I have been hearing a lot of conversations lately about being a cheerful giver. I am not talking about giving in the very traditional financial giving aspect, but about giving of the self, sharing time and personal resources with others.
I have been trying to find a way to use my rather limited talents in service. Recently some friends were discussing gifts and how we can use them. Some are gifted speakers, some are wonderful care givers, some have extreme wisdom and compassion and I cook. It looks kind of weak on the service scale.
When you start thinking about how you can use it, it mainly means cooking for homeless shelters. I do it and I enjoy doing it, but it is not something I can do regularly. My food budget can only go so far and my favorite shelter (First Light) now houses about 80 women and children. Even being a good steward of money, you just can't feed that many people for less than $150, and that is not spectacular food. ( I have always believed if you are doing something as a service you should put your best forward so the food cost is always more than that.)
I was really wondering what, where, when, and how to turn the non-gift of a gift I have into something I could do on a more regular basis. Serendipitously I ran into 2 young mothers who are feeding their families using EBT cards. It works out to about 38 dollars a week per child and is doable, but only if you have an idea of what you are doing. Neither of the moms I spoke with have a clue how to cook from scratch, and have no idea how to prepare a full meal and get it on the table.
I offered to go to the grocery store with one of them and show her how to get the most food for her food buck. She had been buying frozen lasagna, frozen pancakes and such as well as Hamburger Helper and other convenience foods. ( I am not knocking prepared or frozen foods, but a limited budget just cannot accommodate them. ) After we talked about what to buy she confided she has no clue how to prepare it. ( Even buying lettuce, carrots and cucumbers to make a salad is not a part of her skill set). Eureka! I finally found a way to use "my gift". For the next few months I will be testing extremely low cost foods. We are going to eat them first and make a yea or nay decision to include them as a potential meal. Afterward I plan on developing extremely low budget menu plans to pass along to people who have the desire, but limited time and means for food planning.
The criteria is pretty simple. It must be cost effective. It has to use readily available ingredients which require minimal kitchen equipment and tools to prepare. It has to be able to be prepped and cooked in under 45 minutes. It has to be something a wide variety of ages can eat ( no super spicy foods) and mostly it has to be tasty.
My first experiment was the lentil burger. Lentils are some of the cheapest and most versatile of the dried bean/pea/legume family. They can be cooked in under 30 minutes and require no soaking time, so they are a natural for a quick cheap meal.
2 1/2 cup cooked lentils
1 small onion, minced
1 small clove, garlic minced
1finely grated carrot
2 tablespoons minced bell pepper (optional)
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon basil
pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup cornmeal
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
With a potato masher mash the lentils but leave it somewhat chunky. Stir in the vegetables and blend well. Add the egg and stir it through. Blend all the seasonings in the breadcrumbs then add it to the lentil mixture and stir it very well. You want all the breadcrumbs mixed evenly through the lentils. Shape into 4 burger shapes. Put the cornmeal in a wide shallow bowl and put the bean patties in it, one at a time, making sure they are coated on both sides.
Heat the oil in a skillet to medium high. Add the burgers to the heated oil and cook on one side for about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and flip the burgers. Cook for an additional 4 minutes then remove using a spatula. Blot on a paper towel then serve on buns, bread or on a plate as a patty.
The first time I tried these I realized (after cooking them of course) I had no buns or bread in the house so I just tossed them on a plate with tomatoes from the garden and some squash pickles. ( Seems I was also out of lettuce and ketchup.) They were very tasty, with a crisp outside. There were enough breadcrumbs and the egg acted as a binder so the bites held together well. It is certainly not meat and doesn't have the same feel that beef does but it is a really nice alternative.
The second time I tried this I ate it on a bun with a slice of onion, tomatoes, lettuce and dill pickles along with the usual burger condiments. It was really good then. Except for the consistency I would not have known I was not eating a real burger. Next time I am going to melt a slice of cheese on it before I plop it on a bun. I am guessing that will make it outstanding. We give this one a thumbs up.
For those who are counting It took about 50 cents worth of lentils, 11 cents for the egg, 25 cents for the bread crumbs ( Thanks Publix for bogo) 25 cents for the oil, 10 cents for the cornmeal, and possibly 15 cents total for the spices. For under $1.50 I managed to cook 4 very large burgers, compared with the $2.99 ground beef sale price now. I think this is a keeper.