Andrew Lo (@CakeBoy626), of The School Cook recently hosted the #FDBloggers chat on Twitter. The subject was frugal eating, and at the end of it he posed a challenge to all of us food bloggers. We were charged with putting together a full meal, starter, main and dessert for under $7.50 (£5) to demonstrate that it is possible to eat well for very little money. As someone who has been something of a career temp day job-wise, and who is all-too familiar with unemployment and enforced penny pinching, this was right up my street. In fact, over the years I’ve learned to make a game of it, viewing my shopping and meal planning as a brain teaser, a puzzle to be solved, so that I quite enjoy the task of finding creative ways to stretch a dollar. Since I eat fairly frugally most of the time, I felt that to just throw together any of my “go to” dinners wouldn’t be properly challenging. No, in true Myjo style, I had to seriously up the ante. (I case you doubt that, notice that I’ve had to break this into three separate posts!)
Sheila Myjo’s Thrifty Japanese DinnerContinuity note: I’m presenting the following three dishes here in meal order, but for efficiency’s sake, I prepared them all at the same time. Don’t let the photo of a cornstarch-dusted cutting board, for example, throw you when there’s no cornstarch in the dish at hand.
Starter: Tempura with Pickled Cucumber
The first time I tried tempura was on a field trip with my high school Japanese class. In spite of the fact I was studying the language and culture, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of eating raw fish. Nori was out, too. Having lived most of my younger life near the Puget Sound, the flavor and smell of seaweed made me think of damp, briny fishing piers, slick with encroaching algae and reeking of expired shellfish. But tempura was safe. Tempura was just vegetables and shrimp, battered and deep fried, and *everything* is delicious deep fried! (Just ask the Scots!)
Before taking on this challenge, I’d actually never made tempura myself. As I often do in these cases, I took to Google, which gave me a lot of good info. Ultimately, I settled on this site, as it not only had a simple tempura batter recipe, but also included advice on prepping and cooking just about anything you’d want to dip in it. It even included instructions for cleaning the shrimp, along with a video! (Be still my geeky heart!)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1 cup cold water (I used club soda, as I’ve read it helps keep the batter light)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp corn starch or potato starch (I used corn)
- Your choice of vegetables, sea food, etc. (I went with potatoes, sweet potatoes, red bell pepper, broccoli, and shrimp).
Oil for frying (I went with canola)
While I felt comfortable playing with the ingredients a bit, I followed these instructions almost to the letter.
1. Mix Plain flour, baking soda and corn starch/potato starch together. And then sift mixed flour as preparation. (I misread, and sifted the flour mixture as I added it, when instructed below, to the wet ingredients.)
2. Crack an egg into the bowl and beat it roughly. Add the cold water and mix them.
3. Put 1/3 mixed flour into egg mixture and gently mix. Long cooking chop sticks are the best utensil for mixing tempura batter. If you do not have them, use a fork instead.
4. Then add an additional 1/3 flour and mix.
5. And finally add the last 1/3 flour and mix.
6. Important: Lumps in the flour is completely fine. Do not mix it too much as you will get a lot of gluten which makes it heavy and un-crispy tempura batter.
I brought the oil up to 350º, and then I started frying.
When cooked through, I removed them from the hot oil and let them drain on a cooling rack with paper towels under it.
For the pickled cucumbers, I improvised a little.
- 1/8 cup rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ½ – 2 inches of cucumber
1. Combine all ingredients except the cucumber in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar has dissolved.
2. Slice cucumber into pieces about the thickness of shoestring French fries and put slices into a non-reactive container with a tight lid.
3. Pour pickling liquid over the cucumbers. Put container lid on tight, and allow to sit for a couple of hours.
4. If pickling liquid doesn’t completely cover the cucumber slices, turn the sealed container a few times and let sit upside down for a while to ensure that all pieces spend time in the liquid. (Be careful the container lid doesn’t leak!)
Here’s the total cost of this starter:
|Club soda||4 oz||$.10|
|Sweet potato||1 oz||$.04|
|Bell pepper||.5 oz||$.10|
|Dipping Sauce||Mirin||.5 oz||$.15|
|Soy sauce||.5 oz||$.12|
|Red wine vinegar||.5 oz||$.09|
|Rice vinegar||.5 oz||$.09|
|Total per person||$1.62|