January is Budget Month

Each month this year, I am going to try and keep to a bit of a theme…(good luck, I know!).  The theme for January is Budget.  When it comes to eating (and cooking) in our house, during the month of January, I tend to lean towards the budget side of things.  The biggest reason being my hope that I can develop a few budgeting habits that might stay with me throughout the year.  Typically, I am quite good for the month, but then when February hits and we have a birthday every week (and I mean that seriously), the whole budget thing goes out the window. 
The first budget friendly recipe I am sharing for this month is Lentil Soup.  This recipe is officially 10 years old in our house this month.  I had always liked lentil soup but before then I had never made it.  The first time I made it was from a recipe in a Better homes and Gardens magazine I had borrowed from the Library (see, it is really a budget recipe!  I didn’t even buy the magazine!).  It was an acceptable one, but nothing like what I recalled Lentil soup tasting like.  So, I began experimenting.

The first thing that was missing: tomatoes.  The other thing was something to make it feel a little more hearty.  Some root vegetables.  The two things I kept from the original recipe?  Lentils and a fennel bulb (or anise).

Lentil soup (vegetarian, or not)
makes approximately 12 servings
2 cups lentils (rinsed, picked over for stones) left to soak while you prepare the vegetables
2 generous tablespoons of grapeseed oil or olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
4 carrots, peeled and (large)diced
1 smaller sized fennel bulb, washed, and diced, only the white/light green parts (you can save the feathery fronds for garnish if using)
1 large (28 oz/798 ml) can diced tomatoes (I use unsalted ones)
1 tablespoon salt flakes (I use maldon) or 1-2 tsps regular table salt
8 cups of water
1 cup diced ham or sliced smoked turkey sausage (or other smoked sausage of your choice) ~optional

Heat oil over medium-low heat, until it starts to shimmer.  Add onions and cook until soft, 3-5 minutes, add garlic and cook additional 1 minute.  Add carrots and fennel and continue cooking another 7-8 minutes.  When all veggies are soft, add small amount of water (less than half a cup) and stir into veggies, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pot.  When water has become cloudy, and begun to taste like the veggies, add salt, and tomatoes and cook over medium heat until reaching a low boil.  Drain lentils and add to tomato mixture.  Stir well, and add remaining water to the pot.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for at least 20 minutes.  While soup is simmering, gently brown sausage or ham (if using), in a small saucepan.  When soup has cooked for 20 minutes, add sausage/ham and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with crusty bread.

The total cost for this recipe (which makes 12 servings): $8.35 (plus $2.00 for the loaf of crusty bread I bought at the bakery to go with it).  Comes to less than $1.00 a serving.  By far the tastiest low budget recipe I have in my repertoire.  The only problem with this recipe is that I have to plan for it, as I don’t always have a fennel bulb in the vegetable crisper.  You can use either red lentils or puy lentils or just plain green lentils.  I have used all.  My favourite way to make is with 1 cup of red lentils and 1 cup of green lentils.  The reason being that the red ones disappear into the soup and create a lovely rich and earthy body to the soup, while the green ones stay whole and remind you that you really are eating lentil soup.  Puy lentils are French and are a smaller, more delicate green lentil.  They tend to disappear into the soup eventually. You don’t have to limit the veggies you put in, however, having done this from time to time, I find I am left feeling like I didn’t actually have lentil soup.
And…even my picky ten year old usually cleans up his soup bowl when we have this.

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3 thoughts on “January is Budget Month

  1. I look forward to reading this month's blogs. I, too, like the challenge of budget cooking. One thing that gets me, though, is meat. Although certain cuts are cheaper than others, none can be described as "cheap". I remember when chicken breasts, blade and flank steaks were inexpensive. With Kate's diagnosis, I've become even more concsious of what we put in our mouths, so throw in my growing desire to buy organic meats and any hopes of budget eating goes out the window.

  2. I agree, Geoff, meat and fish take a big chunk out of the weekly budget…and trying to keep "grass fed" and local and "sustainable" in there as well, makes it even more expensive…tips? Look for sales, and (for fish) stay in season. Be sure to share your tips for cutting costs with us during the month!

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