Recession Meals: Lentil and Chickpea Soup with Indian Spices

Given the ongoing collapse of the American financial system this week, I’m starting a new series named Recession Meals here at the Best Food Blog Ever.  I’m even going to tag the recipes with ‘recession’ so that you can find them easily.  The goal of Recession Meals is to get food on the table without spending a lot of money – which should be an everyday goal anyway in the absence of a bad economy, but which is a virtual necessity now.

I try to do a major supermarket shopping trip once every other week.  Sometimes, though, this means that we run out of meat a few days before I’d want to go to the supermarket again.  I could break down and just go to the store, but it’s an interesting challenge to stick to my grocery schedule and try to stick it out for a couple of days.  I think the financial experts call this ‘budgeting’.

Take a look at any of your supermarket receipts and you’ll find that meat is the most expensive item on your list.  If you reduce your reliance on meat and focus on replacing it with beans, tofu, or some other protein, you can make a serious impact on your food bill and possibly discover new things about yourself, like the fact that you like beans.

I saw this soup for sale in my supermarket’s Sunday flyer and figured I had the stuff to make it myself.  It is a very filling, autumn-perfect meal that is very inexpensive because the bulk of it is composed of beans – lentils and a can of chickpeas that I found in the cupboard.  You could literally make this recipe with water instead of chicken stock and it would be just as good.  I had some frozen sausages, so I sliced a couple and put them in, but they are completely optional.

Moving to soups and beans is great for your personal economy, because they are cheap nutrition and the ingredients can be used for multiple meals.  For the Recession Meals, I am including information about the costs of each ingredient.  These are based on my local prices, so your mileage may vary.

Lentil and Chickpea Soup with Indian Spices

Olive oil [about 3 bucks for a small bottle]

1.5 Cups lentils (firmer is better, but any will do) [a 1lb bag is about a dollar]

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed thoroughly [about 89 cents a can or less]

1 onion, peeled and chopped [5 pounds for three bucks]

2 carrots, peeled and chopped [3 pounds for a buck or two]

2 stalks of celery, peeled and chopped [$1.79 for a bunch]

3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped [about a dollar for a head or less]

1 Tbs garam masala [a spice blend consisting of cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom] [about $3 to $4 for a jar], or other spices as you wish (thyme, curry powder, etc.)

8 cups of water [free!] or chicken stock [about $3 for a large can]

Rinse the lentils and set aside.

In a large pot (remember, you are adding 8 cups of water here, and also remember Archimedes’ Principle), heat about 2 Tbs of olive oil until shiny, add the garlic and stir until golden.  Add the chopped onions and stir to combine.

Once the onions have softened and browned a bit, add the carrots and celery.   Food science – since celery is mostly water, if you add it at the same time as the onions, the onions will never brown since the water given off by the celery will steam everything up.

Saute the vegetables over medium heat for about ten minutes.  Add the lentils and chickpeas and stir to coat with oil (add a little more oil if need be).

Pour 8 cups of water or stock into the pot and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to a gentle boil and go do something else for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, add the garam masala (or your choice of spices), stir, taste for salt (it will probably need 1 to 2 tsp), and cover the pot.  Continue to cook for another 25 minutes.

Use a fork and fish out some lentils and check for tenderness.  When the lentils are tender, the soup is ready to serve.