Category Archives: Low cost Lunches

Wholemeal Focaccia recipe (25p a portion)

I did say I’d get round to making my own bread at some point! This recipe is very easy to make, though you do need to start a day ahead. It jazzes up any soup or salad dinner perfectly. You can vary the toppings with anything that you need using up.

Wholemeal foccacia recipeI met Anna Pitt on Monday who is a big advocate of Zero Waste and she suggested I go through all my cupboards and to see if there was anything that needed using up, and sure enough, lurking at the back of the fridge I found a jar of Jalapeños – I must’ve bought them for a Mexican dish many many moons ago, and some lonely looking sundried tomatoes. They looked fine, and I thought they could make a wonderful topping for a spicy Focaccia to go with the parsnip and coconut soup I made on Monday.

Keeping in local and healthy

I love using wholemeal grains as they are so much more nutrient dense. Shipton Mill sell their own flour which is grown and milled just down the road in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. A Kilo is a bit more expensive than a Supermarket brand but the taste is second to none. Here’s the recipe – it’s adapted from Peter Reinhart’s wholegrain breads.

In a bowl, mix 250g of wholemeal flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 5g dried yeast, 240ml warm water and 1 tsp of sugar for 2 minutes.The dough will be sticky, but smooth. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to the dough and mix for a few seconds. Now let the dough rest, uncovered for 5 minutes and then mix it again for another 2 minutes. If the dough is too wet, add a small amount of flour.

Wholemeal foccacia 1Line a tray with baking paper and add 1/2 Tbsp olive oil to grease the paper including the side walls. Place the dough in the tray. Rub the top of the dough with 1 tsp of olive oil. Flatten the dough a little using the palms of your hands. Don’t worry if it doesn’t cover the entire baking tray, it will once it’s risen. Cover the tray tightly with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.

The next day take out the dough from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 4 hours. Remove the clingfilm covering the dough and drizzle on 1 tsp of olive oil. Using your fingertips, starting in the middle, press the dough so that it begins to fill out the tray. Loosely cover the pan and let it sit for 20 minutes. Repeat this procedure a second and third time. After the third cover the tray and let it sit for 2 hours.

When the 2 hours is nearly over, preheat the oven at gas mark 10 / 260 C/ 500 F. Sprinkle on your toppings – I used jalapeños, sun dried tomatoes and a grating of cheese, but just herbs, sea salt and olive oil would also be delicious! Reduce the oven temperature to gas mark 8 / 230 C/ 450 F and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the tray around 180 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy!


250g whole wheat flour = 32p
Salt, yeast, sugar = 5p
Olive oil = 5p
Tomato = 10p
Cheese = 30p
20g Jalapeños = 10p

Total = £1.02 (25p a portion)

Spicy parsnip & coconut soup (29p a portion)

I love parsnips, roasted and sweet on a Sunday lunch. But quite often there’s a lot leftover, or we get extra in our veggie box delivery, and if there are, this is what I like to turn them into –  a spicy soup.

Spicy parsnip and coconut soupResearch shows that compounds found in parsnips have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer function and offer protection from colon cancer and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia! They’re also a rich source of many B-complex vitamins such as folic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid as well as vitamin K and vitamin E. And also contain healthy levels of minerals like iron, calcium, copper, potassium, manganese and phosphorus; important for bone and heart health.

All you need to do to make this soup is fry 2 white onions and 4 cloves of garlic in a little olive oil until soft and brown. Add 1 tbsp of garam masala and 1 small red chilli and continue to fry for a minute or two. Then add in 3 parsnips and 2 carrots chopped into small pieces. Add 100g creamed coconut and 6 cups of water. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft enough to blend. If you’re using already roasted parsnips then this time will be much shorter. Blend with a hand blender and serve with crusty bread. It’s a Winter warmer.

Coconut  = 50p
Parsnips & carrots = 50p
Onions, garlic & chilli, garam = 15p
Total = £1.15 for 4 generous bowls


Cheap and Easy Spinach Falafels

This is a quick, easy and healthy weekend lunch.  It would also make a great picnic addition, or lunch box snack.

