Budget busting chef Jack Monroe knows how to whip up great, nutritious food to tight margins. In darker days, the keen food blogger and now cookbook author had just £10 a week to feed both herself and her little boy. We asked the ‘poster-girl of austerity’ her top 10 store cupboard ingredients… and she gave us 11!
The top store cupboard ingredient would be rice. It’s much more versatile than people think – you can make risotto out of it, paella, a pilaf, rice pudding, rice fritters… yes, I love a bit of rice! And it’s so cheap – 40p per kilo if you’re okay with white rice. People might say you should be eating brown, but really there are plenty worse things out there.
2. Chopped tomatoes
I go into a bit of a panic if I don’t have chopped tomatoes to hand: you can blitz them up into a soup, make a pasta sauce, a curry or a tagine. So if I’ve got a can of tomatoes in the house I’m good to make dinner. If I’m feeling a bit uninspired and there are no tomatoes I might get in a flap! Look at the price, too. 30p for a good quality tin of tomatoes.
3. Dark chocolate
It’s one those things that sounds a little luxurious but it’s really not. You only need a couple of squares of it to get a really good underlying taste. You can use it in chilli, stews, in baking, or you can dice it up and spread it onto some white toast in the morning – that’s a lovely treat.
Wine or beer – they don’t need to be too expensive; you can get cooking wine from supermarkets for around a pound or a big bottle of table wine for about £3.50. You can get four cans of beer for a quid from most supermarket basics/value ranges. It’s pretty nasty stuff to drink but great in a casserole.
5. Woody herbs
I always have a woody herb on the go. So that would be rosemary or thyme growing on my window ledge. As an alternative, dried herbs start at about 30p per pack – that’s incredible flavour for very little money.
6. Fresh herbs
Parsley, basil or coriander go a long way. I’ll cook around what I’ve got but they can help transform simple ingredients into something tasty.
I use oil instead of butter when I’m cooking – vegetable or sunflower oil for everything, never olive oil. I think we came into a bit of an olive oil love-in in this country a few years ago where all the chefs started to use it and everybody raved about it. And okay, if I go out to a restaurant I like dunking some bread in some good olive oil, but to cook with every day you just need regular oil. People think olive oil is so much better for you but I use reverse psychology: if you use the oil that is worse for you you’re going to use less of it anyway.
8. Baked beans
When baked beans are about 22p a can and a can of cannellini beans comes in at around 70p, you don’t have to be a genius to work out you can have over three times as many beans if you just give them a quick spritz under the tap.
9. Kidney beans
Kidney beans are another popular bean. I can use them in chilli, make falafels, burgers, salads, and to pad out rice dishes. I love the texture, and they’re really filling.
Great for padding out, lining and thickening dishes.
11. Frozen vegetables
Okay, so technically they wouldn’t be in my cupboard, but frozen green vegetables are an absolute Godsend. They’re so much cheaper than fresh vegetables and because a lot of them are frozen at source or within a couple of hours of being picked, most of the time they’re going to be fresher – not piled into crates and thrown onto lorries or aeroplanes. So I always have some frozen veg hanging round. They’re still nutritious, make no mistake, and so much cheaper than fresh equivalents.
Do you agree with Jack’s hitlist? What would you never be without in your cupboards? We’d love to hear your ideas…