Meet the 'stretchers' - how to make tasty food go further
Have you heard of 'stretchers' before, in the frugal food sense? Stretchers are those items you pull out of the store cupboard, fridge or freezer, add to a dish and, as if by magic, you have enough delicious food for four people when previously you may have only had enough for two or three.
The money that I save by using stretchers allows me to justify buying better quality organic meat and sustainably caught fish, as I know I'll be making the most of all that goodness!
Common stretchers include frozen veg, tins of chick peas and beans, breadcrumbs, spinach, spring greens and kale, though here are some of my personal favourites...
When you're down to near empty fridge shelves, a bag of frozen peas is an absolute saviour...
>> Unless you're a purist (in which case you should probably stop reading now!), almost any stir fry, stew or curry can be made to go further with the addition of some defrosted peas. Somehow peas seem to transcend cultural food boundaries!
>> Blanched and cooled peas can be added liberally to salads to bulk out the greenery if you're a bit short.
Potatoes of all kinds
The humble spud, so versatile, so brilliant at coming to the rescue when at first it seems there aren't many options for dinner.
>> Waxy potatoes aren't just good for potato salads. When you add them to a leftover soup, curry or stew, they absorb the flavours of the dish and make the outcome even more satisfying.
>> Mashed potatoes can make a new meal from many leftovers. Mix them with chopped fish, onion, a blob of mustard and chopped parsley before pan frying to make crunchy little fishcakes, or add a batch of cooked vegetables to leftover Spag Bol sauce, top with cheesy mash and bake for a quick variation on a traditional Cottage Pie.
Have you found the 'discount' shelves in your local supermarket yet? Quite often, amongst the weirdly flavoured, out-of-season and discontinued items, I find seriously cheap bags of dried pulses which have split in transit and been taped up again by the supermarket staff. Since you're going to be boiling these up anyway before they get to your plate, I say why not?
Dried pulses are worthy store cupboard items, however I find that if they require soaking overnight then I'm liable to leave them at the back of the cupboard until they go out of date. My favourite stretchers, lentils and pearl barley, are 'same day' pulses - just throw them in and cook until soft!
>> Find a single portion of curry in the freezer? Divide it up between the plates, add some rice and fill the gaps with a quick and filling spiced lentil curry. Lentil dhal takes less than half-an-hour start to finish, with no messing around. As well, I find it handily swallows up and makes delicious all kinds of odd leftovers from the back of the fridge: try adding the remains of potato salads and any greens on their last legs.
>> A little bit of meat goes a long way and green lentils pair beautifully with any leftover bacon bits or gammon for a moreish taste-sensation of a soup. Any other ham, salami or chorizo can go in too, along with any bendy carrots or celery languishing in the salad crisper.
>> Rediscover the British classics... A handful of nourishing pearl barley makes vegetable, chicken, sausage or beef stews go a long way. Add some dumplings for a very happy family dinner indeed!