Being vegan can be a very expensive lifestyle if you allow it.
But it need not be, especially when you are feeling the pinch and need to save a little money.
Many recipes call for expensive ingredients such as saffron, all manner of exotic fruits and vegetables, and processed vegan meats.
While all of these items are delicious, they are not necessary for you to eat healthfully, satisfyingly and above all, cheaply. Below I will give what methods I utilise to maximise food at a minimal price, as well as some recipe ideas.
This is where a well stocked store cupboard really comes into its element. Dried herbs and spices, soy sauce, garlic, vegetable stock, olive oil and sesame oil. For me, these are the essentials that can make even the most meagre meal exciting. The benefits to having them in the house far exceed the initial cost of purchasing them all.
Forget fresh herbs. Delicious and wonderful for your health they may be, but they are often out of the budget.
Focus on certain foods.
White onions, white potatoes, carrots, beans (either tinned or dried. They are roughly the same price, but tinned require far less cooking time, and need not be soaked the night before), lentils and rice are your friends. I rely very heavily upon them during leaner times.
Cabbage is another good, versatile vegetable to resort to. Wonderfully healthful, and packed with vitamins and minerals, and yet perfect for a budget. A large savoy or red cabbage may be reasonably priced initially, but if you quarter it that is four nights worth of food. The same can be said for butternut/acorn/winter squash and pumpkins. While relatively expensive to buy, they are big enough to last for three or four portions.
Fresh and frozen vegetables are both perfectly healthful options, retaining most of their nutrients and taste. Apart from beans, sweetcorn, chickpeas and chopped tomatoes however, I tend to avoid tinned vegetables.
Another good idea is curry. Making your own are delicious but expensive, and jarred curry sauces can taste a little gross. However right beside the jars of curry sauce, are smaller jars of curry paste. Curry paste has all of the flavour of an authentically made fresh curry, at a fraction of the price. Simply put 1-2 tablespoons into a hot pot with some water, garlic and a can or two of chopped tomatoes and you are done. Add whatever low priced vegetables you wish (or happen to have in, before now I have even used frozen sprouts and apples! It really does not matter what you use) and serve with rice.
Soups too are highly efficient ways to maximise ingredients with minimum effort and cost. A general rule of thumb that I adhere to is 1-2 chopped onions, 4 cloves chopped garlic, 2 chopped potatoes and vegetable stock, accompanying a fruit or vegetable. Examples of some of my favourites are broccoli, cauliflower, leek, squash/pumpkin, lentil, beetroot, asparagus and bean.
What I would highly recommend is making food in bulk. Making a large pot of soup or rice will last for two nights meals. Or alternatively, place the left overs into lunch boxes and have it for lunch the next day to avoid having to buy it.
A meal that may look identical to a previous one can be entirely altered with the use of certain herbs and spices.
The following recipes are very easy to cook. It should be noted that with the recipes that include rice, I am referring to brown/wholemeal rice. I use it because it is, like bread and pasta, healthier than its white counterpart. It is important to note however that this will require an extra ten to fifteen minutes of cooking time, and a little more liquid, so keep on eye on it while it cooks lest you need to add more. The recipes are also aimed to be sufficiently large enough to provide a house of two people with two nights worth of meals. As with all other recipe ideas I have provided throughout this blog, adjust the ingredients according to your own taste, as well as substituting other ingredients if you happen to be at the shop and find something else is on offer for a lower price.
Mexican rice and beans
Cook 2 cups of rice in 5-6 cups of vegetable stock and cook until nearly done.
At this point, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp chilli powder (or more if you prefer a bigger bite) and about 5 cloves of sliced garlic. Stir well, then add 1 can of kidney beans, 4 roughly chopped tomatoes, 1 can of sweetcorn and half a cup of black olives. Cook for a further five minutes until heated through, and serve.
Italian rice and beans
Cook 2 cups of rice in 5-6 cups of vegetable stock, 1 tsp of dried oregano, 1 tsp of dried basil and cook until nearly done.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat about a tbsp of olive oil and and fry 1-2 diced onions and 5 cloves of chopped garlic for about five minutes, until onions have softened. Turn off the heat and leave aside.
When the rice is nearly done, add 2 very finely diced carrots, 1 can of chopped tomatoes, and 2 cans of butter beans (although any white beans will do). Stir, and add the onion and garlic that was cooked earlier. Cook for a further ten minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed, and stir in a final tbsp of olive oil. Serve.
Chinese rice and vegetables
Cook 2 cups of rice in 5-6 cups of vegetable stock until thoroughly cooked. Drain and leave aside.
Once that is done, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a wok (although any type of large pot will really do at a push), and add 1-2 diced onions and 5 chopped garlic cloves for five minutes. Add broccoli florets and sliced carrots for a further ten minutes. Add the rice back to this and stir well. Now include 1 cup of peas, 4 sliced spring onions, 3 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp sesame oil and the juice of half a lemon/lime. Stir well and cook for a final five minutes. Serve with a final sprinkle of lemon/lime juice.
Cowboy hash (of sorts)
A much beloved dish of my Scottish grandmothers, but somewhat altered from her original meat filled version.
Simply place 3 finely chopped onions in a little oil and cook for five minutes. Add 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic for one minute. Add 2 cans of baked beans and 2 cans of sweetcorn, and cook until warmed through. Serve this alongside mashed potato.
Rice and tortilla wraps
This dish requires very little explanation. Simply cook your rice until it is done. Then add to it any ingredients you have around, such as spinach and frozen peas for five minutes. Add some lemon/lime juice. Place in a tortilla wrap, fold and eat. It does not get much simpler (or cost effective) than that.
Pasta and sauce
Cook plenty of pasta according to the packet instructions.
Meanwhile in a separate pot, heat some oil. Add to this 2 chopped onions and 5 cloves of chopped garlic for five minutes. Add in 2 cans of chopped tomatoes, 1 tsp of dried basil and 1 tsp of dried rosemary or oregano. Simmer for ten minutes. Add half a cup of the starchy pasta water to the tomato sauce, then drain the pasta. Add to the tomato sauce. Mix well and serve.
I hope I have succeeded in demonstrating that eating healthfully as a vegan is possible, tasty, and affordable.
You do not have to live off dull, nutrient free cardboard meals just because you elect not to consume animal products on a budget.