Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Guest Post: Robin Robertson

The Topic: Top Tips from the Cookbook Queen

The Dish: Robin Robertson is my hero. This incredibly talented, 2009 Veggie Award winner has penned more amazing cookbooks than I can hope to use in a lifetime, but you better believe I'm trying. That might be because every recipe she creates is freaking delicious and easy to create. So naturally, you can imagine how stoked I was when I found out she was releasing an entire book dedicated to living on a budget. Vegan on the Cheap is full of Robin's sage wisdom and practical know-how on living within your means without sacrificing good-tasting food—or your ethics. Today, Robin shares her savvy tips on making the most of your next grocery trip. And of course, one of her amazing recipes is included!

Top Five Savvy Grocery Shopping Tips
By Robin Robertson
  1. Plan a Menu/Make a Grocery List. When you plan your menu for the week, try to incorporate ingredients you have on hand, then write up your grocery list to include the remaining items you need to complete the meals, along with other items you may need. Then, when you shop, stick to the list to avoid impulse shopping.
  2. Shop Ethnic. Check out the ethnic grocery stores in your area for low-cost produce, rice, spices, and other items. In an Asian market, I found roasted peeled chestnuts for 99¢ in a vacuum-sealed bag that were selling in the supermarket for nine dollars a jar. And, you can usually find tofu for less than a dollar per pound.
  3. Support Community Agriculture. Whether you join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group and receive a box of fresh produce each week, or simply shop at your local farmers' markets, it's usually cheaper than supermarket produce and tastes better, too. For a list of CSA farms in your area and to find out more about how it works, check out Local Harvest. If you don't have access to either in your area, check the classifieds in your local paper for produce stands and pick-your-own farms.
  4. Grocery Shopping No-Brainers. Take advantage of specials; avoid impulse purchases; don't shop when you're hungry; use coupons; buy generic store brands; buy seasonal produce; buy in bulk—bulk spices, nuts, beans, and grains can save big bucks.
  5. Postpone Grocery Shopping. See how long you can put off going to the supermarket by using up what you have on hand. You may actually be able to go nearly a week beyond your normal shopping day, cutting the total monthly grocery budget significantly. This also encourages you to rotate on-hand items such as frozen foods that are approaching their "use by" date and nonperishables from your pantry, as well as stray produce that might otherwise go bad. It also stimulates your creativity. I like to choose a few items from my stash and put them on the counter, then let my imagination take over how to combine them. For example, a can of white beans, crushed tomatoes, garlic, and a box of pasta have "yummy dinner" written all over them. Some rice or quinoa, walnuts, frozen peas, and an onion can make a flavorful pilaf—like this one.
Curried Red Bean Pilaf with Walnuts and Raisins
From Vegan on the Cheap © 2010 John Wiley & Sons.

Rice and beans make an economical and nutritious meal, and there are lots of ways to add variety to this dynamic duo. This recipe, seasoned with curry powder, raisins, and walnuts is one delicious way, but don't stop there. Variations can include omitting the curry in favor of other spice blends or herbs, using a different type of bean, and adding different vegetables.

Makes 4 Servings

What You Need:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 scallions, minced
1 cup long-grain brown rice
2 to 3 teaspoons hot or mild curry powder
2 cups vegetable broth
1-1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup toasted walnut pieces
Salt and black pepper

What You Do:
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add onion, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add scallions and cook for 1 minute. Add rice and curry powder, stirring to coat. Stir in broth and bring to a boil.
  2. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, 35 to 45 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat. Stir in beans, peas, raisins, and walnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot.
The Final Word: It doesn't have to be all white rice and mustard sandwiches if you're low on cash (What? You've never lived on that combo before?). Robin can truly help give your bank account a break, while helping you dine on dishes that taste fancy enough to warrant a restaurant price. Check back for part 2 of Robin's guest posting, when she goes from supermarket savvy to cooking in the kitchen.


  1. I LOVE Robin! When I was a newlywed married to a meat-eater, her cookbook, One Dish Vegetarian Meals, saved us. My husband gave up asking where the meat was and immediately started to look forward to dinner. Thanks, Abby. for this post. Good tips for everyone, on a budget, or not. I'll order Robin's new book to give as wedding gifts this summer.

  2. Robin is great. We are doing an entire cook-through of Vegan on the Cheap. www.twoveganboys.wordpress.com Every recipe has been wonderful so far.

  3. This is going to be a wonderful book! I have it on my birthday wishlist.

  4. Robin rocks! I love her cookbooks!

  5. Found this linked from another blog. I’ll keep following your stuff from now, cause this was rather informative. thanks.