There are a few foods that I can’t say enough about. The Rich and Free Superfoods. These are foods that win four ways: cheap, easy, multi-talented, and super-healthy.
I told you I love when things are efficient, and these foods are perfect models of efficiency. Readily available at any local grocery, they are cheap relative to similar foods. They are also easy to cook with and familiar. (I hate when sites are like, just replace all your pasta with quinoa! What could be easier! What could be easier is cooking with something I’ve heard of that I don’t have to mortgage my house to buy.) They’re also all things that you can use in a huge variety of recipes and different, easy ways. Most importantly, they’re all super-healthy. I’m talking like top-ten healthy. Shockingly healthy.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post some recipes suggesting how to use these Rich and Free Superfoods in new, easy, and delicious ways in your kitchen.
OK, enough suspense. Ten things I’m always cooking with in my kitchen:
1.Oatmeal. Low-calorie, filling, whole grain, and heart healthy, oatmeal is now known to be a powerful force for lowering cholesterol. One of the cheaper whole grains available in every grocery store, it’s a great thing to have on hand. Cooked by itself for breakfast, sure, but oatmeal is a great addition to everyday baked goods that can be delicious AND healthy. Pancakes, cookies, muffins, quick breads, and snack cakes can all be varied with oatmeal as an addition.
2.Bananas. Bananas are shockingly cheap, especially considering how far they have to be imported. Bananas are cheaper at home than they are in many of the countries where bananas grow! On top of that, they’re full of vitamins, essential minerals like potassium, and healthy fiber. Remember when Chiquita used to market them as, “quite possibly the world’s most perfect food”? That was for good reason. Of course they’re a great quick snack, but their texture also makes them perfect for easy smoothie, ice cream, and dessert recipes. Once they’re over-ripe, they’re also great for baking into muffins and pancakes, and can even serve to replace oil in some of your cooking.
3.Eggs: Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse, especially for anyone who is trying to introduce more meat-free meals into their diet. (And the ’90s jingles are coming out! “The incredible, edible egg!” Anyone?) I know we usually see them only as a breakfast food, but they’re eaten all day, all over the world. A cheap source of protein that’s also quick to prepare, eggs have become a great addition to lots of recipes in my kitchen. Poached egg and salmon salad, Chinese fried rice, vegetable quiche, spinach omelet with rice noodles, and even the super-easy jacket potato with fried egg are nutritious, affordable, and even kid-friendly.
4.Coconut Milk: Most major chain grocery stores have an “ethnic foods” aisle (or something similar), where you’ll find a sampling of Asian and Latin American foods. Though I like to go to smaller markets in the city that carry these foods, sometimes it’s not convenient. Or, in the case of coconut milk, necessary, because you can find canned coconut milk, cheaply, at most major groceries. There’s a reason they serve as a staple food all over the world, as they add variety, omega-3s, and immune-system boosting lauric acid to your diet. Baked goods surely can get a boost from coconut, but so can hot cereal, yogurt, coconut rice, Thai and Indian curries, easy stir-fries, baked chicken and fish, and many other dishes.
5.Beans (canned and dry). Canned beans are often available at my grocery for under fifty cents a can, and dried beans are even cheaper (if you can be trusted to remember to let them soak overnight, which I often cannot). Another cheap source of protein and worldwide staple, beans are a great source of healthy fats and fiber, as well as being low-calorie and full of healthy minerals. Hot and cold salads, healthy dips, chili, hummus and other sandwich spreads, pasta dishes, beans and rice, tacos, tomato sauces, summer soups, winter stews, baked pork and chicken dishes… the list is almost endless.
6.Potatoes. This one may seem obvious, but their nutritional value might be overlooked. A small potato has just over 100 calories, and when eaten with the peel it provides important dietary supports like fiber, vitamin C, and iron. Sweet potatoes up the ante even more, overflowing with vitamin A and deliciousness. An easy addition to stir-fries, curries, roasted meats, soups, omelets, and pretty much everything else I can think of.
7.Peanuts. Peanuts are readily available and probably the cheapest nut at your grocery store. Just an ounce of dry-roasted peanuts is enough to add flavor to a dish, and carried ten percent of your dietary fiber for the day, as well as more protein than any other nut or bean. In my house we eat them alone, but also add them to cookies, fruit salads, green salads, rice and noodle dishes, baked root vegetables, snack mixes, and baked goods.
8.Frozen Vegetables. Because frozen vegetables are frozen just after being picked, their nutritional value is locked in so that they are at least as filled with vitamins and minerals as fresh vegetables, only (often) cheaper. With many competing brands, one is usually on sale. Many people complain that frozen vegetables are “soggy,” but that’s only because they don’t realize that the freezing acts as an initial cooking, so frozen vegetables only need to be thawed and heated, not cooked. The huge volume of a bag of vegetables is mostly fiber and very few calories, which means you can fill the plate by extending a recipe you already love to more and healthier servings.
9.Pumpkin. Especially in October, pumpkin is cheap, and often thrown aside as a decoration. But pumpkin, and similar hard squashes like acorn squash and butternut squash, are full of helpful vitamins and have a unique texture that lends them to low-fat, creamy recipes. Baked goods, pancakes, amazing soups and stews, and curries are just the beginning.
10.Rice. Though rice prices have gone up in the last few years, rice is still surprisingly cheap considering how labor-intensive its production is. With no fat and surprisingly high in iron, white rice is delicious and easy to prepare. Of course brown rice has even more fiber, but don’t worry if you aren’t a fan. White rice can be a great addition to vegetable-heavy meals, helping to give them substance and mass appeal. And, as a gluten-free grain, you won’t experience the “I ate too much” feeling that pasta or bread might leave you with.
In the next week, look for a focus on recipes using these ten foods in new and interesting ways! Since other cultures often prioritize foods that are cheap and nutritious, you will find that cooking with these foods has the added bonus of adding variety and producing some really impressive dishes. You’ll be surprised, I hope, at how easy they are to make and how palatable new additions can be to even an all-American diet. Impressive, easy, healthy, AND cheap? Count me in.
Do you have a great recipe for one of my rich and free superfoods? Leave a comment and let me know!
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