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Meal plan

Five bang-for-your-buck recipes that are low on cost but big on flavour

With a few basic rules, Emily Weinstein brings big flavour to dinner without breaking the bank

Monday 08 August 2022 12:00 BST
These noodles are excellent vehicle for leftover meat and vegetables – and they’re completely delicious
These noodles are excellent vehicle for leftover meat and vegetables – and they’re completely delicious (Getty/iStock)

Inflation is dominating the news, and all we seem to be talking about in the office is how much groceries cost.

I picked five additional bang-for-your-buck recipes I love for this week’s meal plan. And here are a few basic rules for when you’re thinking about meals and current supermarket prices: move away from meat (which is up considerably, especially beef) or make recipes that use it in smaller amounts.

Embrace vegetables and beans, which are less impacted by inflation. Tinned tuna is your friend, as are anchovies, which can bring incredible flavour to your cooking.

Chicken-courgette meatballs with feta

Meatballs are a thrifty way to eat meat (Getty/iStock)

Generally speaking, meatballs are a thrifty way to eat meat: mince is less expensive than steaks or chicken breast, and the meat is “stretched” with added ingredients. A little goes a longer way. In this excellent Ali Slagle recipe, the addition is courgette – inexpensive always and abundant right now.

Serves: 4

Total time: 45 minutes


3 large courgettes (about 680g)

Salt and black pepper

1 large shallot, halved

30g panko

1½ tsp ground cumin

1 tsp red-pepper flakes

450g chicken or turkey mince

2 tbsp chopped fresh mint, basil, parsley or dill, plus more for serving

60ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing and drizzling

3 tbsp lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)

115g feta


1. Heat the oven to 220C. Cut 2 of the courgette into 1½cm-thick slices. Transfer to a plate, season with salt, and set aside.

2. Working over a large bowl, using the large holes of a box grater, grate the remaining courgette. Grate 1 shallot half into the bowl as well. Add the panko, cumin, ½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon salt, and use your hands to toss until combined. Add the chicken and herbs and toss gently until combined.

3. Lightly grease a baking tray. With wet hands, form the chicken mixture into 16 meatballs (around 2 to 3 tablespoons each) and place them on one side of the baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, pat the sliced courgette dry, then lightly coat with about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with pepper.

5. Coarsely chop the remaining shallot half and transfer to a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, season with salt, and stir to combine.

6. Add the sliced courgette to the other half of the baking tray, moving the meatballs over, if necessary. Bake until the meatballs are cooked through and the courgette is golden on the underside, another 15 to 20 minutes. For more browned meatballs, broil for a few minutes, if desired.

7. Meanwhile, crumble the feta into the shallot mixture. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and the remaining ½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes. Stir, breaking up the feta a bit, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

8. Eat the meatballs and courgette with a drizzle of the feta sauce and more fresh herbs.

Cold tofu salad with tomatoes and peaches

Fresh fruits and vegetables have been less susceptible to inflation, which makes this gorgeous silken tofu salad from Hana Asbrink a good choice for dinner. Serve it with greens or with rice noodles tossed in some of the dressing.

Serves: 4 to 6

Total time: 20 minutes


For the salad:

340-400g silken tofu, chilled

2 to 3 ripe medium peaches

3 to 4 ripe medium tomatoes

Flaky sea salt

15g packed fresh basil leaves

2 tbsp fresh mint leaves

Black pepper

For the dressing:

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sugar


1. Prepare the tofu: carefully drain the tofu in its packaging, then remove the tofu. Gently wrap it with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to absorb excess moisture and set it on a plate.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the peaches and tomatoes: pit and cut each peach into 2½cm-thick wedges, then core and cut each tomato into 2½cm-thick wedges. Place tomatoes and peaches on a serving platter, pouring any tomato or peach juices from the cutting board over the dish. Season generously with flaky sea salt to draw out juices.

3. Remove the tofu from the paper towels and place it back on the plate. Using a large spoon, scoop out tofu mounds onto the tomatoes and peaches. Season tofu with flaky sea salt.

4. Prepare the dressing: in a small glass jar, combine dressing ingredients, cover and shake to combine. Spoon 4 tablespoons of the dressing over the tomatoes, peaches and tofu. Extra dressing can be served alongside.

