Blog: #3 – The Greatest Cheap Meal in the World

“Americans spend more time watching cooking on the Food Network than actually preparing their own meals.Mark Hyman, MD, Practicing physician Posted: on the NYT Website January 9, 2011 10:42 AM  (A great article)

Cooking real food is both healthier and cheaper. Did you know that home-cooked foods contain on average a lower percentage of calories from fat than food prepared away from home?  (Dept. of Agriculture)

Don’t convince yourself you don’t have time. The average American spends 35 hours a week in front of a television set.  Of course I know that none of my readers spend that much time in front of their television sets.  Whatever.  You can find a hour a day for food preparation, which is all you need … just seven hours a week. (more later) In fact, people with normal weights spend only 6.8 minutes more than overweight people shopping for and preparing food. (Dept. of Agriculture)

Mark Bittman writes: “KFC Chicken Pot Pie, which costs about $5.00 . . . contains nearly 700 calories, more than half of which come from fat; and has as well over 50 ingredients — most of which cannot be purchased by normal consumers anywhere — including things like ‘chicken pot pie flavor’ and MSG.” (Mark Bittman , NYT 01/02/2011).

12 Year old hamburger doesn’t appear to have changed much. This picture is making the rounds of the foodies blogs.  Here’s the link for the complete story.

Why don’t the buns change much?  According to McDonald’s website, their hamburger buns consist of: “Enriched flour, (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes), water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, yeast, soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated soybean oil, contains 2% or less of the following: salt, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide, soy flour), calcium propionate and sodium propionate (preservatives), soy lecithin.”  Calcium sulfate is plaster of paris.  But at less than $3.50 almost anywhere, it’s certainly cheap!

White Bean Ragout is one great alternative. The ingredients cost about $5.00 and you’re getting 8 rich, full meals for about $.65 each!

White Bean Ragout

White Bean Ragout

White Bean Ragout is a recipe I adapted from Wolfgang Puck’s Live, Love, Eat! (Random House 2002).  He serves the ragout with sauteed greens and pan seared sea bass. Even without the sea bass and sauteed greens, Bean Ragout has everything you need to survive in the most healthy way possible: a good protein source in beans and a wide range of vegetables —  onions, garlic, carrots, celery and greens.  Meat eaters can add panchetta and chicken stock, but even Vegans can eat the basic White Bean Ragout.


1 1/2 Cup Dry White Beans

1 lb. or about 1 ½  cups of white beans  (Soaked overnight)
1 large red onion (white will do in a pinch)
2 medium sized carrots
2 or 3 stalks of celery
2 bunches of greens (anything from spinach to Siberian Kale)
¼ cup of olive oil (or render the fat from ¼ lb. of panchetta).
¼ cup fresh chopped garlic
Salt and pepper to taste.


Pour off the soaking water, rinse the beans and remove any bad ones.  Put the beans in saucepan, cover with water and simmer gently for about 40 minutes, until the beans are beginning to soften.  I say “about,” because freshly dried beans cook much faster than ones that have been stored for a long time.

While the beans are cooking, chop the vegetables into a rough ¼ inch dice.  The pile of raw vegetables should about equal the pile of cooked beans.

Heat a saucepan and add the olive oil or render the panchetta by cutting into small dice and cooking until brown.  Add the finely chopped garlic and saute until the garlic begins to give off some flavor, then add the other vegetables and cook until tender, ten minutes or so.

Combine the beans and vegetable.  Add enough liquid to cover generously.  You can use water, but for a more nutritious and tasty dish use vegetable, chicken or beef stock (it will be at least two to three cups).

Cook for another forty minutes or until the beans are very tender.  Ten to twenty minutes before the beans are done (depending on the greens) add two bunches of greens cut into thin strips.  If you use spinach, it will cook very quickly.

Season with salt and generous amounts of pepper.  Serve with grated parmesan cheese and/or hot sauce, fresh bread and a green salad.

I divide this batch into eight individual portions and freeze them.  (For purposes of freezing keep the final mixture fairly fluid.  The beans are delicious after being frozen, but they pick up more liquid and can be a bit dry when thawed out.)  The individual portions are perfect for lunch, and the delicious, natural smells from your White Bean Ragout will be the envy of the the office microwave crowd, heating up their Weight Watcher specials.

Beans, Lentils and Dried Peas

Beans, lentils and dried peas are great sources of very cheap protein, particularly the beans.  They are easy to make, but you do have to plan ahead.  Dried legumes like to be soaked overnight (although there are ways around that) and long, slow cooking is helpful, but they don’t need much attention. Just a stir every once and a while to make sure they aren’t burning.   Some cooks, like my son Zeke, prepare beans much more quickly in a pressure cooker, but I’m not a pressure cooker cook!

About Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch is a journalist and filmmaker who is now teaching at Montgomery Community College
This entry was posted in Recipes and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Blog: #3 – The Greatest Cheap Meal in the World

  1. John Whiting says:

    “Some cooks, like my son Zeke, prepare beans much more quickly in a pressure cooker, but I’m not a pressure cooker cook!”

    I’ve just done two pounds of haricot beans for my annual cassoulet in the pressure cooker. Took 12 minutes. A couple of days ago I did all the meats except the duck and toulouse sausages — shoulder of mutton, belly of pork, pig’s feet — in the pressure cooker in about an hour. The recipe that used to be spread out over most of a week now takes me a couple of half-days. I could do it all in a single day if I worked my butt off.

  2. Galen says:

    We use a pressure cooker all the time when we make beans. We usually soak them during the day and cook them at night about 10 minutes. Much easier than the stove method and taste the same I think.

  3. John Whiting says:

    Our pressure cooker is large and expensive (somewhere well over $200 now) but it’s much more than paid for itself in fuel bills, let alone time. (My time once actually had a monetary value! 🙂 )

  4. Domenic says:

    Hi there, I read your new stuff regularly. Your humoristic style is awesome, keep it up!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s