The $5 Challenge Dinner

I decided to take the $5 Slow Food Challenge and cook an easy, healthy, vegan, and most importantly, CHEAP meal for a few friends this weekend. This is a recipe from a previous post, Mexican Pizza but with black beans this time, and some leftover corn on the side. I chose it because it was the cheapest thing I could think of to make from scratch without having to buy too many ingredients, and everyone loves pizza (duh.) Plus, it went perfectly with my new Mexican tablecloth that I just got while on vacation last week!

The goal was to spend less than $25 to feed five people, and I was actually under budget if I don’t count the spices and olive oil that were already in the cupboard. The flour, cornmeal, and yeast were bought in bulk from the Bushwick Food Coop, which is why they’re so cheap. It pays to join a local coop!

I froze the bananas and put them through my champion juicer on the homogenizer setting to make a custard for dessert. I know not everyone has a juicer, but you could also just use a food processor or blender to make a creamier pudding.

Here’s a recap of what I spent, including for dessert:

  • 3 bananas – $0.93
  • 2 green peppers – $1.91
  • 1 bunch of cilantro $1.79
  • 1 avocados – $2.00
  • 1 bag black beans dry – $1.29
  • 1 tomato – $0.88
  • 1 bag yellow onions – $1.99
  • 4 ears corn – $2.67
  • 1 block tempeh $2.00
  • 1 cup cornmeal  – $0.36
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour – $0.68
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast – $0.12
  • 1 can tomato paste – $1.29
  • 1 bag daiya cheddar cheese shreds – $4.49

And my total was just $22.40 (plus pizza leftovers for breakfast and lunch yesterday!) I did my best to use organic, local stuff, but I don’t get my CSA share until Wednesday so I went to my local grocery store for the veggies. Surprisingly, they had a small selection of local vegetables.

So all and all, success. And Paul got to toss the pizza dough.

Look how happy everyone is to eat a $5 vegan dinner. Take that, value meals!

Red bean and Tempeh Sausage Mexican Pizza

Hurricane pizza! I’ve been stuck inside all weekend because of hurricane “Irene.” Luckily we didn’t really feel any bad effects and just got to spend a weekend at home cooking and veggin out (sorry for the bad pun.) Since there was no going out to the grocery store to buy a pre-made crust, this one is made from scratch but was surprisingly easy, and cheaper.

And I had a few visitors surprise me as I was peeling the husks off the corn: caterpillars! That’s what you get from fresh local corn without pesticides. Good thing I ate the corn right away or they would have eaten all my kernels! But those sneaky guys left plenty for us.

I used red beans for the base because I just happened to have a batch in the fridge that I made a few days ago in the pressure cooker (see my recipe here.) But you could just as well use black or pinto beans.

The tempeh sausage is from a recipe I really like and use a lot from the Post Punk Kitchen. You can use them in a lot of different ways and add or leave out any spices you want.

Serves about 3, or 7-8 slices

Cornmeal pizza dough (adapted from this recipe, without the sugar)

  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for coating bowl
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups unbleached whole wheat flour plus more, if necessary
  • 1 cup cornmeal, plus more for dusting pan
In a large mixing bowl combine yeast with water and whisk. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, olive oil, and half of the flour and mix well. Add the 1 cup of cornmeal and all remaining flour except 1/2 cup and mix well with your hands, working to incorporate the flour little by little. Transfer the dough over to a floured work surface and knead dough for about 5 minutes, adding enough additional flour if needed until the dough is elastic and not too sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, usually at least 2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, divide it into 2 portions (for 2 (12 to 14-inch) pizzas) and form into balls. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cover with a damp towel. Let rest for 15 minutes, then transfer to a lightly floured surface, and roll out to a 1/8-inch thickness. If you save the dough, just keep it covered with a towel in the fridge. If it’s too dry or hard when you take it out, just add some water and knead it until it’s the right consistency.

