Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cheap Healthy Master Recipes: Eight Versatile Dishes Entirely Adaptable to Your Tastes

Cooking at home is a stellar way to drop weight and save money at the same time. Consequently, there are a few basic recipes every frugal, healthy eater should have in her repertoire; recipes that are cheap, simple to make, and easily tailored to fit specific tastes. Recipes like (coincidentally): chili, salsa, frittatas, dip, soup, and all kinds of pasta, bean, and grain salads.

What follows, then, are master recipes for those eight dishes. We give you the ratios and cooking instructions, you provide the ingredients. What you should know about them:
  • I made all of 'em up, based on experience. If there are problems with the directions, it’s totally my fault (and please let me know). If there are issues with the ingredients, er, remember: experimenting is fun!
  • Try to match flavors you think will go well together, like tomato/basil, olives/feta, or lime/cilantro.
  • Try to avoid flavors that might bomb together, like capers/cucumbers, parmesan/apple cider vinegar, or broccoli/olives.
  • Cost and nutritional calculations will vary based on individual tastes, so add what’s best for you.
  • This doesn’t include Amy Dacyczyn’s universal casserole recipe, because I’ve never attempted it myself. However, many zillions of other cooks swear by it, and the directions can be found in this Simple Dollar post.
Before we get to the festivities, do you have any favorite master recipes? Post ‘em in the comment section!

Grain Salad
1 cup whole grain, uncooked
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or citrus juice
1 cup fresh vegetables, chopped small
2 or 3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 or 3 tablespoons fresh leafy herbs, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/8 to 1/4 cup chopped add-ons.

Cook grain as directed. Drain (if necessary) and spread on a pan or cutting board to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk olive oil and vinegar/citrus together. Add cooked grain, chopped veggies, and scallions. Stir to combine. Add herbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir again. Top with add-ons.

Grain suggestions: quinoa, barley, bulgur wheat, etc.
Fresh veggie suggestions: tomato, avocado, corn, etc.
Fresh herb suggestions: parsley, basil, cilantro, tarragon, etc.
Add-on suggestions: dried fruit, chopped nuts, crumbled cheese, etc.


6 large egg whites
1 large egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup any grated cheese
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/2 to 3/4 cup veggies, chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup diced onion

In a small bowl, whisk eggs and cheese together with a little salt and pepper. In an oven-safe medium pan, saute vegetables (except onion) in 1 teaspoon olive oil. When tender, remove from pan. Add remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil. Saute onions until a little soft and translucent. Spread onions out in pan. Add egg mixture. Let set, about 3 or 4 minutes, or until the sides start to firm up a bit. Sprinkle veggie mixture evenly over top. Broil 2 or 3 minutes until risen and slightly browned. Remove pan from oven and immediately remove frittata from pan. Serve.

Fresh veggie suggestions: mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, etc.
NOTE: if using pre-cooked veggies (roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, etc.), skip the sauté part and just arrange them on top of frittata before it hits the broiler
NOTE #2: you can sprinkle the cheese on top (after the vegetables) before placing the pan in the broiler if you wish.


Turkey & Bean Chili
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
2 cans (14-oz) beans, drained and rinsed
1 or 2 cans (14-oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon cumin
Cayenne pepper to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until a little soft and translucent, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add turkey and saute until browned. Add beans, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Drop heat to medium low, and simmer until desired consistency, at least 30 minutes. Serve with desired toppings.

Bean suggestions: black, pinto, kidney, white
Optional bulk items: corn, pumpkin puree, sautéed bell peppers
Optional flavorings: beer, 1 teaspoon cocoa powder, diced chipotle in adobo
Optional toppings: cilantro, low-fat sour cream, diced red onion, shredded cheese


Bean Salad
2 cans (14.5-oz) beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup mixed crunchy vegetables, chopped small
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup fun add-ons

In a medium bowl, whisk vinegar and olive oil together. Add beans, vegetables, and scallions. Stir well. Add herbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir again. Top with add-ons. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Bean suggestions: chickpeas, black beans, cannelini beans, etc.
Crunchy vegetable suggestions: corn, bell pepper, red onion, celery, cucumber, etc.
Vinegar suggestions: white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, etc.
Fresh herb suggestions: cilantro, parsley, rosemary, basil, etc.
Add-on suggestions: feta cheese, olives, etc.


Pureed Vegetable Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
3 or 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 pounds root vegetables or winter squash, chopped into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions. Saute 4 or 5 minutes, until soft and a little translucent. Add garlic. Saute until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add stock and vegetables. Bring to a boil, turn heat to medium-low, and simmer until vegetables are tender. Once tender, puree soup with an immersion or regular blender until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. If it’s a little too watery, let cook for another few minutes so liquid can reduce.

Root vegetable suggestions: potatoes, butternut squash, turnips, carrots, etc.
Optional seasonings: curry powder, brown sugar, nutmeg, etc.
Optional toppings: drizzle of olive oil, drizzle heavy cream, cilantro, etc.
NOTE: Alternately, you can roast the veggies in a 400°F oven until tender, add them to the boiling stock, and simmer for 20 minutes.


8-16 ounces tomatoes, chopped small
6-8 ounces bulk veggie, legume, or both mixed together (optional)
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup any onion, diced small
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 or 2 tablespoons lime juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Salt and pepper to taste.

Bulk veggie/legume suggestions: corn, bell peppers, tomatillos, avocados, black beans
Onion suggestions: shallots, yellow onion, red onion


Bean Dip
1 can beans, drained and rinsed
1 small clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons fat-free chicken broth, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine beans, garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon broth in a food processor. Puree, adding additional olive oil and chicken broth as needed, until you reach the consistency you like. Salt and pepper to taste.

