Cheap Dinners: Tomato Risotto with Butter Beans.

Lately I’ve been feeling less and less like eating meat. I haven’t given up eating it but I just don’t feel inspired by cooking meat dishes.

I also find that if I need a quick meal, meat is not my friend. I tend to buy meat cuts that are better cooked long and slow, because they are cheap. I rarely have chicken breasts in my fridge or freezer.

However, I ALWAYS have tinned tomatoes, rice and usually some sort of tinned bean. Together they can be combined into a simple, nutricious supper.

Here is what you need.

1 onion diced

2 small cloves of garlic diced very finely

tablespoon of tomato puree

25g butter

1 tbs oil

250g risotto rice

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin butter beans

IMG_5034Gently fry the chopped onions and garlic in the oil and butter until soft. It’s very important to do this well because you don’t want hard, sharp tasting onions in the final dish.

Add the rice and mix well. Fry the rice for a few minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes a splash of boiling water and a tablespoon of tomato purée.

Allow the mixture to simmer and stir frequently or it will stick. You may need to keep adding a little more boiling water.

When the rice is cooked it should be soft and without ‘bite’. Stir in the beans and allow them to heat.

Season with salt and pepper. I garnished mine with a little grated parmesan and a small blob of wild garlic pesto but basil pesto would be nice too.

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There are a million ways you could change this recipe – more onions, different beans, some herbs, diced chopped vegetables, a few frozen peas or sweetcorn. In it’s most simple form it is cheap, cheerful, tasty and nutritious – I’m sure I heard someone once say that all the amino acids a person needs can be found in a combination of rice and beans. So, if you’re stuck for a quick meal, this could be just the thing.

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Sweet and creamy coconut, chickpea and vegetable curry

I am not a vegetarian but I really do like vegetarian food. I think that we probably eat a vegetarian main meal at least three times a week, sometimes more. Eating a vegetarian diet is linked with better health and it is usually much cheaper. I’d like to say that a vegetarian meal will have a much lower carbon footprint but I guess that depends on where your veggies come from. Apparently this week is National Vegetarian Week, so in honour of that, here is one of my most recent dinners.

I was inspired by this recipe at Attic 24, having used it quite a lot. I wanted an easy going meal, i.e. no last minute trip to the shops. Rummaging in my cupboard, fridge and freezer I found the following ingredients:

IMG_71171 large Red pepper (capsicum)

1 Courgette (zucchini)

4 Spring onions (scallions)

1 Tin of Chick peas

1 Tin of Coconut milk,

1teaspoon Ground Coriander

1teaspoon Ground Cumin

1teaspoon Garam Masala

About a 2cm ‘squeeze’ of Garlic Puree

1 Vegetable Stock Cube

1 tablespoon of mango chutney

1 tablespoon of coriander leaf (frozen)

As you can see, I chopped up the veg, ready to fry it gently, in a large pan, with the lid on. I think this is what cheffy types call ‘sweating off’. I also added the garlic and spices at this point. If you like your dinners a bit hotter, you could add your preferred amount of chilli at this point. If I was making this for just me and The Husband I would probably add about a teaspoon of mild chilli powder and about a quarter to a half a teaspoon of hot chilli powder. I think using both types gives depth of flavour and a bit of ‘kick’.

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When the vegetables were softened and the spices had released some flavour, I added the tinned chickpeas and coconut milk. I also added a vegetable stock cube and allowed everything to simmer for a while. Adding the mango chutney was an afterthought really that I remembered from the Attic 24 recipe. I just felt that more sweetness was needed. The last thing I added was the frozen, chopped coriander leaf. By the time that had defrosted I was ready to dish up.

I served it with boiled rice and steamed cauliflower. Again, if this had been a grown-ups only meal I would probably have added the cauliflower florets with the chickpeas and coconut milk but not all my children like them. I wish they did. We are experiencing a cauliflower glut at the moment. You can see them going to seed in the picture below.

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A word about rice. I only ever use easy cook rice – 1 cupful of rice to 2 cupfuls of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until done. I have never had success when cooking basmati but if you want to try there are tips to be found here and here.

The thing is, a store cupboard recipe like this can be endlessly adapted. You can change the balance of spices for a subtly different flavour or add your own favourites. The vegetables you use will depend on what you’ve got to hand. I’ve used regular onion, spinach, butternut squash and aubergine for example. You could use a different kind of bean or lentil to provide the protein. It is also a good way to use up left-over meat if vegetarianism is not your thing. Finally, I think this qualifies as both vegetarian and vegan, being dairy free if you fry in a suitable oil, rather than butter.

So, happy National Vegetarian Week everyone!

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