Being a broke vegan

People think being vegan is expensive. It can be, but depending on your choices, it really doesn’t have to be.

I mean, the roots of my vegan journey stem partly from a need to stretch what few dollars I had, and nixing meat, eggs and milk from the grocery list helped (took awhile for me to forgo cheese).

Last month, I moved, which was expensive, and then there was Christmas. Then my car insurance leveled a financial blow for moving. (Thanks, btw.)

So I had a few weeks during which I had to skimp a little. Sadly the credit card was used more frequently than I’d prefer.

But food was never a huge stress. I just had to know what to make with cheaper ingredients.

So lemme talk a little bit about what I do to squeak by when The Man is after my meager stack of journalist cash.

Of course, lean times are much easier with a well-stocked pantry. I feel like such a grown-up whenever I cruise recipes and go, “Hark! I only need to buy two things to make that!”I still make it a point every shopping trip (when I’m not desperate) to buy a little something I might not need immediately, but will help me replenish my pantry (some nutritional yeast, a bottle of hot sauce, some cans of beans on sale). Then when I’m poor I know I’ll survive.

What saves my pantry is the bulk bin, where I go for rice, dry legumes, lentils, nuts, pasta, dried herbs and spices, chocolate chips, salt and pepper and baking ingredients. That aisle really lays down the foundation of my kitchen and, in most cases, allows me to buy more for less. I’m not paying for packaging and all that shit, just the good stuff. Hence, when I’m poor, I can make lentil joes or dress up a pasta sauce no problem.

In furtherance of my scout’s mission to Be Prepared, I like to keep certain meal components ready for a future re-heat. (In addition to saving money, I also love to make good time in everything I do, from driving to cooking.) I like to make big batches of brown rice and freeze serving sizes. Then they’re ready when you need them with a zap in the microwave or a stove top hit of heat. I do the same with black beans in the slow cooker and hope to fire up some dried chickpeas soon for stocking.

I also made a double batch of the spicy slurpy pasta sauce from Isa Does It recently and froze that. So when my bank account went dry, I heated that up for pasta and topped it with the parmesan recipe from Happy Herbivore Light and Lean for a clutch, if unglamorous, meal in a pinch. It was way better than the jarred stuff. Something about knowing you made it yourself makes it more satisfying.

I also used it for Isa’s eggplant fettuccine recipe from the same book. I had stale bread ready to grind into crumbs and eggplant was the only main component I needed to go out and buy.

Another way I try to save money while meal planning is make things that have similar components — different, but with shared ingredients. After I made Isa’s eggplant dish, I made this eggplant paprikash from FatFree Vegan Kitchen. It was one of those recipes that fell through the recipe bookmark black hole in my internet browser, but looked good and simple and fuss-free. And it was delicious! Wonderfully cozy. Also, the best sour cream recipe I’ve tried yet. (Another post on that later.)

There are sources I’m drawn to in leaner times, and Budget Bytes is certainly one of them. As I’ve said before, there is a wealth of vegan recipes or vegetarian and omnivorous recipes that are easily vegan-izable. Beth is great at transforming simple, everyday ingredients into fantastic dishes.

I recently tried her chunky vegetable lentil soup, made entirely from pantry ingredients, except for fresh carrots and celery. It yielded at least four helpings (awesome for leftovers).

Another great source is Happy Herbivore. I recently made the Happy Herbivore Light and Lean lentil joes without having to stray far from my pantry. Another cheap dish is her fire-roasted chana masala, which I tried last summer and turned out awesome. If you keep several of Lindsay’s go-to ingredients on hand, you can often whip up her recipes on a dime.

Budget Bytes and Happy Herbivore are heavy on whole foods, which are often cheaper or at least more versatile than vegan junk food or processed stuff like “chick’n” or “cheeze” or Tofurky or even tofu or tempeh. I lurrrve tofu, but you don’t need it all the time, especially if you want to save a bit of cash. A can of chickpeas will take you farther. And I think that’s where people confuse a vegan lifestyle with an expensive one. It doesn’t have to be that way. Whole foods that don’t come in a box are not only better for your body, but better for your wallet, too.

And lastly, the first commandment of my kitchen: Thou must always have veggie broth.

Not only is veggie broth a base for so much vegan cooking, but I cook with it as an oil replacement quite often, too. I need large volumes of this shit, so I make mass quantities on my own to avoid running out and buying cartons of it. I brew it up with veggie odds and ends, fill up a jug I keep in the fridge and store the rest in the freezer. It’s when I start thawing out my freezer stock that I know I need to brew up another batch.

My vegetable broth is different every time I make it because it depends on what scraps I have on hand, but there is always a base of onions, carrots and celery. Check out the Happy Herbivore guide here. It’s really easy. In the past couple of weeks I’ve been freezing odds and ends of my veggies so that I can have a pile of scraps ready for the pot.

Be well, veggies, and save your money for beer.

UPDATE: Also visit the great Plant Based on a Budget site for more recipes ideas for broke bitches.

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