Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on less than $10/day.

One might assume from the last several posts--all of which have consisted of perfectly righteous beverages--that I have spent the last week sitting around sipping vegetable/fruit based drinks and watching my waistline decline. Let us preserve that illusion for just one more day.

Because when you come off of a trip, you sometimes need a little detox. For this I have a children's movie and a children's cookbook to thank. 

Anybody else remember that line from the movie, "Ratatouille" where the chef kid decides to feed the mean reviewer guy ratatouille and his French sort-of-girlfriend-chick says, "But it ees peasant food." 

Well, I'm not French (as so aptly demonstrated by that dialogue above) and I don't really know why it was considered peasant food, but as a gardener, I have a decent guess: ugly vegetables. 

When we left Evansville it was hot and dry and we spent a good bit of conversation worrying that everything in the garden would die in our absence. We returned 6 days later to cool air and wet dirt,  as though the seasons had shifted just like that. Leaving us with lungfulls of delicious fall. And we all know what fall means, right? No no no. Not Halloween or leaf piles or hayrides or football. Fall means, of course, ugly vegetables. By which I do not mean those funky gourds a few over-zealous decorators are beginning to set outside their doors. Fall means that those buxom fruits of summer are starting to come off the vine at a much slower pace and that when they do they're often stinted or misshapen. So you wind up with a teeny eggplant and a reddish-green bell pepper and some tomatoes that the bugs have taken a bite out of. You can't exactly serve these offerings to the queen of Sheba. But you can chop them up and throw them in a skillet with onions, garlic, and olive oil. And you can have a perfectly delicious, healthy meal. Especially if you happen to have picked up a children's cookbook from the children's section of the library where you, frankly, sometimes get stuck. Not that there's anything wrong with that. 

adapted from Passport on a Plate
Serves 4-8
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cost: I don't know; I haven't bought my vegetables. I'm going to guess $2.00

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp salt (I scaled this down just a bit)
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped

In large skillet, heat olive oil. Add eggplant, onion, pepper, and zucchini. Cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add garlic and cook a minute or two more. Add tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Cook, covered, until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add basil. And if you're me, a splash of grated sharp Cheddar (come on, I think the French would approve). 

Also, if you taste it and find it needs a little something something, add some pepper and a pinch of chicken bullion granules.  

I ate this warm with sourdough bread. I imagine it would be a great pizza topping or that you could add a cup of broth and make a soup out of it. Also, it freezes well. 

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