Freshly Vegan: Dirt cheap eats

Banish some misconceptions about veganism -- and then try this delicious lentils and rice recipe for less than it costs to buy a pack of gum.

When I first announced to my family members that I wanted to adopt a vegan lifestyle, they shot me incredulous stares. “Why would you ever want to do that?” they asked, totally dumbfounded.

The decision to “go vegan” often meets many challenges, and not just the physical ones that come with completely overhauling one’s diet. Finding support for my new lifestyle has proven difficult. Many carnivores take it as a personal offense when I tell them that I won’t eat meat or any other animal byproduct. As my one friend eloquently put it: “But… bacon!”

Yes, I’m giving up the candy of meats. No, I’m not judging you because you haven’t.   

I know one other vegan and only a handful of vegetarians, and one question that everyone likes to ask is, “But isn’t that expensive?”

The short answer is no, keeping vegan costs no more than your typical college-kid menu. A lot of the meat and cheese substitutes on the market are expensive, so actually, veganism can be cheaper than an omnivorous diet.

There are a lot of great plant-based staples that are sold in bulk and for dirt-cheap (yes, I’m looking at you, black beans!).

Besides the cost confusion, my other favorite misconceptions about vegans are that a) we are not getting enough protein and b) all we eat is salad and other generally bland meals.

None of that is true! To prove it, here is a delicious, inexpensive, and protein and fiber packed meal that I adapted from this recipe that only takes 25 minutes to make!

Lentils and rice:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup enriched, long grain rice
  • 3/4 cup dried lentils
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder -- if you don’t have curry, a mixture of chili powder and cumin works 
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt

In a large pot, heat the olive oil on the medium high setting.   Then add the chopped onions and the minced garlic, and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, or until aromatic. Add the curry powder, tomato paste, and salt, and stir until the onions are coated. Let simmer for another 1 to 2 minutes. Next, add the lentils, rice, and water to the pot, stirring until the mixture reaches a boil.  Then cover the pot and reduce the heat. Allow the mixture to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

This recipe makes 4 servings and is 224 calories per serving. Personally, I like throw the meal in the fridge until the next day: the consistency of the lentils and rice lends itself to molding, so you can make patties put them in pan with a little cooking oil until browned.  Viola: vegan burgers.  

Now, a price breakdown to prove just how good we vegans have it:

A 5 lb bag of rice costs $4.99, which means roughly $0.50 per cup.  Goya lentils set us back $1.69 per pound, which brings us to $0.63 for this recipe. I paid $1.99 for three lbs of onions and a medium onion is anywhere from 3 to 4 ounces, so that’s about $0.13 an onion. The garlic costs about $0.50 per bulb and you use maybe a third of the bulb for this recipe, so that outs us $0.17. Olive oil and spices are something I always have around the house, so I don’t remember how much I paid for those, but they are a once a month buy at the most, so splurge and pick up a bottle of oil and some versatile spices and you’ll be set for a while.

Do some mental gymnastics and you’ll discover that this whole recipe costs a grand total of $1.43, and $0.36 per serving.  And it will feed you for a couple of days. Clearly, being vegan can be nice on your wallet as well as your tongue



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