Another cheap meal I often make is almost vegetarian and very cheap. Miso soup (I add udon because I love the texture of the noodles in the soup) and stir fried veggies is not only cost-effective, but a great way to clean out your fridge. Whenever I need to use up my base veggies like carrots, scallions, courgettes, etc., I take out my trusty miso paste. Miso paste, for those of you who live in the Moscow/Pullman area, can be found at the Moscow Co-Op for pretty cheap--I think I bought mine for $4.99.
I'm not sure I liked miso the first time I tasted it in an aubergine side dish. In fact, I'm pretty sure I wrinkled my nose and didn't try a second bite. This rarely ever happens to me, considering I am perhaps the least picky eater on this earth. As an aside, once I found a piece of a band-aid in my hash browns at a rather questionable establishment, and I ate around it. I was hungry. What can I say? I was a waitress in less than fancy restaurants for too long--you tend to get over yourself quite quickly in that segment of the workforce.
Right. Back to miso. The second time I tasted this umami-filled treat was at a Japanese restaurant many years ago. The delicate but powerful soup was my favorite part of the meal, and soon after that visit I began regularly buying miso for home. There are many different types of this fermented soybean paste, but I have to say my favorite is genmai, or brown rice miso. It's earthy, a little smoky but not overpowering. While traditionally the soup is made by combining the paste with dashi, a broth made by simmering wakame (sea kelp) in water, I usually also add chicken stock or broth along with the requisite wakame for a touch of extra flavor (I imagine this can easily be substituted for the traditional plain dashi or even veggie stock/broth). I also add cubed extra firm tofu, a handful of matchstick carrots and scallions cut on the diagonal. I add the fully cooked udon last and am very diligent these days in making sure I remember to do this, as one time I placed it in the pot and then took a twenty minute phone call. Brilliant move.
Stir frying veggies doesn't have to be an exact science or draw upon more than a few ingredients. I usually fry leftover veggies from other dishes in sesame oil, a few cloves of minced garlic, a dash of soy sauce and a generous dash of oyster sauce. Some might prefer to serve the veggies over rice given the cost effectiveness of rice, but then I wouldn't have udon in my soup....*stomps foot* I LOVE MY UDON! It too is pretty darn cost effective, particularly if you buy it in bulk at the Co-Op like I do.
I only use about 4 tbs. in each batch (about 10 cups of water and stock), but this tub keeps in the fridge for up to a few months. I mean, it is a fermented paste after all...
Veggies. Are you calculating how cheap this is??!!
I cheated on my dried udon this week and opted for a package of udon on clearance in the refrigerated section...
It really is that easy.
Eating my veggies, mom!