The $15.82 Grocery Shopping Trip
“This is not “How to Avoid Starvation Dot Com,” I often tell people. No, the meals you see here are not comprised of packaged ramen noodles, beans and rice. They are, however, made of fresh, easy-to-procure, inexpensive ingredients with minimal technique. This is BrokeAss Gourmet after all—not just BrokeAss Food. But how to get from “food” to “gourmet” can be something of a challenge for some, particularly for those used to relying on frozen pizza.
The lost art of grocery shopping can be confusing, especially if you are new to cooking, and so I often receive emails from readers asking what I buy each week. Well, today, I went to Duc Loi, my favorite local Asian grocer, where I regularly go to find fresh food and great deals, and bought my usual week’s-worth of groceries. I brought it all home in my backpack and my good friend Joe (whom I ran into while at the store and subsequently invited over for coffee), hung out patiently with me as I arranged and photographed my purchases in the sunlight on my back porch. I thought it might be useful if I gave you an idea of some good fresh staples to have on hand, which, along with a smartly-stocked pantry, some spices and a few simple techniques can feed one person quite well for the better part of a week.
Below, you’ll find my list, along with suggestions for each ingredient.
- 1 bunch Kale $1.19: I buy a large bunch of kale, spinach or chard every week. I blend it into soups, cook it with olive oil and garlic or toss into stir-fries. Greens are good for you, and tasty too!
- 1 pint half-and-half $1.39 for a pint: I take my coffee black, but I stir half-and-half into scrambled eggs, creamy soups, sauces or even over pasta with butter and Parmesan for a quick, slightly lighter Alfredo sauce. It’s an instant thickener and makes sauces taste richer (read: expensive) for very little money. A whole pint of this stuff usually lasts me longer than a week as I usually only use it in 1-2 tbsp increments.
- 1 dozen eggs $1.89: Really, where would BrokeAsses be without eggs? Not getting enough protein, that’s for damn sure. Eggs provide high-quality protein for very little money. Scramble a couple with half-and-half and some fresh veggies for a quick, filling meal or bake them in tomato sauce for a brunch that looks fancy but costs very little.
- 2 bone-in, skin intact chicken breasts $3.89: This is essentially the best, meatiest part of a whole chicken. I prefer to buy them with the skin and bones intact because I’ll roast them whole with herbs, garlic and olive oil (this usually makes enough for at least 2-3 meals), and then boil the leftover carcass and any excess skin with herbs, garlic and onion skins to make fresh chicken broth, which is a great base for a soup/stew as well as ideal cooking liquid for risotto or other rice dishes. That’s a lot of food for $3.89.
- 1 pound lean ground pork $1.13: I usually switch between ground beef, ground pork and ground turkey (the last of which Duc Loi doesn’t carry), to make burgers, meatballs or taco filling throughout the week. This incredibly cheap meat absorbs whatever flavors you add to it and can make for the base of a delicious and filling meal.
- 1 red onion $0.25: Given the choice, I almost always go with red onions over white or yellow. In most recipes, any kind of onion works, but I find that pretty purple onions add a lovely depth to the appearance of the dish. A major key to good BrokeAss Gourmet cooking is to present food nicely and having a variety of colors on the plate helps with this. After cutting into it, wrap any unused onion in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
- 1 bunch green onions (scallions) $0.59: Chopped green onions perk up just about every savory dish, both in terms of flavor and appearance. I stir them into meatballs, sprinkle them over sauteed vegetables or top pizza with them.
- 1 bunch of fresh cilantro $0.39: I’ll switch up the fresh herbs I buy on a regular basis, but I am pretty much always in the mood for cilantro. All fresh herbs go far to help your dishes taste fresher (and therefore more “gourmet”), and like the red onion above, they also give your plate a lovely pop of color, especially when chopped and sprinkled over a dish just before serving.
- 1 avocado $1.49: California girl that I am, I like avocado on everything. It’s a great way to add creaminess to a dish without loading on the cheese, and it’s quite rich in healthy fats. I usually use 1/4 avocado at a time, whether on top of eggs, cubed over chili, in tacos, or in a quick guacamole.
- 2 jalapeños $0.20: I used to douse everything in hot sauce until I figured out that freshly chopped jalapeños (leave the seeds intact if you really like hot food!) deliver an even higher quality of spiciness to dishes. I’ll use them in soups, stews, eggs, fresh salsas and over roasted meats. If I have a little extra time, I’ll roast them under the broiler or over the flame of my gas stove until they blacken and blister, at which point I peel them under cool running water. The resulting pepper is sweet with a slight kick—the perfect base for a green salsa.