5. Just before serving, stack together the basil and mint leaves and roughly chop. Top the salad with chopped herbs and black pepper. Serve immediately, taking care to spoon extra dressing and juices from the bottom of the platter.

Pasta with tuna, capers and spring onions

Cheap, chic and easy to make (Getty/iStock)

This Melissa Clark dish says “I’m having a light meal on Mediterranean island”, and you can buy most of the ingredients at the supermarket. Cheap and chic, and easy to make, too.

Serves: 3 to 4

Total time: 30 minutes



340g long, thin pasta, such as bucatini, spaghetti or linguine

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 spring onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated

6 to 10 anchovies, chopped

3 tbsp drained capers

60g torn fresh herbs, such as parsley and dill, or celery leaves, plus more for serving (optional)

1 (140-170g) tin tuna, drained

Red-pepper flakes, for serving

Lemon wedges, for serving


1. In a well-salted pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain, saving 1 cup pasta water.

2. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium. Add garlic and spring onion whites, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add anchovies and capers and cook until anchovies melt and capers and garlic turn golden, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Add ½ cup pasta water, let it reduce until there is just a little left in the pan, then add pasta and herbs and toss well to coat. Add tuna and toss well.

3. Serve with red-pepper flakes on top, more herbs, spring onion greens, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing.

Vegan coconunt-ginger black beans

Beans are extremely affordable, especially if you buy them dried (Getty/iStock)

In addition to being enormously versatile and climate-friendly, beans tend to be pretty affordable, especially if you start with dried beans. You can feed yourself handsomely with recipes like this one, from Ali Slagle, which pairs black beans with coconut milk, a classic combination found in various cuisines.

Serves: 4

Total time: 30 minutes


2 (425g) tins black beans

2 tbsp coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil

1½ tsp ground cumin or coriander

1 (7½cm piece) fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (about 3 tbsp)

1 (370g) tin full-fat coconut milk

Salt and black pepper

45g plantain chips or toasted coconut flakes

1 tsp lime zest plus 2 tbsp juice (from 1 lime)

Hot sauce, for serving (optional)


1. Rinse 1 tin of black beans, and set aside. In a large saucepan, heat the coconut oil over medium. Add the cumin and half of the ginger and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the rinsed black beans and the remaining whole tin of black beans (including the liquid), and the coconut milk; season generously with salt and pepper.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft and the mixture is flavorful, 15 to 20 minutes (if you want a thicker consistency, smash some of the beans with the back of a spoon as the mixture cooks, and simmer longer).

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, crumble the plantain chips into bite-size pieces. Add the lime zest and a few generous grinds of black pepper, and stir to combine.

4. Remove the beans from the heat. Stir in the remaining ginger and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the lime juice a little at a time until the beans taste bright but the coconut flavor is still rich. Top with the seasoned plantain chips and serve with hot sauce for more kick.

Caramelised-spring onion noodles

This quick recipe ticks a lot of boxes (Getty/iStock)

This Francis Lam recipe checks a lot of boxes. It’s cost-effective. It’s make-ahead, in large part (the sauce will keep in your refrigerator for weeks). It’s customisable for eaters of all ages. It’s an excellent vehicle for leftover meat and vegetables. And it’s completely delicious! Make it!

Serves: 2

Total time: 20 minutes



170g Chinese broccoli (or other cooking greens), cut into 5cm pieces

280g fresh noodles (or 170g dry pasta)

6 tbsp caramelised-spring onion sauce (find recipe online), or to taste

85-115g cooked chicken, ham, tofu, mushrooms or whatever meaty thing you like, sliced, warm

2 soft-boiled eggs, halved

Oyster sauce, to taste

Soy sauce, to taste

Raw ginger or spicy pickles of your choice, julienne, for garnish


1. Bring a pot of water to boil, and salt it well. Cook the Chinese broccoli until tender, about 4 minutes. Scoop the greens out with a skimmer, and dry well. Keep the water boiling.

2. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. As soon as they’re drained, return them to the empty pot, off heat, and dress them with 6 tablespoons of the caramelised-spring onion sauce or to taste. Season with salt, if desired.

3. Divide the noodles into bowls, and top with the Chinese broccoli, the chicken (or whatever protein you choose) and the eggs. Drizzle oyster sauce on the Chinese broccoli, and season the eggs with a few drops of soy sauce. Top with a few pinches of julienne ginger or pickles, and serve immediately.

© The New York Times

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