Affordable Nutrition: A Recipe

This week, I’ll be talking about eating healthfully and affordably. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart! My first few years out of college, I worked as a reporter at tiny weekly newspapers, for about what the current federal minimum wage is. I had a small rent, a small car payment, small credit card payment, small student loan payment…and a small food budget.

My total food budget was about $30 a week. From what I remember, I included things like toilet paper and dish soap in this budget, but when I occasionally ate out I drew from my limited entertainment budget.
I was mostly vegetarian at that time, mostly because beans are a lot cheaper than meat! I made some misguided nutritional decisions back then (like eating too many veggie sandwiches on cheap white flour Kaiser rolls from the supermarket bakery), but on the whole the meals I shopped for and cooked were pretty nutritious, and tasty, too. I remember a lot of bean tostadas, hearty salads, homemade soups and vegetarian stews. 
Below is one of my favorites, a recipe that stayed in heavy rotation for a good while even after Jeff and I moved in together, combined incomes, and moved up a notch careerwise and incomewise. It’s adapted from one of my early cookbook acquisitions, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. It is tasty, hearty and healthy. It’s easy to prepare, quick to cook, and is particularly frugal if you make a point of stocking up on canned goods when they are on sale. And I’m pleasant to discover that it’s still a great recipe, even after all these years!

Red, Gold, Black and Green Chili
Serves 4-6 generously

1/2 cup bulgur
1/2 cup hot water
2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 generous teaspoon ground cumin
1 generous teaspoon ground chili powder
1 tablespoon Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 cups fresh or frozen cut corn
1 14-ounce can black beans, drained (or 1.5 cups cooked from scratch)
1 14-ounce can kidney beans, drained (or 1.5 cups cooked from scratch)
salt to taste
grated cheddar or jack cheese (optional)
chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

  1. Place bulgur, hot water and about a cup of juice from the canned tomatoes in a small sauce pan. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Saute the onions, garlic, cumin, chili powder and Tabasco (or cayenne). When the onions are soft, stir in the green bell peppers and saute for 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the diced tomatoes, the corn and the beans to the pan, stir to combine, and heat thoroughly on low heat. 
  3. Taste the bulgur. When it is cooked but still chewy, add it to the pan with its liquid. Cover and simmer for a few minutes for the flavors to meld. Add salt to taste.
  4. Serve plain or topped with grated cheese and cilantro.