Homemade gluten free greens falafelsThe combination of spinach greens, chickpeas and peanut butter makes this recipe great for getting your calcium quota.

1 cup of spinach has twice as much absorb-able calcium as a cup of milk. Chickpeas are also high in calcium, and peanut butter, which binds these beauties together, is just brimming with magnesium; which you need to insure that calcium is fully utilized. In other words, these Falafels are a perfect source of vitamins for strong healthy bones. Also a wonderfully versatile meal or snack for those of us that like to use our fingers to eat (which lets face it is most of kids and adults too). This recipe is a doddle and the end results are beautifully light fluffy green tasty morsels. Here’s the recipe:

Put 4 tbsp of oats in a blender and whizz until they turn to flour consistency. Add 200g of Spinach with 1 drained and rinsed 400g tin of chickpeas (or to be more frugal soak 120g of dried chickpeas overnight and boil for 1 hour). Squeeze in the juice of a whole lemon, and add 1 tsp of cumin, a pinch of salt, 3 cloves of garlic, 1.5 tbsp peanut butter and a handful of fresh herbs (I used coriander and fresh mint from the garden). Blend until it forms a smooth paste. If your blender is having trouble cutting through all this fibre add a dash of warm water to get things moving. Once your batter is formed roll it into balls and place on a greased baking tray. My mixture ended up a bit wet, so in the end I spooned quinelles (like they do on masterchef) of the mixture onto the baking tray. Bake on a moderate to high oven( Gas mark 6 / 200C / 400F) for 25 minutes until they are crispy on the outside but still gooey in the middle. Serve with lashings of home-made hummus either on their own, or with salad – delicious!

How much do they cost to make?

120g dried chickpeas = 14p
peanut butter = 20p
Oats = 20p
Spinach = 50pHerbs, garlic, salt & pepper = 20p

Total = £1.24 for 12 falafel.

Cumin roasted pumpkin soup

I love squashI love the sunshine that pumpkins bring to a Winters day. When I received two beautiful baby Squash in our Westmills Organic Veggie box I couldn’t resist a warming soup.

Squash and pumpkins are a perfect match for the spice cumin. It’s earthiness really complements the slightly sweet plump flesh. Together they create a meal that has a restorative quality. Now that I’ve discovered how easy it is to boil my used bones to make stock, the whole combination is a marriage made in heaven.

Roasted squash and cumin soupSquash are one of the most nutritious and healthiest vegetables you can eat, with a rich array of vitamins, minerals as well as lots of fibre. It has a high content of flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants such as leutin, xanthin, and carotenes which have cancer fighting properties and are good for eye health. It is also a good source of B-complex vitamins like folates, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid and rich in minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.

There’s nothing complicated about this recipe. Simply slice the squash in half, don’t bother to de-seed. Sprinkle with olive oil and a tbsp of cumin. Roast on a medium oven for 1 hour. The roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the squash as opposed to boiling which can wash away the delicate flavour.

Scoop out the pips and discard. Then scoop out the flesh and add them to your pre-prepared stock. Blitz with the blender and add salt and pepper to season. Best served on a cold day with a dash of cream or natural yoghurt. Hearty and delicious.

If you make your own stock from left over bones, this recipe can cost as little as £1 for 4 portions.



Deliciously warming French Onion Soup

I’m fighting a cold. It’s the first one I’ve had all Winter. I’m winning at the moment but I don’t want things to deteriorate, so I must have an action plan.

French onion soupI don’t have fancy supplements or expensive Super Foods like acai or blueberries but I do have an Allium Family Army made up of onions, shallots and garlic.

Onions may possibly be one of the healthiest foods on Earth. They contain quercetin, a nutrient that breaks up mucus in your head and chest while boosting your immune system. When the smell of raw onions makes your nose run and your eyes tear up, this stimulates your immune system to fight infection.

