It's springtime, and love is in the air — not to mention the smell of delicious seasonal delicacies, such as fresh asparagus, spinach, lamb and other favorites, many of which you can now find at their lowest prices of the year.
All recipes are for two servings but can easily be increased proportionately. I managed to recently cook all three dishes for under $3 per serving, but then I'm a very savvy grocery shopper and found some key ingredients on sale, either at the grocery store or at the dollar store or farmers' markets.
Even if you're not so lucky with finding things on sale, the ingredients in these recipes shouldn't break the bank for your springtime dinner dates.
I've included the prices for some of the items I found. This can serve as a guideline for what is a good price.
Spring Lamb Stir Fry — Mediterranean Style
Don't think of stir fry for only Asian dishes. Stir fry is a cooking method, not a cuisine, and it's perfect for this quick-and-delicious Mediterranean lamb dish. If you don't own a wok, a large stick-free skillet works just as well.
- 1 1/2 cups (about 12 ounces) raw lamb cut into bite-size strips. Any cut of lamb will work — even inexpensive shoulder/blade steaks — or you can use cooked leftover bits from a roast or leg of lamb ($2.29 per pound — lamb shoulder chop).
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup honey (25 cents portion from a dollar store purchase)
- 4 spring onions, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, green tops and all (50 cents)
- 1/2 cup whole olives (green or black — I like to use whole kalamata olives, being careful to avoid the pits) (33 cents based on a $1 can from a dollar store)
- 1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped (60 cents)
- 2 cups fresh whole-leaf spinach (about 1/4 pound) (50 cents — farmers' market)
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves (from my garden — easy to grow, even in pots)
- 1/3 cup feta cheese (about 65 cents — portion from bulk purchase at warehouse store)
- 2 cups cooked rice or cut macaroni (50 cents)
Estimated cost of ingredients: $5.62
Heat the oil in the wok until almost smoking. Add garlic, then lamb, and cook until lamb starts to brown (about 3 to 4 minutes). Add the honey and onions and cook, stirring, for 1 minute to 2 minutes. Add olives and the tomato and cook for about 1 minute. Add spinach and cook until it just begins to wilt. Stir in mint leaves and remove from heat. Serve on a bed of rice or cut macaroni, topped with the feta cheese.
Vidalia Onions Stuffed With Salmon
Vidalia onions are a springtime treat, so mild and delicious that they're cast in a starring role in this easy-to-make casserole that combines the classic tastes of salmon, sour cream and onions. Fresh salmon could be cubed and substituted for the canned salmon called for in the recipe, but that would no doubt break our budget.
- 2 large Vidalia onions (about $1.50)
- 1 14.5 ounce can pink salmon ($1.99 — store brand)
- 1 pint fat-free or light sour cream (99 cents — store special sale)
- 2 cups bread and/or cracker crumbs (about 50 cents)
- 2 eggs (about 50 cents)
- 1 tablespoon dried dill
- 2 tablespoons capers (optional)
- 2 tablespoons cream sherry (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Estimated cost of ingredients: $5.48
Trim both ends the onions and peel off the outside skin. Cut in half, crossways. Slide out the center core of the onions and a couple of the inside rings, leaving more than you've removed and creating a "cup" out of each onion half.
Mince the leftover onion cores/rings. Flake the salmon in a bowl. Whisk the eggs together and stir into the salmon, along with 1 cup of the bread/cracker crumbs and 1/2 of the minced onion.
Combine sour cream with the remaining minced onion and dill, and add salt and pepper to taste; stir in capers and sherry, if desired. Pour the sour cream mixture into an 8x8 baking dish. Place the onion "cups" upright in the baking dish, and spoon the salmon mixture into the cups, heaping any excess on top. Sprinkle the remaining bread/cracker crumbs on top.
Cover with tinfoil and bake for 40 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. After 40 minutes, remove the tinfoil and continue to bake 20 minutes longer, until topping is browned (it can also be placed under a broiler for a minute or two to brown the topping).
Chicken Thighs Stuffed With Spring Veggies
As my wife often reminds me, I'm no spring chicken. But boy, does she love this spring chicken dish, which combines a medley of fresh seasonal vegetables with a salute to her favorite soup: French onion. Chicken breast could be substituted for thighs, although we prefer the dark meat, which is usually less expensive.
- 2 large chicken thighs ($1.19 — about 1 1/2 pounds on sale at 79 cents per pound)
- 8 asparagus spears (about $1 — store special at $1.29 per pound)
- 2 medium carrots (about 30 cents)
- 2 spring onions (25 cents )
- 1 can French onion soup with 1 can water ($1.29)
- 2 slices mozzarella cheese (about 60 cents — portion from bulk purchased from a warehouse store)
- 4 thick slices French bread (about 80 cents)
Estimated cost of ingredients: $5.43
Skin and debone the chicken thighs; place one at a time in a plastic bag and flatten with a mallet or rolling pin. Wash the asparagus and remove tough end. Peel the carrots and slice each in half, lengthwise. Wash spring onions and trim ends. Wrap equal portions of vegetables — like a bunch of pencils — in each chicken thigh. Tie a piece of kitchen twine around each bundle to hold it together or just tuck ends under.
Mix the French onion soup with a can of water in an 11x7 baking dish. Cover dish with aluminum foil and cook in preheated 375-degree oven for 30 minutes; then remove foil and cook for an additional 30 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked to desired tenderness. Place a slice of cheese on top of each bundle and return to oven until just melted, or quickly brown under broiler.
Ladle onion soup/sauce into shallow bowls, and place two slices of French bread in each bowl. Carefully place a bundle of chicken and vegetables on top of the bread slices and remove cooking string.
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.