Simple Lentil Stew with Couscous and Sauteed Asparagus

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I think the coming months will involve a lot of beans.  Why, you ask? Well, here’s the thing. I want to buy a house. Like a real, actual house. And it’s not going to be a total fixer-upper, and I’m going to do it all by myself. So even though my grocery budget it obviously one of the facets of my life that’s already super frugal and monitored by a watchful eye, I feel like I’m on a mission now, with this semi-arbitrary timeline I’ve concocted, of having a new house to move into by the end of the summer. (Yay for arbitrary timlines! Remember Yarnia’s grand opening?! Totally arbitrary.)

So even though I don’t actually plan on paring my food budget down below six dollars a day, I do feel like I’m entering into this more extreme version of frugality in the rest of my life — curbing the blase Amazon Prime purchases (free shipping can turn a rational person insane), really buttoning down going out (i.e. burritos instead of brewery sandwiches, cashing in on all my Groupons, and making better use of my flask when we go out to shows) — which just sort of makes me feel like I should also be eating beans and rice for most of my meals, so that I can eke out enough money within the next five months for a serious down payment.

Lucky for me, beans are awesome and I know how to cook them. I didn’t even really have to buy that many groceries this week — most of my haul was replacing staples that I’d run out of and needed to wait for my monthly budget to replenish, like an expensive jar of tahini, grains and spices from the bulk aisle, and coconut oil, as air popped popcorn with this magical ingredient has become somehwat of a nightly ritual for me.

In fact, this entire meal was concocted out of what I already had in my fridge, starting with a chopped onion, a few sliced carrots, and some minced garlic.

That got sauteed up over medium-high heat (in my new cast iron skillet!  LOVE!).  After about ten minutes, when everything was nice and shiny and translucent, I added a cup of dried grey lentils, a cup of homemade chicken broth, a few teaspoons of curry powder, two teaspoons of salt, and a few big glugs of V8 juice.

This is my new favorite way to make tomato broth.  I used to try to keep tomato paste on hand, but could never make use of it (or remember it was there, since tomato paste is packaged in ludicrously small quantities that allow it to get nestled in the back of my fridge), before it got moldy.  Canned diced tomatoes can be awesome when you want some texture in your dish, but sometimes the aluminum taste of canned food makes me nauseous.

But a few weeks ago when I was making some crock pot collard green rolls, I found a recipe that called for the rolls to be submerged in V8, which led me to purchase my very first bottle of the stuff — a huge, 2-liter bottle that seems to keep in the fridge for (so far) at least a month, and is comprised of nothing but yummy tomato-and-other-veggie juices.  I think I’ve found my perfect solution to the tomato base problem.

The lentil stew now gets covered, and simmers for about 45 minutes, while you make the couscous.  And then do whatever you want for 43 minutes, because couscous is the easiest grain you could choose to accompany a stew.

I wanted to have some leftovers, so I poured two cups of water into the pot, along with two teaspoons of my Penzeys Tandoori seasoning, a teaspoon of salt, a handful of raisins, and some pine nuts, and brought this all to a boil.  As soon as it had reached a boil, I added two cups of whole wheat couscous, gave it a stir, removed it from the heat, and let it sit with the lid on for five minutes before fluffing with a fork.

While I was doing all this, Jesse was busy making some stuffed mushrooms that we were prepping ahead of time for a dinner party at our friend’s house this Thursday night (and of course, a bunch of extra ones that we got to eat ourselves tonight, so we wouldn’t be anxiously hoarding them at the party).

These stuffed mushrooms — which I’m warning you, will disappear instantly — feature a perfect harmony of spinach, feta, and onion.

Leave it to a carpenter to be able to dice an onion smaller than I'd ever have patience for. What can I say? The man has precision.


Oh…and bacon.

And what’s great about these stuffed mushrooms is that you actually don’t chop up the stems and add them to the stuffing, they’re just discarded…which in our case meant halved, and sauteed up with some fresh, local, on-sale asparagus in garlic butter and fresh ground salt and pepper.

Quite a meal, if I do say so myself.  I’ve been doing yummy, crunchy vegetable salads at work all week, with hard boiled eggs and alfalfa sprouts, all wrapped up in some multigrain tortillas.  So that means I get to save my leftovers for at least 2 dinners this week.  So between that, our dinner party on Thursday, and a memorial for our friend on Friday (in which there will be copious amounts of food as usual, if I know anything about this crew of friends, as well as rumors of 100 delicious wings donated by what was our friend’s favorite restaurant, Fire On The Mountain), I think I’m pretty well set for this week.  T minus five months.  Let the games begin!

This Week’s Groceries

New Seasons 5/1

  • Coconut oil: $6.99
  • Tahini: $8.99
  • Yellow popcorn: $2.51
  • Whole allspice: $2.10
  • Cardamom cinnamon tea: $4.84
  • Mango Ceylon tea: $2.50
  • Nutritional yeast (small flake): $2.97
  • Almond flour: $4.15 — I’m still not done trying to make gluten-free crackers!
  • Soy Bacos: $0.88 — I love putting these in my salad dressings
  • Neufchatel cheese: $2.39 — For the stuffed mushrooms
  • Half gallon milk: $3.39
  • Half & Half: $2.29
  • Plain yogurt: $2.99
  • Mixed greens: $3.50
  • Cucumber: $0.99
  • Asparagus: $3.10
  • Bunch radishes: $1.49
  • Yellow onion: $0.94
  • Shallots: $1.20
  • Garlic: $0.96
  • Ginger: $0.63

TOTAL: $59.80


How did the rest of my Project: Food Budget-ers do?

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Anecdotes? Let me know about it here!