Onions and garlic also contain allicin, which slows down and kills a variety of viruses and bacteria. The pungency of onions and garlic increase your blood circulation and make you sweat. This helps to prevent infections and allows you to sweat out a cold or flu. Consuming fresh raw white onion and garlic within a few hours of the first symptoms of a cold or flu is when you’ll get the strongest immune effect.

French onion soup 2I’m not into eating a bunch of raw onions and garlic, nor would my husband like the smell on my breathe that much, but I’m quite happy to have a good cry whilst peeling them. When onions are cooked to make soup, their quercetin does not get degraded. It simply gets transferred into the liquid part of the soup. If you allow garlic and onions to simmer slowly in some home-made beef stock they become deliciously sweet and savoury. Here’s the recipe…

French onion soup

I like making my own stock from beef bones boiled in water and seasoned with salt, pepper and bay leaf. Alder’s Butchers on Cowley Road will sell you a huge bag for just £1 with the proceeds going to charity. However, if you prefer you can always buy pre-prepared stock.

Finely slice 4 large onions and 2 cloves of garlic. Place them in a heavy duty sauce pan with 50g of butter and 1/2 tsp of salt. Allow them to cook very gently, stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes. During this time the onions with caramelise at the bottom of the pan. This is what give the sweet taste to the onion soup and should be encouraged, but do not allow them to burn. Once the onions are ready add in about 750ml of beef stock. Gently simmer again for another 30 minutes until everything is infused. If you have any leftover red wine, port or sherry this can also be added but it’s not necessary. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a grating of strong cheese and crusty bread. Warming and nutritious!

This is easy on the budget

4 large onions = 40p
Beef stock = £1
Butter, sugar, salt pepper = 25p
cheese = 50p

Total = £2.15 for 4


Farinata – Chickpea flat bread

Farinata gluten free grain free paleo chickpea flourFarinata is a traditional pancake made from chickpea flour that originated in Tuscany. It is a delicious alternative to pizza and is often flavoured with fresh herbs and olive oil. Chickpea flour, otherwise know as Besan or Gram flour, contains 8 times as much folic acid as wheat flour and is also a good source of Thiamine, vitamin B6 both needed to regulate appetite and mood, plus iron, magnesium and phosphorus for healthy blood circulation, muscles and strong bones. Plus it’s a very cheap way to get these nutrients when on a budget, without having to take an expensive supplement.

The recipe is extremely simple – consisting of very few ingredients. 1 cup of chickpea flour and 2 cups of water need to be whisked together with 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1/2 tsp of salt, and then left to stand at room temperature for 3 hours (or over night).

Olive and sage gluten free paleo farinataTraditionally baked like a pizza, you need a very hot oven to cook the Farinata. So pre-heat your oven as high as it will go (gas mark 9, 240C, 475F), for one hour before baking. Use an oven proof heavy duty pan and place it in the oven to warm through.

Once you’re ready to cook, remove your pan from the oven (using oven gloves), coat the pan with olive oil and pour in 1 cup of your mixture which should sizzle and start cooking immediately against the hot pan. Quickly scatter a layer of your chosen topping (olives, sage, rosemary and fried onions) and place in the top shelf of the oven for 12 minutes. When it is cooked through transfer to the grill for 2-4 minutes until it is golden brown. Repeat with the left over mixture. Serve warm with any thing that takes your fancy – a few salad leaves or sliced tomato. Or perhaps some avocado or hummus dip. It’s filling, yet light and nutritious, as well as easy on the budget.

I buy my chickpea flour from an Tahmid supermarket on Cowley Road, but any India supermarket will stock it at around £3 per kilo.

This recipe is very frugal.

1 cup of chickpea flour = 80p
Olives = 30p
I used sage and rosemary from the garden
1 onion = 5p
Olive oil = 10p

Total = £1.25 for 4 people
+ £1 for salad leaves and avocado

Vietnamese Spring Roll Wraps & Asian Coleslaw

Vietnamese rice wrapsI love Vietnamese food, but I’ve never attempted spring rolls at home before. When I was out locating some of our local Asian supermarkets in Oxford – Thong Heng Oriental on Windmill Parade in Headington, Jing Jing on Cowley Road and Lung Wah Chong next to Oxford train station – I noticed just how cheap the spring roll rice wraps were. You can buy a pack of about 40 (maybe more) for just £1.99. Plus you get to fill them with exactly what you want (or whatever you have left in the fridge at the end of the week).

