Cheap and easy meals from Jack Monroe

3 tasty, cheap and easy low-meat meals from Jack Monroe's book, A Girl Called Jack: 100 Delicious Budget Recipes.
  Published:  22 Aug 2017    |      5 minute read

Jack Monroe's easy earthy red wine and mushroom risotto recipe

Large bowl of meat-free mushroom risotto
Credit: Jack Monroe / Michael Joseph

Chef Jack Monroe says: When I need easy but comforting food, I always turn to a large bowl of warm, flavourful rice – and using red wine as a base works beautifully. It can make a special meal for 2 served with some lovely crusty bread.

You could also eat this cheap and easy risotto as a side dish with roasted chicken thighs or sausages, but I eat mine by itself with some simple green vegetables on the side.

Friends of the Earth says cutting down on meat and dairy foods is good for your health and the planet, too.

Serves 2 as a side dish or 1 as a main meal.

I had to dust off my apron and cook from scratch, as cheaply as possible. I fell in love with home-cooked food again. And I had to cut down on meat and dairy products, out of financial necessity.Jack Monroe

Easy risotto ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 100 g mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs or a fistful of chopped fresh thyme and parsley, plus extra to taste
  • 140 g rice
  • 75 ml red wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 1 vegetable stock cube, dissolved in 700 ml boiling water

How to make your simple risotto:

  1. Heat the oil gently in a frying pan. Peel and finely slice the garlic and add to the pan.
  2. Gently clean any excess soil from the mushrooms with a clean tea towel, chop them into small chunks and add to the pan.
  3. Shake the herbs over and allow everything to cook together for a few minutes to sauté the garlic and mushrooms.
  4. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil. When the rice starts to turn translucent, pour in the wine and add the tomato purée, stirring constantly to prevent any of the rice sticking to the pan.
  5. When the wine is almost all absorbed, start to add the stock, one ladleful at a time.
  6. Stir in each time until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and then add another ladleful of stock.
  7. Repeat until either the stock is gone or the rice is cooked to your liking. Sprinkle on some additional herbs to taste and serve.

Simple Sicilian-style sardines with pasta and green beans

Plate of sustainable sardines and pasta
Credit: Jack Monroe / Michael Joseph

Sardines are named after Sardinia, where they were once found in large shoals. You can buy them tinned in oil, brine or water – any type will do for this recipe. Look out for an MSC label on your fish to make sure it's sustainably caught – or use the Good Fish Guide app.

Sardines are a great source of vitamins and nutrients for busy adults and children alike. This serving provides almost all of a typical adult’s daily requirement of vitamin B12. They are also rich in calcium and vitamin D to promote healthy bones, protein for muscle growth and repair, and of Omega-3 fats, which help to lower cholesterol levels.

Serves 2

Ingredients for a cheap and easy pasta meal:

  • 160 g pasta, such as spaghetti
  • 1 x 120 g tin of sardines
  • (Optional) 1 tablespoon oil (if the sardines are preserved in brine)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 small red chilli or 2 pinches of the dried stuff
  • a handful of raisins or sultanas
  • 50 g frozen green beans finely chopped
  • fresh parsley, to garnish

How to cook Jack Monroe's simple Sardine dish:

  1. Bring a saucepan of cold water to the boil – or if you’re anything like me, use the kettle!
  2. Pop in the pasta, turn down to a low heat and cooking according to the packet instructions, usually around 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. While the pasta is boiling, drain the sardines. If they are preserved in oil, reserve the oil from the tin and put it into a small frying or sauté pan. If the sardines are in brine, discard the liquid and use normal vegetable oil in the pan.
  4. Finely grate most of the lemon zest into the pan – reserving some for a garnish.
  5. Peel and finely slice the onion and garlic, finely slice the chilli, and add to the oil and lemon.
  6. Tip in the sultanas and cook on a low heat until the onions are softening.
  7. Put the green beans into the pan followed by the sardines, breaking up the fish gently with a wooden spoon or wooden fork so as not to scratch the protective coating on the pan.
  8. Drain the pasta and tip into the pan with the fish and any reserved oil from the tin.
  9. Toss everything together and serve with the reserved lemon zest and chopped parsley sprinkled over.

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Jack Monroe's turkey meatballs

Bowl of money-saving low-meat meatballs and bowl of spaghetti
Credit: Jack Monroe / Michael Joseph

I love a good meatball and, to make these go further, I add mashed beans to the mix to pad them out. If you don’t have hordes to feed on a budget, you can leave the beans out – but leftover meatballs can be tossed into a stew or kept in the fridge for a few days, so don’t be afraid to make a pile of them.

I suggest tipping some chopped tomatoes into the frying pan to heat through for 5 minutes along with the cooked meatballs at the end. You can then serve this atop a pile of spaghetti for an incredibly quick and easy meal. Makes approximately 20 meatballs.

Ingredients for low-meat meatballs:

  • 1 x 400 g tin of baked beans or haricot beans
  • 1 onion
  • 1 chilli
  • 1 slice of bread
  • a handful of fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon flour, plus extra to shape the balls
  • 500 g turkey mince - organic free range
  • 2 tablespoons oil

How to make an easy meatball meal:

  1. Drain and rinse the beans, put into a small saucepan and cover with water.
  2. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until tender.
  3. Drain the beans and tip into a mixing bowl, then mash to a pulp.
  4. Peel and finely chop the onion and finely chop the chilli, and toss into the mixing bowl with the bean pulp.
  5. Grate in the bread, finely chop the parsley and add that too.
  6. Add the flour and stir to combine.
  7. Add the mince and mix well with a wooden spoon or – as I prefer to do – use your hands.
  8. With lightly floured hands to prevent sticking, form the mixture into balls.
  9. Around 1 tablespoon of mixture will make a decent sized meatball. For little mouths, use a teaspoon – these also cook faster!
  10. Fry the meatballs in the oil in a frying pan for 10 minutes on a medium heat, turning occasionally, until cooked through, then serve.

Jack Monroe's Tip: Make leftover meatballs into a delicious Greek stew by putting them into a pan with some rinsed and soaked white beans, chopped onion, a little paprika and chicken stock to cover. Add a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves or mixed dried herbs. Simmer for 20 minutes on a medium heat and serve with mash or rice.

Cutting down on meat and dairy foods is good for your health and the planet, too. Did you know:

Reducing the amount of meat you eat without going fully vegetarian is known as a flexitarian diet. And Jack Monroe's budget recipes totally fit the bill. Check out Jack's newest cheap and easy recipe ideas over on the Cooking on a Bootstrap blog.

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