I think this is probably one of my favorite tips of all time, but perhaps that is because I love ethnic food so much! (Read the rest of this series here). Whether it is a spicy Indian curry, a smooth hummus, a flavorful beef pho soup, or bean and rice Cuban dish, other countries are masters at making delicious, yet frugal food. They know how to take smaller amounts of meat and stretch them into a meal and dishes often center on legumes, grains and other frugal ingredients.
Taking a cue from them, I shred leftover roasted chicken and put it in an Indian curry that is served over rice. Cold winter nights may find me eating a thick lentil soup (or a homemade pho, or a wide variety of other soups!). We also love to make fried rice with leftover rice and bits of vegetables and leftover meat or seafood (pictured above is a fried rice made with leftover salmon). It is meals like this that help stretch our food budget money out.
Plus, many of the flavorful spices and ingredients used in ethnic foods have been proven to have a wide variety of health benefits. Just a few examples, Turmeric, an ingredient in many curries, has been researched widely for its anti-cancer properties. Lemongrass, a common ingredient in Thai food, has also been studied for it’s digestive soothing, pain relieving properties. It’s health benefits appear to be wide spread from everything to antibacterial and antiviral, to a strong antioxidant profile. Hot pepper are in wide use around the world, and they also boost a wide variety of health promoting attributes. The point is, Ethnic food may not only help your budget, it may also help your health!
Here are a couple online recipes as examples:
- 3 simple hummus recipes (guest post from Katie
- Simple Persian Soup (a five dollar dish)
- Garam Masala Lentil Soup (This one is a family favorite!)
- Thai Chicken Curry (I don’t have my chicken curry recipe online yet; this one doesn’t use leftover shredded chicken, but you could certainly adapt the general idea of the curry to using leftover chicken if you want).
These are just a couple of online examples, but I really enjoy getting cookbooks at the library for a wide variety of ethnic foods and learning how to cook certain dishes from them. I really want to learn how to cook a new favorite, Ethiopian sourdough teff bread with different toppings.
It is also worth noting that when we eat out, we often find ourselves at a restaurant that is either Thai, Vietnamese, and Ethiopian, (among others) because the prices are good, the meals are flavorful, and we can easily share entrées. These meals eaten out often give me inspiration for learning how to make them at home, for even cheaper! Lamb, by the way, is almost always completely grass-fed, so we often choose that when we can.
To get started: Browse recipes online, borrow books from the library, and pick non-intimidating recipes to start with (preferably recipes that aren’t too complicated or use too many ingredients that you aren’t familiar with). A local ethnic store can be a great source for many ingredients (though always label check, some contain soy oil, MSG, and other unsavory ingredients), as well as fresh seafood, and hard to time food items.
I’d love to hear from you! What are your favorite recipes for ethnic food?
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Mrs. Nancy Bowman
Great tip! We so often see ethnic food as merely novel or flavourful, but it’s definitely frugal. So much of ethnic cooking is from scratch, too. Like our favourites, which would fall mostly under Indian food: red lentil dhal with chapatis, alu gobi (with chapatis), samosas, anything with paneer, and a minced cauliflower dish that wasn’t from Indians, but has morphed into a curry that’s so yummy.
So true! Many of the local restaurants in our area cook from scratch, which is what I look for. A couple places even serve 100% grassfed beef and lamb!
We tend toward eating at ethnic restaurants when we eat out as well. Given my dietary restrictions (food sensitivies and GAPS diet and breastfeeding), it seems that ethnic places allow me something I can actually eat. 🙂 I’d like to think that they are also healthier, but I might be assuming too much. Indian food seems to be our favorite. I get concerned at some Asian places about MSG, soy, sugars, etc. Indian food seems reasonably safe, but I suppose I’d have to go back into the kitchen and see exactly what they’re doing and probably wouldn’t like some of it. For instance, are they using canned foods (whereas I don’t used canned food at home)? But… we don’t eat out every day, so I figure if we’re choosing better than many of the standard American food restaurants, hopefully it’s okay.
It has always seemed to us that Indian restaurants were the least likely to use things like MSG and packaged foods. 🙂
Having been an Army brat and a Naval officer, I’ve traveled all over the world and have tasted the most amazing food ever. I learned to cook from Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian, German, French… that’s one of the first things I did when I arrived in country. You’d be amazed at how accommodating people were and thrilled that I wanted to learn to cook their foods. I currently live near Washington, DC and love it because we have every kind of ethnic market available due to the diplomatic population. Within a five mile radius of my house, I have four Asian supermarkets alone. We also have the restaurants but I love cooking ethnic food so we do that, mostly. Also the ethnic markets are incredibly reasonable so it’s a pleasure to shop in them.
That is so neat! Our Asian markets are fine for the most part…but I hear that there are way better ones on your side of the country. 🙂
When you learn how to make Ethiopian sourdough teff bread, please post! I LOVE it.
When my husband and I visited Hawaii long ago, we ate on the cheap, buying groceries and making our own meals. However, there was one little deli we stopped at again and again. They made, for lack of a better description, barbequed chicken. The next time I had it was when my adopted cousins’ birth parents visited. They were from the Marshall Islands (near Guam) and through a translator, told me that it was a holiday food there, probably due to it using a lot of chicken meat. I’ve tried to imitate it, and the closest I’ve come is Korean beef, which is marinated in a soy sauce, grated asian pear, hot peppers and then grilled. Yum, yum, yum.
We loooooove your red lentil soup recipe with the Indian spices. One of the only lentil recipes I enjoy!
Oh, thanks Kristin! So glad you like it. 🙂
I have been known to make tamales from leftover Thanksgiving turkey. It’s a really nice break from both the standard turkey leftovers and our standard Mexican (burrito, quesadilla, chimichanga) fare.
Just made the curry recipe you posted, btw, using more leftover turkey (mostly, I don’t have curry paste so I improvised). Quite tasty.
Making healthy food at home is more beneficial rather than eating out. Thanks for sharing the recipes in this post. This will help health freaks..