What good meal could you make for under five dollars?
Slow Food USA initiated this cooking challenge, one which meshed nicely with our Third Thursday Community Potluck this month. In a rough economy, and an ever-widening “food gap,” knowing how to prepare tasty, nutritious food at an affordable price is a crucial survival tool.
Calling it “The $5 Challenge,” Slow Food encouraged potluck gatherings to share “true value meals.” Last Saturday, 30,000 people allover the country came together to dine on these good dishes, all made with fresh ingredients, and costing less, per person, than an Abe Lincoln. Recipes from these events will be amassed and shared.
Informally, our Third-Thursday group did the same, although we kept our potluck on its given day, rather than the Saturday, as suggested by Slow Food. In the quest for community—and tasty affordable food—we didn’t think a couple of days mattered. It’s part of our monthly pursuit anyway.
And, serendipity, we had already chosen a “Breakfast for Dinner” theme. That meal provides plenty of hearty, nutritious, and inexpensive dishes: Omelettes, vegetable frittatas, mock souffles, noodle kugels, cheese grits casseroles, and the like.
We know that cooking seasonally, using of-the-moment produce, is far more cost-effective.
In Nashville, fall is in air. Bushels of apples and potatoes are plentiful at the market. With that in mind, I chose to make a batch of fresh applesauce, and my crispy potato pancakes. Both are ridiculously simple, and “cheap” recipes–short on ingredients, but long on satisfaction.
I hadn’t considered applesauce in a long time, although it’s something that I associate, in a pleasant way, with childhood. It was one of the acceptable things that this super-picky eater would deign to let past her lips.
We always had jars of Mott’s Applesauce on the shelf, something my beleaguered mother could count on to spoon onto my plate, and not be met with eyes of abject horror or disgust.
But nothing could be easier than making a pot a fresh applesauce. Core and rough-chop the apples–leave their peels on. Cook them down with a little lemon, brown sugar, and cinnamon–that’s really it. (This could be adapted to a slow-cooker–throw everything into the pot, and let it go all day, while you work.)
The peels mostly dissolve as the apples soften into a chunky sauce, providing flavor, nutrients, and needed pectin to thicken. If you want a smoother sauce, you can run the cooked mixture through the food mill.
Ginger Gold Apples, with their pale green skins tinged with rosy blush, proved to be a good choice. They have a bright, pleasing balance of sweet and tart.
Pommes-de-terre, Aardappelen, Potatoes are indeed the Apples of the Earth! We love potatoes in all iterations.
My potato pancake, or latkes, recipe is gluten-free. Years ago I would add flour, but learned later that there was no need; there’s enough natural starch in the potato to accommodate. Eggs add a little protein, and help bind the crispy shreds together.
What’s not to love about these little potato nests? Crunchy golden brown goodness, with a hint of sweet onion in the mix…they make terrific accompaniments to any meal, breakfast or not.
What I must note about the $5 challenge: it’s an easier one to meet, if you are cooking for a group. (And, likewise, if that group is sharing dishes, in the potluck spirit!)
My big batch of potato pancakes cost just about $5, and fed a crowd. Making 30, that’s almost 17 cents a cake. The applesauce cost less, around $4, and was delicious in its own right, or dolloped onto the potatoes.
But I think that we would all be hard-pressed to consistently create well-rounded meals for under $5 a person, especially if cooking for one or two. And many today have less than that to work with.
I lead a charmed life, and I am grateful for it. I am generally frugal, but have the where-with-all to buy, cook, and enjoy more expensive foods. And that’s fine. But access to basic, affordable good food should be a right, not a privilege. It’s important to share our knowledge, so that people can cook delicious meals using fresh food for themselves and their families.
Have you got a favorite inexpensive dish to share?
6 large tart green apples, such as Ginger Golds
1/2 cup Demerara Sugar
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 Lemon, quartered
Core and rough-chop apples. Place into a large saucepan on gentle heat. Add brown sugar, lemon quarters, and cinnamon stick. Cover and allow apples to cook on slow medium heat, for about thirty minutes. Stir occasionally. Covered, the natural juices will release, condense, and fall back into the apple mixture. The peels will mostly dissolve and add their natural pectin.
Remove cinnamon stick, lemon peels. Serve warm or cold.
Makes about 4 cups of applesauce.
POTATO PANCAKES (gluten-free)
4 lbs. Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 large Yellow Onion
4 large Eggs
2 t. Sea Salt
1 t. Cracked Black Pepper
2 t. Paprika
canola oil for frying
1 T. butter to season the oil (optional)
Shred potatoes (I used the food processor with the shredder attachment.) and place into a large mixing bowl. Finely dice the onion and toss in with the potatoes.
In a separate bowl, whip eggs, sea salt, black pepper, and paprika together. Pour over potato-onion mix. Toss well so that everything is well coated.
Heat a skillet and pour in canola oil, about 1/2″. Melt in a tablespoon of butter, if you’d like to flavor this neutral a bit.
With a slotted spoon, scoop up a small mound of shredded potato mix and place in hot oil. Repeat until the skillet is filled but take care not to crowd. (I fit 4 at a time.) Cook for about 3 minutes—look for crispy brown edges. Wait for the right “brown-ness” before flipping with a spatula.
Rotate in the pan, as needed, so that the ‘cakes brown evenly.
Place cooked potato cakes onto a metal grid to drain, (or paper towels).
Note: As the mixture sits, some of the water from the potatoes will release into the mixture. This is not a problem. Continually stir, lifting out each mound with the slotted spoon, leaving some of that liquid behind.
Makes about 30 crispy potato pancakes