I’m off to a pretty uncharacteristic start with dinner plans in the city tonight- totally unlike me given the pittance I generally have to spend each week, but some friends and I are going to grab some cheap Indian before a gig. The thing with eating out is, if you know where to go you don’t necessarily have to be spending a small fortune on an extravagant feast. There are some great spots in the CBD, particularly around Swanston Street and Chinatown, that offer delicious cuisine for just a few dollars. Another favourite of mine is Lentil As Anything at the Abbotsford Convent, a volunteer-run buffet-style vegetarian restaurant that runs on a pay-as-you-feel model. I’ll give that its own post later as it’s too good not to make a note of.
But I wanted to talk about last night’s dinner, because it was super-easy, cheap and delicious, and you can make it for single meal-for-one, or enough to feed a small country (which means dinner for days). I call it cheatatouille because it tastes like ratatouille but it’s really just anything you’ve got cooked up into a heavenly amalgamation- or is that what ratatouille is? Anyway, the great thing about cheatatouille is that it’s a great way to use up any half-chopped vegies you might have lurking in your fridge drawer. I started with a deep pan, a nice generous drizzle of olive oil, a chopped Spanish onion and some diced garlic. As the onion starts to soften add salt, pepper, some Italian herb mix and enough chilli powder to give it a nice little bite. Now that your kitchen is smelling like Italy/a restaurant/heaven, the cool thing is that you just chuck in anything/everything else! I used eggplant, zucchini, carrot, capsicum and, a bit later on, whole cherry tomatoes which you can burst as they soften. You feel really professional and gourmet at this point and if you’re a social media nut now is a good time to upload a nice shot to Instagram. I’d go for a X-Pro II filter to really bring out the colours, and maybe a #wifeme hashtag for an extra dash of humour and desperation.
If you’re into spinach or silver beet or kale, chuck some in. Personally I’m a big fan because you get your all-important greens but they’re kind of hidden because, let’s be honest, I don’t think anyone particularly fancies chowing down on unflavoured leaves. You can add some plain passata or tomato paste and a bit of water to make it extra saucy. When it’s all nicely simmered and you’re salivating sufficiently you can put it on a plate, with rice or pasta if that’s your thing, and eat it with cutlery or your hands or a small trowel, depending on what’s available. Because you’re a grotty student your utensils are probably sitting somewhere in the sink, half-soaked in cold, dirty water and covered in dried cheese or something, so use whatever you can find. I guarantee at the end of your meal you’ll be full and feeling pretty smug about your well-balanced meal that you prepared from scratch with not a single trace of microwave action.
But if your fridge is truly empty then I can’t really help you tonight and toast it is….again.
Stay cheap x