Bean suggestions: chickpeas, cannellinis, pinto beans, etc.
Optional flavorings: lemon juice, cayenne pepper, tahini, cumin, curry, wilted spinach, roasted red peppers, cilantro, balsamic vinegar


Mayo-less Pasta Salad
1 lb medium-sized pasta, uncooked
3 or 4 cups assorted vegetables, chopped
1/4 olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar or citrus juice
1/4 to 1/3 cup parsley, cilantro, or basil, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup add-ons

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk olive oil and vinegar/juice together. Add pasta and veggies. Stir to combine. Add herbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir again. Top with add-ons.

Pasta suggestions: penne, rotini, farfalle, wagon wheels, etc.
Veggie suggestions: bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, scallions, etc.
Vinegar suggestions: white wine, balsamic, red wine, etc.
Add-on suggestions: olives, crumbled cheese, pine nuts, capers, etc.
Optional seasonings: red pepper flakes

And that’s a wrap. What about you, sweet readers? Do you have any master recipes to share? We’d love to hear, and the comment section is open.

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Laura said...

Another fantastic post, although it's a little early in the day and a little soon after breakfast to read something like "broccoli/olives." [gagging] Thanks for this list!

Kat said...

What a great idea! Thanks for the recipe ideas.

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

Okay, that's it. I officially have a crush on you now. I LOVE these recipes and can't wait to try them. You're so right about cooking at home and losing weight and staying healthier.... I've lost eight pounds in the last eight weeks just from doing some healthier, plan-ahead meals. It's made such a positive difference. Now I'm just looking for more easy and healthy things to try. I'll definitely be checking in with you often. Thanks so much! ~Mandy

Anna N said...

Great ideas! I'm adding the frittata and bean salad to my to-cook list. My favorite master recipe is Mark Bittman's bean burgers. Leigh posted it in Veggie Might, but I use the non-vegan version, which is here:

You can use any kind of bean at all, and any spice mix you like: chili powder, adobo powder, chipotle powder, cajun spice mix, barbecue spice mix, harissa paste, or probably others that I'm not thinking of.

BTW, I am obviously strange because none of the flavor combinations you said to avoid seem out of the question to me. A broccoli/olive/feta frittata sounds tasty. Or a Greek pasta salad with cucumbers, capers, and feta. Parmesan and apple cider vinegar, ok, that's a little weird, but I think it could work in a pasta salad.

virginia said...

I am big on mashups of these items as well, such as bean salad + grain salad. Yay for healthy flexibility!

Kathi In NJ said...


Kate E. said...

This is a great post! Thanks!

Kris said...

Thanks, you guys! If you know anymore (stir fries, pasta bakes, etc.), bring 'em on.

Kitter said...

Oh my, like half of these have been on my "to figure out" list. And I've been getting with recipes because I never have all the ingredients on hand. This is so perfect! Thank you so much!

Becky said...

Something I've wanted to improve on for some time is improvising in the kitchen. You're my new cooking best friend now!

wosnes said...

I LOVE master recipes. Pam Anderson's (not THAT Pam Anderson) How to Cook Without a Book and the Fine Cooking magazine's series "Cooking Without Recipes" are favorites of mine.

wosnes said...

Just read your last comment Kris -- Pam Anderson's book has a master recipe for stir-fry. Some of Pam Anderson's master recipes have appeared in her column CookSmart at

I'd have to go through my clippings from the magazine, but I think Fine Cooking might have had one for pasta bakes.

Fine Cooking does have this feature online, but I much prefer the one in the magazine. I don't subscribe, but only buy the issues with the Cooking Without Recipes feature. I went through their back issues to find all of them.

Kristen said...

Wosnes, excellent. Fine Cooking seems to come up more and more in comments and discussions lately. I wonder if it's filling the void left by Gourmet.

marie said...

Um, I just have to add that steamed broccoli and greek olives and lemon juice is very very tasty together! That is all.

AmyinMotown said...

YUM!! I love bean salads and grain salads and yet can never get the ratios right when I wing it. and the local gourmet market charges an actual arm, leg and firstborn child for these (and I like my firstborn child). It's more of a summer thing for me -- I love having a smorgasbord of cold things on brutally hot days.

Katherine said...

I always pack a version of the grain salad for a class I have at night. Here's something I make for dinner at least once a week that really lends itself to what your cupboard holds:

Kathleen said...

This is my first visit to this site and it is refreshing to read an article that takes into consideration the benefits of healthy cooking and coming up with ingenious and simple ways to prepare healthy foods. These simple recipes can be incorporated easily into our everyday lives and provide endless benefits to our health. With a population that is growing wider by the day, I commend you in taking the initiate to help educate society with healthier alternatives instead of unhealthy, fast food options. It baffles me why so many people still opt for processed, full of fat options when they can use these simple, cheap and healthy alternatives. These recipes look fantastic and I can’t wait to try them. Thanks again for being an advocate of healthy cooking!

Lindsey said...

This is out of control the best thing I've read in weeks. It is being printed for nonstop use. Go, you!

Jerry said...

I absolutely love your site. I found it looking for a good veggie burger and now I see you again connected to a PF blog. You are popular! We eat healthy and cheap because it's good for us and insurance for our wallets, as well. And, my wife and I are always looking for ways to pare down our food expenses. Thanks for the ideas. I'm sure they will lead to some yummy dinners!