For the toppings

  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 small green bell peppers
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups of tempeh sausage crumbles
  • 1 1/2 cups of red beans
  • 3 ears of corn, husks removed and dropped in boiling water for about 4 minutes, and kernels removed (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup daiya pepperjack cheese
  • olive oil
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Preheat the oven to 450º. Cook the onions slowly in the olive oil with a little salt on the stove over medium-low heat for about 7-10 minutes so they begin to get soft and slightly caramelized. Add the green peppers and cook for another 4 minutes, stirring often.
Now you’re ready to assemble the pizza! Add layer of beans, followed by the tempeh, onions and peppers, corn, tomatoes, and cheese. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and put in the oven for about 12 minutes or until the crust is golden around the edges. Garnish with cilantro.

Red Bean Quinoa Salad


The horrible heat wave that hit the east coast finally broke today with some rain, so I could finally stand to go back into the kitchen and in front of the stove! And because I’ll use any excuse to use my pressure cooker, here’s a little salad I whipped up.

I made a big batch of red beans to last me for lunch for the rest of the week, so I only used about half in the salad. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you should get one! I’m so wary of eating canned beans (because of the whole BPA in the aluminum lining thing) but sometimes it’s so tedious to think ahead and soak the dry beans overnight. So having a pressure cooker solves that, and is one of the things I think a busy cash-strapped vegan should have (since dry beans are way cheaper too.) If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can use canned beans (Eden Foods doesn’t use BPA in their cans) or soak the beans overnight and cook in a regular saucepan for about 1 -1 1/2 hours.

This was also the first time I’ve ever cooked corn from scratch, and it was surprisingly easy. Plus you get to use words like “shuck.” You can also just use frozen or canned corn, but fresh and local is so much better!

For the beans in a pressure cooker:

  • 16 oz bag of small red kidney beans
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 vegetable bouillon cubes
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • sprinkle of black pepper
  • sprinkle of crushed red pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 7 cups of water
In the pot over medium heat, add the oil and sweat the onion with a sprinkle of salt until it starts to become translucent (about 4 minutes). Add the green pepper and cook another 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients and bring up to high pressure. Cook on high for about 30 minutes and release the pressure. Let cool uncovered for about 10 minutes. Makes about 5 cups of beans.
For the rest of the salad:
  • 2 ears of corn, husks removed and dropped in boiling water for about 4 minutes, kernels removed (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups of cooked red beans
  • 1 1/2 avocados, sliced
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • salt, black pepper, and red pepper to taste
Toss everything together in a bowl and refrigerate for about 20 minutes before serving. Makes about 5-6 servings.

Hummus Arepas

I’ve been thinking about making arepas for a while. One of my fave restaurants in New York is Caracas Arepa bar, and every time I go there, I think, “This can’t be so hard to make!” And living in Bushwick, there’s no lack of corn flour in the bodegas around here. So I bought a bag and decided to finally give it a go. Despite a couple speed bumps along the way, they’re pretty simple to make and turned out better than expected for my first try. And so cheap! A 4.5 pound bag of masa corn flour only costs $2.99. I used good old hummus for the filling, my go-to staple food whenever I’m running low on funds and need something nutritious and filling for the week. To top it off I added some spinach and tomatoes from my favorite veggie market in the neighborhood, Angel’s Fruit Market on Knickerbocker and Willoughby. They have the best and cheapest produce I’ve found so far. So overall, pretty cheap meal!

For the hummus:

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (I used dry beans, soaked overnight and boiled for about 30min)
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup warm water (or cooking water from chickpeas if you still have it lying around)

Process everything up and set aside.

For the arepas, I used this recipe for the dough and used this corn masa mix.

What I found was that I should have flattened the balls out more than the recipe called for because I had to cook them in the oven for twice as long and then eventually I realized they weren’t cooking on the inside and had to cut them in half and leave them in the oven another 15 minutes.

Finally, spread some hummus on each side of the arepa, add some fresh spinach and sliced tomoatoes, and eat like a sandwich.

In the end they turned out delicious. I’m even thinking of having a plain one tomorrow with some vegan butter for breakfast!