• Leah Wong

Thrifty cooking

I'm loving the #thrifty theme this week. It's something I try to keep in mind regardless of my income. Not only does it mean I can save money for treats, it also tends to mean less waste, and therefore more environmentally friendly.


I've had some amazing finds from charity shops. I raid them every time I go back to the UK! Clothes, books, kitchenware. There's all sorts there. While I love my Kindle, nothing quite beats exploring a shelf of second band books. I'm a recipe book addict and charity shops are full of them. There are online second hand book shops too. Perfect for harder to find or newer recipe books that haven't filtered through to charity shops yet.


But this is all by the bye. Where I excel on the thrifty front is in the kitchen. I think it comes down to my Buddhist background. I'm not religious at all, but Chinese food and culture are closely tied to Buddhist principles. Wasting food is a no-no, ingredients should be respected, and all parts of the animal should be used. It's the original nose-to-tail food culture. After a very expensive week of wine shopping in Burgundy, a bit of thrifty cooking is definitely in order.


I try to eat vegetarian or free range, choose the most unpopular cuts, and try to do my own butchery where possible so I can make the most of food. I went into more detail about it in my quarantine cooking post here. That was slightly different because availability was a lot more restricted. That isn't really the case anymore, but there are still plenty of lessons to be learnt from quarantine cooking.


As with many things, the first rule is planning. This is the best way of wasting as little as possible, and saving money. Check your cupboard first. What do you have in, and what can you do with it? Pulses, pasta, rice and noodles are cheap store cupboard staples. Make sure to have a look at the freezer and fridge too. I use my freezer for some frozen veg, leftovers, and portions of meat or fish. After a few games of Russian roulette with what was in the freezer, I started to keep a list and planning meals around it. It sounds a little...anal... but it does mean I get through ingredients in the freezer!


Shop around if possible. I live on the border with Geneva so it all tends to be really expensive. Luckily, Lidl and Carrefour are very close to me, and I have two Asian supermarkets, plus the local Saturday market. Lidl sells a lot of Label Rouge meat and has changing offers on fish, fruit/veg, wine, cheese etc. Be flexible and make the most of these offers, but only if you know you're going to use the ingredients. It's a false economy otherwise. Asian supermarkets tend to be great for things like spices, rice and noodles. A large bag of spices will only be a few euros in the Asian supermarket, but will the same price as a small jar in the supermarket!


As controversial as this might sound to some, you don't need to eat meat every day! It's very expensive in France, and cutting down can have health and environmental benefits. With all the different types of cheese in France, you can have indulgent treats without meat! Just leave me alone with bread, cheese and chutney and I'm in heaven. I do still love meat, but now appreciate high quality portions a few times a week, rather than cheap meat every day. Another Chinese trick is to use a little meat to flavour a meal, rather than have it as the main ingredient. Try chorizo, bacon or smoked salmon trimmings with lentils, beans, pasta, eggs etc.

I could go on with suggestions, but perhaps the most important one for me is to waste nothing. We've seen Donna's frittata, and there are a whole host of other options too. Try hash, pie, quiche, pasta, a stir fry. There are loads of options. Odds and ends of cheese will make a great pasta sauce. Leftover veg can be thrown into a hash and served with poached eggs (surely everything is better once it's been fried in butter?). Leftover rice is perfect for fried rice. Soup can be made from absolutely anything and made special with coconut milk, spices, or a topping (think garlic and herb breadcrumbs, grated parmesan or truffle oil).

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