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Cheap & Easy (Vegan) Stir Fry

I am currently eating a variation of the same meal twice per day. It is incredibly easy to make and takes less than 45 minutes, with like 5-10 minutes of that time actually engaged in the act of "cooking". I typically spend the rest of the time doing something else (like trying to fit in a game of Rocket League or StarCraft II before the rice timer goes off).

I am incredibly lazy when it comes to cooking. I just want something nutritious and easy. I have been committed to this laziness for years and now I want to share what meal I have recently promoted to my primary meal of the day (every day).

I will share the recipe, which is incredibly simple, and then do a cost analysis for some bonus fun.

The Meal

In summary, you mix rice with a plant protein along with one vegetable and soy sauce or salsa.

Step 1: Rice

This is pretty straightforward, you are going to need some cooked rice. I used to make one cup of rice at a time, and store half of it for later, but I became really tired of using rice that was not fresh. It was not worth it for me.

I own a rice cooker (this one), so I put in 1/2 cup of rice and 1 cup of water. Then, I close the lid and press a button.

Time to do something else for about 10-15 minutes.

Step 2: The Pan

When the rice is about ~10 minutes from being done, I put my cast-iron skillet on the stove, set the heat to Medium-High and add about 1 Tbsp of olive oil. I let this heat for about five minutes before adding anything to it.

Now comes the first fork in the road. I cook with three different plant proteins and several different vegetables. Some of the combinations require different treatments, but there is a general formula.

Cooking with Beans or Lentils

Most days I am eating black beans as my plant protein. I buy them dry from the store and cook them myself to save money. You can also buy them canned. For this meal, I use about 1.5 cups of cooked black beans, or 1 can. Typically I rinse and strain the beans a few minutes before I need them.

Lentils are pretty much the same story as black beans, except that you can prepare them at the same time as the rice. I cook about 1/2 cup of lentils for one meal.

With beans or lentils, I add them to the stir fry after the vegetable if it is a fresh vegetable like carrots or peppers, or at the same time as the vegetable for frozen veggies like corn or peas. My goal with beans/lentils s really only to warm them up.

Note: if you just cooked the lentils, you may not need to add them to the pan. Just combine all three ingredients (rice, lentils, vegetables) after cooking.

Cooking with Tofu

On days when I run out of beans, I will pull tofu from the fridge. I buy 14oz blocks of Extra Firm tofu from Whole Foods for $1.99. For each meal, I will use half of a 14oz block and store the other half in water in the fridge.

On tofu days, I will get out the tofu at the same time as I start the rice so that I can put them in the tofu press (this one). Pressing the tofu is not necessary, but it will cook faster and be less likely to crumble.

With tofu, I will cut it into cubes and put it in the pan before the vegetable, flipping the cubes every couple minutes. Once about three of the six sides have browned, I will add the vegetable to the pan.

Just before everything is done cooking, I will turn down the heat to Medium and add 1 Tbsp of soy sauce into the pan. I like to let the soy sauce cook into the tofu a bit. This is just a personal preference, I am not a master chef.

The Vegetables

There are a ton of options here, so I won't get too much into it. However, here are some of the vegetables I tend to use most often:

  • Carrots, Fresh
  • Green Bell Pepper, Fresh
  • Spinach, Fresh
  • Corn, Frozen
  • Peas, Frozen
  • Broccoli, Frozen

I tend to buy mostly frozen vegetables so that I can buy them in bulk and avoid going to the grocery store. However, I do buy 10lb bags of fresh carrots from Costco. Whenever I do this, I have to eat some of them for at least one meal per day or they will go bad.

With any of the vegetables I am to add about 1 cup of the veggie to the frying pan. This typically means two medium-sized carrots, one bell pepper, or a scoop of frozen vegetables using a measuring cup. Spinach is typically added alongside a different veggie and measured by the handful.

Step 3: Combine the Ingredients

I tend to have my meal in two separate rounds, because my bowls at home are just not big enough. I take half of the cooked rice and pour it in a bowl before adding half of the veggie mixture from the pan. If it was a bean/lentil day, then I will add salsa. If it was a tofu day, I will leave it alone, or pour over a little bit more soy sauce.

The salsa is actually optional, but I really enjoy it. I use Kirkland Brand Salsa because it is amazing. I cannot stand the taste of Pace anymore. I add about 2-3 tablespoons of salsa per bowl.

There you have it. One super simple, über cheap, and crazy delicious (vegan) meal. When you're done, it should look something like this:

IMG_20171202_140657

Cost Analysis

Bonus knowledge! How much does one of these meals cost me? Well, with three proteins and eight vegetables, we're looking at 24 different meals. I don't want to analyze that many, so we will just cover the one I have most often: rice, carrots, black beans, and salsa.

Rice

My last purchase of rice was a 25lb bag of long grain rice from Costco for $7.99. That is roughly 11.34 kilograms. Per meal, I eat 1/2 cup of dry rice, measuring in at 100 grams. That means I use about 0.88% of the 25lb bag of rice per meal and 0.88% of $7.99 is about seven cents.

Total per meal: ~$0.07

Carrots

This is going to be a tough estimate, because I buy carrots by the pound, but consume them by the count. Anyway, my last purchase of carrots was a 10lb bag from Costco for $8.59. That is roughly 4.54 kilograms. According to Google, one cup of carrots is about 120 grams and I consume about one cup of (sliced) carrots per meal.

This means that I use about 2.6% of a 10lb bag of carrots per meal. Taking that percentage of $8.59 leaves us at roughly 23 cents.

Total per meal: ~$0.23

Black Beans

My last purchase of beans was 4lbs (1.81kg) of dry black beans from Whole Foods for $8.80. I use 1.5 cups of cooked black beans per meal. Black beans usually grow three times in size when cooked, so that's one half of a cup of dry beans, measuring in at 96 grams according to Google.

That means I use about 5% of a 4lb bag of beans per meal. Taking that percentage of $8.80 leaves us at roughly 47 cents.

Total per meal: ~$0.47

Salsa

My last purchase of salsa was two 38oz jars of Kirkland Salsa for $7.59 from Costco. Let's be generous and say I use eight tablespoons of salsa per meal (four tbsp per bowl). According to the label, there are 72 tablespoons of salsa per jar, which is 144 tablespoons for both jars.

That means I use about 5.55% of the two jars per meal. Taking that percentage of $7.59 leaves us roughly 42 cents.

Total per meal: $0.42

Conclusion

If we add all the figures together, we get $1.19 per meal. This is honestly an extremely rough estimate and it only covers one of the 24 variations of this meal. However, I am pretty pleased with this number and I think it is quite cheap.

I also think it could be cheaper. If I bought beans from a different grocery store, I could probably get them for half the cost. That would take away 20 cents, leaving me at about one dollar per meal. Can I get it even cheaper? Maybe, but I can only put in so much effort.

Well, I am definitely out of words now. This article was much longer than I anticipated. Toodle-oo!

Cheap & Easy (Vegan) Stir Fry
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