any suggestions or recipes please let me know!

pumpkin cut open to show seeds


£100 challenge – day five

Being a Saturday that I didn’t have to work, it was a temptation to just slouch around the house, however as it’s been intermittently cloudy and sunny it seemed a pity to waste any smidges of sunshine to be had outside, so my boyfriend picked me up in his car and we went on an adventure in glamorous Oadby!

When I say “adventure” what I actually mean is that we looked around a couple of charity shops and supermarkets. He’s on the £100 challenge too, apart from a weekend towards the end of the month that he’d already committed to weeks ago, so I was impressed with his reckless spending of £7.50 for a jacket from the Loros shop. And he bought some beer!

I wasn’t immune to the lure of consumerism either. I got a jar of pimento-stuffed olives from the Co-op. The shelf price was £1, but B has a NUS+ card which apparently gives 10% off purchases so that was 90p instead. I like to add olives to my hummus to make it a bit more interesting, but only a few at a time so they should last a little while.

We went to Asda for the beer (I really loathe the layout and vibe in every Asda I’ve been to, but occasionally pop in to buy their Shades brand recycled bog roll , and marvel at the horridness of the store once again). I was going to see if they had any nice-looking soya sauce (they didn’t) but my eye was first caught by their 60p cauliflowers, which is cheap for a supermarket cauli I think, and then I saw one that looked perfectly fresh reduced to 40p, so I nabbed that.

Total spend for the month now £4.65 on food. I also paid B for a ticket he bought me for a gig we’re going to later this month, which was £12.10 including booking fee, so that brings total spend up to £16.75. Not great, but it could be worse.

When I got home it was gone lunchtime so I made a quick lentil soup with garam-masala croutons from the last of the bread rolls I made on Monday, which had gone pretty stale by this point. See my feeble attempt at food styling? The croutons are supposed to represent a flower, in case it’s not obvious…

bowl of orange-coloured lentil soup, with rough oblongs of pan-fried bread oon the surface of the soup. there is a spoon handle coming out of the soup pointing toward the bottom of the photo, and the croutons and handle together are supposed to look like a flower and its stalk.