Buy in season
Don’t be tempted to buy strawberries or asparagus yet – most are still imported. The strawberries are a disappointment – they taste bitter (probably sprayed) and the asparagus coming in from California are not good quality as they are at the end of their season. Local spring fruit and vegetables are just coming in, and their prices will drop in a few weeks. Be patient.
Help support your local growers, manufacturers and suppliers. They need you. Now is not the time to be ordering things off the internet.
Meat and fish
The cheapest meat is pork, but make sure it is New Zealand pork, and if you can afford it, look for free-range. Pork fillet wrapped in bacon is delicious roasted. It can be slit and stuffed with prunes or soaked dried apricots first, or just with thyme, before wrapping in bacon. Pork makes excellent snitzels, but get your butcher to slice them thinly for you – he may be thankful for the extra work.
Mussels are cheap and make a great meal. Steam them, check they’re clean inside, then put them back in the half-shell and cover with diced tomato, chopped herbs, lemon zest and top with crumbs and drizzle with oil and grill until golden. Clams can also be cooked this way.
Make meals go further
Make meals go further by serving plenty of carbs to the proportion of meat, fish or protein. Mashed potato is improved if made with hot milk – it makes it light and fluffy – and it can be flavoured with chopped shallot or onion that you sizzle down in a little butter, and grated cheese if you want. This can then be put in a shallow ovenproof dish, dotted with more cheese and butter and baked until sizzling and golden. Easy. Cheap, delicious, and you’ll only need a small amount of meat to go with it, such as a pork snitzel or two, and perhaps a salad.
Use cheap vegetables such as cabbage. Cabbage makes a great coleslaw, and can be mixed with red cabbage too. Shred it finely and make a slightly sweet creamy dressing with lightly whipped cream, lemon juice, a pinch of sugar and mustard, or dilute ready-made mayonnaise with lemon juice and water to make a thin pouring dressing. Cabbage is also good in a winter salad with green grapes, orange segments, slivered toasted almonds, chopped parsley and a vinaigrette dressing, maybe with crushed garlic. To cook cabbage, soften chopped onion and red pepper in a little butter in a deep saucepan and add a handful of fennel seeds. Toss in chopped cabbage and stir, put the lid on the pot and leave for a few minutes, just until it wilts, then toss. It’ll cook through in a matter of minutes and retain colour and crunch. It’s delicious. And so cheap. And so good for you!
Look also for leeks, cauliflower, carrots and parsnips.
Peel parsnips, slice in half and lay flat in a roasting tin. Rub with olive oil and season with salt. Roast for about 30 minutes, then sprinkle over chopped rosemary and garlic and a cup of grated parmesan cheese and roast a few more minutes until golden. Scrumptious!
Make a salad with cauliflower instead of boiling it to death. Blanch it, drain and dry it off on paper towels. Make a strongly-flavoured vinaigrette with oil, vinegar or lemon, garlic, capers, lemon zest, a little mustard, sultanas if you like them, chopped parsley or marjoram, chives and basil too if you’ve got them and chilli flakes if you like – just get some flavour in there!
Pasta is a boon because it is filling, tastes great, suits everyone’s tastes and can be served hundreds of ways. You can make a nutritious, tasty, filling meal cheaply with a packet of spaghetti, a can of tuna and a can of beans (
Spaghetti with Tuna recipe).
Add extra flavour
Most of these items are inexpensive, and hopefully you might grow your own herbs or be able to get some from generous friends:
A squeeze of lemon over green vegetables brightens them up
A grate of nutmeg over green beans, or on a kumara or pumpkin puree adds a spicy dimension
A pinch of chilli flakes adds a hot accent
A few grates of ginger livens things up, or squeeze the grated ginger and just add the juice
And a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs adds plenty of flavour and colour too