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Dining on a budget

Zubin Dsouza

Almost everyone has been discussing the dismal economic state and of course skyrocketing prices.

A price rise is normally a positive indicator if it accompanies a rise in salary and standards of living of the average citizen. Unfortunately our recent history has only witnessed a raise in spending without any accompanying good cheer.

Waist belts are being tightened across the nation and spending has dropped dramatically. In a country that was at one point in time considered extremely upwardly mobile and upbeat, the steady decline has caused most to sigh and think about the prosperous old days.

Unfortunately bad times demand action and not pity.

You can get a move on and deal with the economy or you can learn ways to cope with your meagre resources. Wallowing in self pity is not an option.

Being a chef, food budgeting is the only approach I have, if I was left in charge of the economy, I would probably have bankrupted the country a while back.

Also tight spends on food or eating has a very personal connect with me.

I was not born into a family of privilege.

Heck, we grew up with large shares of nothing to our name.

Whilst we were growing up, finances were extremely tight. My parents were both diligently hard working and the highly educated types but they could be easily conned into working for less pay or for a deferred payment which never arrived. Food was not exactly a luxury but not easy to come by either. I learnt to value and appreciate food at an early age and becoming a chef was just the next step. Snapping close at the heels to this primary reason was the obvious assumption that as a chef I would never really go hungry.

Although situations have changed considerably, there are lessons I learnt in frugality that I would like to share. Being cost conscious does not necessarily imply that you are cheap but merely that you are deriving the fullest potential of all the resources at your disposal.

Your first mantra should be ‘waste not – want not’. It has stood me and many others in good stead and may do so for you as well. There are ways to recycle leftovers. Be creative and you will wonder why you had contemplated serving them to Fido.

A vegetable stew could be used to stuff hollowed out baked potatoes; the potato that has been hollowed out could turn into mashed potatoes which can get a new life when you add in mixed vegetables and seasoning and pan fry them and convert them into vegetable chops.

Vegetable chops can be simmered in an Indian style sauce akin to koftas which can then be used as a sandwich filling. If you still have leftovers after this as well, then you cook too much food in one go and that may be the source of your sorry state of finances.

Cook your own food. Scientists have linked those eating out on budget with some extremely dangerous diet-related diseases. These are mainly due to the fact that the budget dining sector normally is dominated by those involved in selling high fat, heavily fried food.

Buy produce in season as the quality is better and the prices are also reasonable when compared to off-season, freezer-stored vegetables.

Drink at least two glasses of water half an hour before your meal. This may sound like strange advice but then it takes twenty minutes for one’s stomach to send signals to the brain indicating that it is filling up. When one drinks water, the signal has reaches the brain prior to commencing the meal and one tends to eat a smaller and probably healthier portion size.

Stretch your food. Opt for a soup instead of a vegetable dish, use cheaper vegetables (like onions for example) to add bulk to the dish

Try and incorporate the less popular ingredients in your meal. In this situation, I urge you to think beetroot, white radish, sweet potatoes and raw jackfruit. When it comes to grains you have millets, barley, oats….not only are they healthier for you but they are relatively cheaper.

Get as many one-pot meals incorporated into your diet as possible. When you decide to eat a vegetable khichadi or an all-in-one stew, you are essentially eliminating the need for sides that tend to accompany meals.

Avoid simple sugars because they tend to make one hungrier much faster.

If all else fails and you are still crossing your budget, pretend you are on a starvation diet in preparation to walk the red carpet.

Categories: Zest
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