I’ve also been on the hunt for good cheap fish in Oxford. Geographically Oxford isn’t really well positioned for fish, and as a result we are short of local fishmongers. I did however come across The Fish Market Oxford, which is the wholesalers that supply the fish to the Oxford Covered Market. They also deliver to your door.

Before Christmas I paid them a visit and found some excellent deals which I’ll be blogging about soon. One was their large bag of cooked and peeled prawns that I keep in the freezer for rare occasions. When used in spring rolls this way, you don’t have to use too many and so it can work out quite cost effective. Here’s the recipe:

Rice Wrap Vietnamese Prawn Spring Rolls

Vietnamese rice wraps and asian coleslaw 2Take 100g of rice vermicelli noodles and soak them in boiling water for 5 minute until they are soft, then drain. Finely slice any vegetables you have in the fridge that you think may be suitable. I used cucumber, mushrooms and grated carrot and a handful of home grown coriander and mint. But spring onions, peppers, courgettes and even grated beetroot would work. Once you have about 1 cup of chopped vegetables add these to the noodles plus 100g of defrosted cooked peeled prawns. Season with the juice of half a lime.

Fill a flat serving dish with hot (not boiling) water. Soak 1 pancake at a time for 15-20 seconds until nice and soft. Spread the rice wrap on a plate making sure it’s not sticking to itself. This bit can be a bit fiddly but after a few it’s easy to get the hang of it. Place a handful of the noodle prawn mixture into the centre of the wrap. Roll from the side nearest to you tucking the bottom edge over and under the filling. Fold in the sides and roll upwards to complete the roll. The rice wrap should stick to itself to form the seal. I made 3 per adult and 2 per child. They are quite filling. Don’t over fill or they split.

For the dipping sauce you can make a simple chilli dip with grated garlic, ginger, chilli, lime juice and 1 tsp of sugar in a little warm water. If you like it salty you can add a tbsp of soy or fish sauce too. Or my favourite, home made Satay sauce. This is easy to make and absolutely delicious on anything and everything.

Satay Sauce Recipe

Take half a tin of coconut milk and heat with 2 tbsp of home made peanut butter. Season with 2 tsp of soy sauce, grated ginger, 1 glove of crushed garlic and 1 dried chilli. Delicious!

I served everything with an Asian coleslaw which was simply grated cabbage, carrot and onion with a chilli, garlic and lime dressing. EASY!

How’s the budget?

10 rice wraps = 40p
Rice noodles = 50p
Chopped veg for filling = 30p
100g of prawns = 85p
1/2 lime = 15p

£2.20 for 10 wraps

Satay Sauce
1/2 tin of coconut milk = 50p
2 tbsp peanut butter = 20p
soy, garlic, ginger, chilli = 20p

Total 90p

Asian coleslaw
1/2 cabbage = 50p
Carrots = 20p
Onion = 5p
Lime, chilli, garlic, olive oil = 30p
Total = £1.05

Everything together = £4.05 for 4 people

If you want to make this even more frugal you could replace the prawns with crushed peanuts and use the chilli lime dressing instead of Satay sauce. This would probably save you £1. You could also experiment with left over roast chicken or sliced tofu – a very versatile recipe.


Frugal peanut butter hummus recipe

As I posted on day 2 of this journey I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve been wasting a whole heap of money on buying tins of chickpeas and also jars of organic peanut butter!

Dried chickpeasOne 400g tin of chickpeas at Tesco’s is 55p but if you soak your own dried version the equivalent works out as just 14p.

We eat a tonne of hummus a week. It was one of the only foods my daughter would consistently eat as a baby.

Like oats (see our flapjack recipe here), chickpeas, are rich in soluble dietary fibre which is great for removing cholesterol from the body and keeping you regular (if you know what I mean). Soluble fibre also helps stabilize blood sugar levels, so if you have diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycaemia chickpeas can help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy.

