It was a good thing that after years of frugal grad student living overseas, I had acquired a few recipes that cost almost nothing and could feed us for a few days besides.
Things are quite different today, of course. The world has come a long way since then, and international foods and seasonings from every continent and many countries are now commonplace in U.S. supermarkets. I consider it one of the positives of globalization. Some would say it’s one of the few.
This recipe is easy, quick, and quite versatile. It can be made vegetarian, or with chicken; it can also be made with rice instead of pasta. That would make it a cheap, gluten free option. And you can use frozen cauliflower instead of fresh if that’s the more economical option in the grocery store. Surprisingly, that’s sometimes the case. While in my opinion nothing quite beats the flavor of fresh, some frozen vegetables are quite okay. And if they are what will fit your budget, by all means, use them.
It’s also a cheap recipe, even if you use chicken in it. One way to keep its cost low, even as a meat option, is to use chicken thighs or backs, typically the cheapest cuts of chicken available. And ONLY buy it when it's on sale. Where I live, you can often get it for well under a dollar a pound, so keep an eye peeled for such bargains and stock up if you can.
If I'm using chicken parts, I remove the skin before adding them to the stew and just cook them right along with everything else. If you use meat and/or rice, it will lengthen the cooking time by about 35 minutes, bringing it close to an hour.
In its meatless version, this recipe is also delicious and filling, and can be ready in about 25-30 minutes.
You can also add more liquid to the pot to make this more of a soup than a stew, if you'd prefer that. If you take this approach, check the seasoning level to see if it needs adjustment before serving.
With chicken, this recipe costs about $9-12 , and in its meatless version, it’s about $8. Since the stew yields 10-12 hearty servings, either way, that’s well under $1 per serving. Serve it with a nice salad of tossed, mixed greens, and some delicious Indian Naan or other flatbread, and the total comes in at $1.50 per serving or less for a meal that will satisfy and warm you through.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes 10-12 servings (can be halved)
Prep Time - Approximately 15 minutes
Total Start to Finish Meal Time - 30-60 minutes
Total Recipe Cost - Approximately $10 (with Chicken)
Total per Person Recipe Cost with Salad - Approximately $1.50
3-4 cans (16 ounce size) white kidney (cannellini) beans (more or less depending on the quantity of stew you'd like to make)
Approx. 10-ounces frozen spinach, leaf or chopped
1 medium onion
1 head (approximately 1 pound) cauliflower
1 pound chicken backs or thighs (optional)
1 cup small whole grain pasta (macaroni, rotini, bow ties, etc.)
½ cup brown rice
1 29-32 ounce can diced tomatoes
6 cups water
1 teaspoon of salt (to taste)
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (this is quite spicy, so adjust this to taste)
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Naan flatbread or other flatbread (optional)
Recipe continues after pictures.
- Wash and cut the cauliflower into florets about 1-2 inches in size.
- Peel and dice the medium onion.
- Peel and chop or mince the 3-4 cloves of garlic.
- If you are using chicken, remove the skin and discard it.
- Heat the 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot with a lid over medium heat.
- Add the onions and cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add all the seasonings ( 1 tablespoon curry powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 teaspoon turmeric, ½ teaspoon pepper, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon) and the garlic, and stir to mix well. Cook for about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the 6 cups of water, the 1 teaspoon of salt, and the 29-32 ounces of diced tomatoes, and mix well. If you are using the vegetarian and pasta version of this recipe, skip to Step 10. If you are using the rice and/or chicken, add them at this time.
- Cover the pot with the rice and chicken and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 35 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and cut it off the bone and into chunks. Return the chicken to the pot. Continue with step 11.
- Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat.
- Add the cut up cauliflower and the 1 cup of pasta, if you are using it, re-cover and bring back to a boil. Reduce the temperature to low or medium and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the pasta is done to taste and the cauliflower is firm/tender.
- Meanwhile thaw the spinach in its box or in a microwavable container in the microwave on low power for about 3 minutes.
- Rinse and drain the 3-4 cans of white beans in a colander.
- When the cauliflower is done, gently stir in the thawed spinach and the beans. Heat through for about 5 minutes
- Taste test and adjust seasonings, as desired.
- Serve the stew in bowls along with a dollop of yogurt, if desired, Indian Naan or other flatbread, and a tossed green salad for a lovely, warming meal.