I am a member of a community of health and dietitian bloggers called The Recipe Redux. The Recipe Redux was founded by registered dietitians Regan Jones (of ReganMillerJones, Inc.), Serena Ball and Deanna Segrave-Daly (both of Teaspoon Communications). The Latin “redux” means to revisit or reinvent, and the aim of The Recipe Redux is to reinvent the idea of healthy eating with a taste-first approach.
On the 21st and 22nd of each month, members of this community receive a unique recipe challenge. This month’s challenge:
Budget-Friendly Eats: How low can you go? Can you make a meal for less than $3 per serving? Whatever your budget, show us your healthy entree recipe to help keep food spending in check in 2017.
For my budget-friendly meal, I made saag tofu, a riff on the Indian dish known as saag paneer. This dish is usually made with a type of cheese called paneer, but this twist uses tofu instead.
The main ingredients include frozen spinach, tofu, onion, garlic and spices, with a little whole milk yogurt stirred in at the end for creaminess. After totaling all of the ingredients, this recipe comes out to about $2.57 per serving, including a side of quinoa. I even used organic tofu, yogurt, and onion, and some of my spices were organic. The frozen spinach, garlic, and some of the spices were conventional.
I love going out to eat, but cooking at home most of the time is healthy for your body and your wallet.
Once you have a base of spices and oils in your pantry, you can mix and match them to amp up recipes with flavor. Using spices in cooking helps cut down on added salt, and a lot of spices, especially turmeric, are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Keep other staples like frozen fruits and vegetables, canned or dried beans or lentils, yogurt, cheese, and whole grains in the house to set you up for success in the kitchen.
This recipe may be budget friendly, but there are still quite a few steps involved during the cooking process. The end result is well worth it, though, I promise.
The first step of the recipe involves wrapping a block of extra firm tofu in a towel and placing something heavy on top to help drain off excess liquid from the tofu. It sits for 20 minutes, then gets cut into small cubes.
Next, marinate the tofu cubes in a mixture of oil, turmeric, pepper flakes, and salt and then sauté until golden.
Another key part to the recipe is to sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger until deep golden brown. Let them keep cooking for 10 to 15 minutes before adding in a spice mixture of ground coriander, cumin, and garam masala. This is the real flavor base for the recipe.
In goes the thawed spinach with a little water. At the end, slowly (so it does not curdle) stir in some room temperature whole milk yogurt (you can take the yogurt out of the refrigerator when you start pressing the tofu in the beginning). Add the sautéed tofu back and let everything simmer for a few more minutes.
Serve with quinoa for a fiber and protein-rich, and yes, still budget friendly, side.
The whole milk yogurt adds richness to the dish. I would not recommend a non-fat or even a low-fat yogurt. Splurge on the good whole milk yogurt. A little goes a long way.
To keep the recipe entirely vegan, use coconut milk instead of yogurt. You could also use chickpeas instead of tofu for a variation.
Maybe the next time I make this I will try it with homemade paneer instead of the tofu! Who wants to join me in the homemade cheese fun?!
adapted from Aarti Sequeria
1 14-oz package extra firm tofu, drained ($1.99)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric ($0.28)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes ($0.02)
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste ($0.06)
3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil ($0.98)
16-oz package frozen spinach ($1.69)
1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped ($0.79)
1 1-inch thumb fresh ginger, peeled and grated/minced (1 tablespoon) ($0.15)
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced ($0.24)
1/2 teaspoon garam masla ($0.13)
2 teaspoons coriander ($0.35)
1 teaspoon cumin ($0.18)
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt (room temperature) ($0.42)
1 cup dry quinoa ($2.99)
total price (including the quinoa) = $10.27 / 4 servings = $2.57 per serving
Take the yogurt out of the refrigerator to bring to room temperature.
Wrap the tofu block in a clean kitchen towel and place something heavy on top (I used a kettle filled with water to weigh it down). Let it sit for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the turmeric, pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon of salt with 3 tablespoons of oil. Cut the tofu into small cubes, add it to the spice/oil mixture and toss until the tofu is completely coated. Let sit in the marinade for at least 20 minutes.
Place spinach on a large microwave-safe bowl or plate and microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes, until thawed. Finely chop the spinach on a cutting board, or place it in a food processor for a more ‘pureed’ texture. Set aside.
Place a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat, and add the marinated tofu as the pan warms. In a couple of minutes give the pan a toss. Continue sautéing for another few minutes, until the tofu is starting to brown on one side, then remove onto a plate and set aside.
Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to the skillet with the onions, ginger, and garlic and sauté for 10 to 15 minutes until the onions are deeply golden brown. If the mixture looks dry and is starting to burn, add a tablespoon of water and lower the heat slightly.
**While the onion is cooking, start preparing the quinoa. Boil 2 cups water, add the quinoa and reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork when done.
Add the garam masala, coriander, and cumin and cook another 3 to 5 minutes, adding another tablespoon water to the pan as needed to keep the spices from burning.
Add the chopped spinach and stir. Add a few pinches of salt and 1/2 cup water, stir and cook for about 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for a minute. Slowly, add the yogurt, a little at a time to keep it from curdling, until it is well mixed into the spinach. Turn the heat back on, cover and cook until everything is warmed through, about 5 minutes.
Serve the saag tofu with the quinoa.