Chickpeas are high in protein and an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese, which is an essential cofactor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defences. Just one cup of chickpeas supplies 84.5% of the daily value of this mineral. They also contain good levels of folic acid and magnesium both essential in pregnancy, with 1/2 a cup making up around 30% of your RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance).

Chickpeas have a high iron content and therefore are an essential component to a vegetarian diet. Just 100g provides over a third of your RDA. Iron is an integral component of haemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism.

Hummus usually contains tahini (sesame paste), but this is an expensive commodity on a frugal budget. We always have peanut butter in the cupboard, and are now making this ourselves (recipe here). So I thought I’d devise a hummus recipe that replaces the tahini with peanut butter. Here we go…

Frugal organic peanut butter hummusPeanut butter hummus

  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (made from soaking 200g of dried chickpeas over night and then boiling for 45 minutes until tender)
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin

In a blender combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth. If the mixture is sticking drizzle in a little boiling water until things get moving. You can then continue to add water until you reach the consistency you require. I like it to be the consistency of whipped butter. If you like it hot, add 1 dried chilli. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with chopped British carrots (ours were from our veggie box supplied by The Market Garden at Eynsham) or on toast.


In total this hummus which is equivalent to 3 large tubs of supermarket hummus (costing £3), cost only £1 to make.

Spinach Dahl & Rice

Yellow split pea channa dahlIf you’ve not visited Tahmid Stores at 53 Cowley Road, Oxford, I urge you to do so. This independently own Indian/Bangladeshi supermarket stocks Halal meat, a huge range of ethnic groceries as well as fruits and vegetables at very competitive prices. You can tell they are passionate about food simply by the diversity of their product range and the quality of their products. You can buy wholesale items such as 20 kilos of Basmati Rice that makes small packets of supermarket rice seem extortionately priced. Whilst this quantity may take you a year to get through, if you team up with a few friends and split the cost you get yourself a tidy deal.

This family recipe that we ate for dinner last night cost less than £2 to make for 4 people, and there was enough left over the next day for my husband to take for lunch at work. Here’s the recipe:

Frugal Dahl and Rice recipeEasy Spinach Dahl

1. First rinse and then soak 250g dried yellow split peas or channa dahl.

Soaking peas overnight in water shortens their cooking time. But soaking isn’t entirely necessary. Split peas cook relatively quickly. Unsoaked peas take from 1 to 2 hours of simmering; soaked peas take about 40 minutes.

2. Discard the water and boil the peas in 1 litre of fresh water with 1 tsp of salt. Split peas absorb lots of water as they cook, so check the soup often and add liquid as needed.

3. In a frying pan fry 1 small onion, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 dried chilli and a tablespoon of garam masala for a couple of minutes.

4. Once the peas are very tender and soup like add in 300g of tinned or frozen spinach and cook for another 5 minutes.

5. Add in the fried onion and spices and season with salt, pepper and the juice from a lemon.

6. Serve with Basmati rice and a dollop of natural yoghurt.

How are we doing on nutrition?

Split peas are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fibre. Not only can dried peas help lower cholesterol, they are also of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fibre content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. Split peas also provide excellent amounts of molybdenum, manganese, copper, folic acid, vitamin B1, phosphorus, vitamin B5, and potassium with one cup providing nearly 50% of your RDA for all these vitamins and minerals. Coupled with rice, split peas provide all the essential amino acids to form a complete protein. Spinach (as does all green leafy vegetables adds more minerals, this time magnesium and calcium for strong bones and iron for your blood. If you season with lemon juice, the vitamin C from this fruit makes the iron more easily absorbed. All in all, it’s no wonder that Dahl and rice is an Indian staple.

And budget?

250g Yellow split peas = 26p
1 lemon = 30p
Spinach = 60p
Garlic = 20p
Garam masala, chilli, salt and pepper = 20p
Rice = 40p

Total = £1.96 for 4 people