I’m beginning the cheap-healthy-food segment with something that’s not so healthy. Perhaps my version of healthy-ish doesn’t quite match everyone’s idea, or else I’m just a little too good to myself and like to overindulge.
Either way, my recipes never consist of one hundred and ten percent healthy meals because life is too short to eat a slab of tofu with a side of broccoli, and I think a little bit of bad mixed in with the good is harmless.
My motto is, as long as I know what’s inside my food, I feel good and it looks, seems and tastes good, then who cares. I used to live off burritos, pizzas and worse when I got free food at work, and when I wasn’t there it was usually something quick and easy or else a takeaway.
So, in my eyes, I’m a health guru now.
Since my first practical home economics class, where I perfected my macaroni cheese dish, I’ve loved cooking. I’ve not cooked constantly throughout my life, rather I’ve gone through phases of it. But now, a bit more health conscious and a lot more money conscious, cooking every meal has become a regular occurrence.
Most of my friends and family might assume I’m not that into cooking, but really it’s one thing that undoubtedly brings me joy. If you saw a list of my hobbies or favourite pastimes, eating would be first followed closely by cooking.
I love doing things with my hands, experimenting with ingredients, making others happy with my food and eating it myself. The best part is that it’s not really a luxury or a treat because we must eat to live. I, on the other hand, live to eat.
Food is necessary and nourishing, exciting and tasty. It can cheer up you up on a bad day, pass a boring afternoon or be an excuse to socialise.
Moving into my tiny studio flat in Spain has meant some adaptations were necessary. Before this I had cooked in proper adult kitchens with things like glazing brushes and garlic crushers, I’ve cooked in student-style flats with ok-ish knives and all the basics, I’ve cooked in Air Bnbs where even noodles were a struggle to make, I’ve even cooked in industrial-style kitchens in restaurants.
So, when I moved into my quaint studio, the lack of an oven and the two ring hob wasn’t the worst part. There was no kettle, no blender, no good knife or whisk, and until last week, no toaster.
I was immediately forced to improvise and change the way I looked at meals I would call my go-to’s and find new things that required two pots and two hobs at most.
It was extremely frustrating at first but a little bit of money and a lot of improvisation later, I made it work. Now I see ovens as extravagant rarities (which I know is not true, I just think I’ve forgotten how to use one – I mean, who knew how convenient a microwave could be?).
I can tell you now, I do not own any measuring apparatuses unless of course, you count the bottom part of my lemon squeezer which kindly has a 600ml mark that allows me to guess from there.
When I use cup measurements, I mean the basic Ikea cups that every house has, with the teeny handle that may as well be non-existent because no one’s finger fits through it. So most my measurements are for interpretation and I’m sure like me, you can wing it too.
I shop mostly in Lidl, apart from the occasional last-minute dash to the corner shop or fruit and vegetable stall, so all my prices are based on that.
Living in Spain, I’m aware that these prices might vary from other countries (especially the fruit and veg at times) but the prices I use are rough and I don’t doubt that you can find it somewhere (unless you live in the desert). After all, with little money comes organisation, research, and planning.
Today’s recipe is my quickly-becoming signature Mushroom and Sundried-tomato Risotto dish. For the 5 separate occasions that I’ve served it to someone other than myself, it’s gone down well. It’s comforting and hearty, filling and deliciously tasty. It’s perfect for a warming meal after a long day, my current go-to comfort meal.
Up until a few months ago, I hated risotto thinking of it as bland and creamy mush. Evidently, I was just eating the wrong stuff in the wrong places, and a friend cooked it for me correctly insisting it was good, and she was right. So after this change of perspective, I began to regularly indulge in this dish.
Also if you are lactose intolerant or vegan, you can cook this recipe with vegetable stock, no butter, and no parmesan and it still tastes good (honest review via a real-life vegan). If you’re like me who is, in fact, lactose intolerant, but in denial at times, a little parmesan and butter doesn’t always hurt (or at least it’s worth it).
Time needed: 40 minutes, give or take.
Serves: 2 of 3, if you eat as much as me, but maybe 4 if you have a normal appetite.
250-300g of Short/Risotto Rice – 80cent for kilo, so less than 40cent for this dish, I use Lidl’s short rice because finding risotto rice in Spain wasn’t easy and it works just fine (it also has measurements written on the side which is a must for me!).
650/700ml Stock – a big packet of stock costs a maximum of 2 euro, so I am not going to calculate the cost of 1 or 2 cubes. Stock cubes are a must in your home! I prefer to use chicken stock sometimes to give it a little taste, but vegetable is perfect also.
A big handful of Spinach – €1.50 a packet, so 50cent for this recipe
A half a jar of Sundried tomatoes (100gish) – €1 for this recipe
100g of Mushrooms (half a packet) – about 50cents to €1
1 onion – approx. 30 cents an onion
50g of Parmesan, depending on how cheesy you like it – I get a block of parmesan in Lidl for about €2.70 and I use ¼ of it here so that’s 70 or 80cent for this dish
A generous dash of white wine (or red, or rum or gin or pretty much any alcohol you have, these are the ones I’ve tried and can confirm don’t make much difference, but also can be without alcohol too!)
A few cloves of garlic – I have no idea the price of individual cloves (5cent at a guess) and you should always have these!
A nice bit of oil – another must have – with one liter of sunflower oil at about 1 euro, your using mere cents for this recipe.
Total cost: I’m going to round it up to a generous €5 for the amounts needed, but it might cost you more or less depending on what you already have.
- Chop onion, garlic, mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes.
- Fry onion in oil (a knob of butter too if you feel like it) until soft, some risotto recipes say to use a skillet or a wok, but I discovered that a big-ish pot works just fine too.
- Add garlic and mushrooms and cook until coated and soft.
- Add in all the (uncooked) rice, and fry for a minute or two until coated and popping slightly, stirring throughout.
- Add sundried tomatoes and alcohol, stir for another minute
- Then add a bit of stock, enough so that it’s not sticking to the bottom anymore and slightly covered.
- Turn down the temperature to simmer and cover with lid.
- Every few minutes when the stock has been absorbed, add more stock.
- This whole process of adding stock little by little takes about 20 minutes, keep doing it until all the stock is used up.
- If you’ve used up all the stock and the rice doesn’t look soft and cooked then just add water in the same manner, until the rice is light and creamy, and all the liquid is absorbed.
- When nearly cooked, add in spinach and mix through some of the parmesan but leaving some to decorate.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Stir for another minute until spinach is wilted and parmesan is melted through and then take off the heat.
- Sprinkle with parmesan and any leftover spinach, and voila!
Now it’s your turn.