Vegan way of eating comes with a bad reputation when it comes to cost. I’ve heard many people wonder about whether they would be able to afford to eat only plants, perhaps because many plant-based products that are substitutes for dairy (milk, yogurts, cheese, ice cream…) or meat (different cold cuts, sausages, burgers, bacon…) do come with a higher price tag. But leaving those types of items aside, cooking with plants is actually more affordable than any other kind of cooking. There are a number of social media groups and bloggers (including myself) that really embrace the philosophy that plant-based eating does not need to break your bank.
One of the prominent bloggers in this area is Melissa Copeland, a person behind The Stingy Vegan. Melissa has now assembled some of her recipes into a new cookbook published recently – “30-minute Frugal Vegan Recipes”. As the title suggests, the focus of this cookbook is not only on cheap, but also on quick. And her recipes deliver!
They are convenient and use ingredients that are easily found in regular grocery stores. Having said that, Melissa offers some tips on scoring great prices on some of the items. One of my favorite, and the one I recommend all the time, is going to your local “ethnic food” stores – East Asian, Indian, Russian, Brazilian, Mexican, Caribbean… These stores are great places to get excellent prices on produce as well as spices. The local Indian grocery store I go to frequently also has fantastic prices on rice, quinoa, nuts, dry beans, as well as many gluten-free flours (corn, rice, chickpea, and others). Some of these stores may be a bit out of your way, but a trip once in a while can help you can stock up. For example, I go to the Indian store once every 2-3 months!
One other tip Melissa offers that I recommend all the time is using frozen fruits and vegetables. I love frozen – they come pre-chopped and they come cheaper than fresh, so what’s not to like? Of course, for some recipes you need fresh and some vegetables and fruits just lose a lot when frozen, but things like peas, green beans, broccoli, corn, edamame, spinach, squash, carrots, and even jackfruit are great frozen. When using frozen vegetables, it is important to remember to get them unseasoned. Otherwise, you may be getting things you don’t need and should avoid, like extra salt or fat!
Overall, I liked the flavors that Melissa’s recipes offer and the simplicity of the recipes she put together. The Black Bean Salsa Burgers below are a great illustration of her approach. They are yummy, they come together in a snap, and they work! The one modification I made just because I had no salsa on hand is to use canned fire roasted tomatoes instead. It worked well, and I bet any type of salsa would work as well.
Black Bean Salsa Burgers
Salsa goes right in the burger patties rather than on top, to bring loads of flavor and texture to these plant-based burgers. Choose your favorite salsa; just be sure that it’s really chunky. Straining the salsa to get just the flavorsome chunks prevents the burgers from being too wet and falling apart.
Makes 4 or 5 burgers
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil, for pan, plus more for cooking burgers
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 cup (70 g) chopped button mushrooms (can be quite chunky as they will reduce when browned)
- 1 cup (80 g) rolled oats
- 1½ cups (258 g) cooked black beans, or 1 (15.5-oz [439-g]) can, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup (260 g) chunky salsa
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 or 5 vegan hamburger buns
- Your favorite hamburger fixings
If you’re baking the burgers, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and fry, stirring from time to time, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and fry for another 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Transfer to a large bowl.
Heat the remaining tablespoon (15 ml) of oil in the same skillet. Add the mushrooms and leave them for a minute to brown on one side before stirring and continuing to fry. Once browned all over, transfer to the bowl with the onion.
In a food processor, pulse the oats until you have mostly oat flour with some whole oats remaining, for texture. Transfer to the bowl. Put the black beans in the food processor and blend until mostly pureed with some whole beans remaining, also for texture. Transfer to the bowl.
Put the salsa in a strainer and stir to remove the excess tomato sauce, until you have mostly chunks remaining. Measure ½ cup (130 g) of this super chunky salsa and add it to the bowl along with the paprika, salt and pepper. Mix well to incorporate everything.
Form the mixture into 4 or 5 patties, depending on the size of your buns. The mix is a bit wet but should not be unmanageable. I take a ball in my hands, flatten it out into a patty on a plate, then use a spatula to transfer it to a baking pan or skillet when ready to cook. They may need a bit of reshaping once in the pan. If you’re having trouble, you can add a bit more oat flour so that they hold together better.
To bake, lightly oil a baking pan, transfer the patties to the pan and bake for 20 minutes, flipping at 10 minutes. To fry, heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a tablespoon (15 ml) of oil. Fry the patties for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until browned.
Once cooked, transfer the patties to a wire rack and let cool for a few minutes. They will firm up a bit as they cool. Serve on the buns with your favorite hamburger fixings.
Reprinted with permission from 30-Minute Frugal Vegan Recipes by Melissa Copeland, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Melissa Copeland.