- 1 lb carrots $0.40: Just about every dish can benefit from the crunch, color and great flavor of carrots. They’re incredibly cheap (especially at Duc Loi!) and can be roasted, sauteed, boiled or broiled and served with nearly any sauce for a great side dish. They’re also obviously great cut into spears and served plain or with hummus, peanut butter or yogurt dip as a healthy snack.
- 2 medium heirloom tomatoes $1.63: Take your sandwich to the next step with fresh, sweet and flavorful sliced fresh tomatoes. Chop up a tomato and some fresh herbs and stir into your jarred tomato sauce to give it a homemade flavor that will fool anyone. Remember to buy your tomatoes when they’re somewhat firm and then store them in a cool dry place (not the refrigerator) to retain their best flavor.
- 2 heads garlic $1.41: Alice Brock is famous for saying, “Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” It’s true—garlic makes everything good; that’s why it’s in the $50 Pantry. 2 heads will probably last me at least the next 2-3 weeks.
And that’s it. I might pick up some cheese later this week. Perhaps a fresh piece of fish if I’m in the mood, but otherwise, this will feed me well. What do you buy every week? Where do you find great deals in your city? Please share in the comments!
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What They're Saying
Erin, on Oct 4, 10:16 PM, wrote:
I love these ideas! I always buy plain yogurt… not just to eat, though it’s great with pure maple syrup (in my pantry always) or honey or fruit… It’s also a great way to cook fish in, and mix up a dressing or sauce…. I love the tangy flavor! Mmmmm.
Sarah, on Oct 5, 06:19 AM, wrote:
Eggs are at the very top of my must-have list. Other than that, I really like to have bananas, (fair trade) cocoa powder, some sort of milk alternative, and vanilla on hand. Everything else is variable for me.
DH and I committed to really cutting down on our grocery spending (we were getting out of control!), so we confine our trips to farmers markets and local discount stories. (We’re actually lucky enough to have quite a few in our area.)
Jess, on Oct 5, 06:35 AM, wrote:
You ROCK for this helpful list, thank you!
I buy proscuitto & spinach every week, & cook them together with butter, then add proscuitto to peas, with cheese & pear slices, or in a salad. If I use bacon, I never use the whole package & have to throw some away.
Lately I’ve been on a tuna salad with orange bell pepper & garlic & onion kick.
Lara, on Oct 5, 11:33 PM, wrote:
I also must have yogurt – specifically plain Greek yogurt. You can mix it with any number of ingredients to turn it into a sweet or savory sauce or dip, use it as a healthy base for chicken salad or potato salad (I like red skin potatoes and chives), use it as the base for a curry style dish, or eat it plain with fruit, granola, and/or honey.
I also like to buy cabbage. In my opinion, cabbage is one of the most under-utilized vegetables. I like it chopped up and sauteed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s also good in all types of slaws (again, you can use the Greek yogurt here, or do a simple lemon/vinegar and olive oil style marinade). Finally, one of the best savory cabbage dishes, I love my stuffed cabbage! Drop the leaves in hot water until they’re limp, stuff them with a rice and ground beef mixture, then bake in tomato sauce (and a little sugar if you like). Such classic comfort food. Lately, I’ve also been doing a more modern style cabbage roll with raw cabbage leaves stuffed with ground chicken, peanuts, chili flakes, lime juice, and green onions cooked Thai-style like larb (add some fish sauce and Sriracha if you like). Delicious and low carb!
Last note – I’m located in Chicago and great, cheap veggies, deli, Italian and Greek dry goods, breads, and an assortment of cheeses and pre-made foods can all be found at Stanley’s on North Ave. They also have bulk olive oil in giant casks!
Thank you Gabi for all your recipes. I read frequently, but this is the first time I’ve comment. Keep them coming!
Alex Good, on Oct 9, 04:52 PM, wrote:
Carrots are like 5 bucks here. Why are vegetables so cheap where you live?
Annika, on Jul 10, 09:19 PM, wrote:
40 cents for a pound of carrots?! They’re like a dollar and some change at Sprout’s or Ralph’s (Safeway in SFBA, I guess?). Ahhh, Asian markets!
I’m Cambodian-American from Long Beach, CA but I moved to Venice Beach and there aren’t any Asian grocers here. :-( So I pay twice what I normally would have in Long Beach. My mom still lives in the LB area and has the pleasure of shopping for verrrrrrrrry cheap at the Khmer markets. sigh.
Marcie, on Feb 20, 08:42 AM, wrote:
In which world is a pound of pork $1.13? I think this list is outdated.
Christy, on Feb 28, 07:07 PM, wrote:
Those prices seem VERY inexpensive. A pound of pork here is over $5. And that is for conventional pork, not organic. Do you shop at a regular grocery store or a specialty-type store?
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