Eat seasonally – you hear it all the time, and even worse, often one person is credited for the “movement.” Thank you Alice Waters for all you’ve done, but let’s face it, housewives and home cooks haven’t been doing this for ages, often with little choice.
While buying seasonally and locally is often how we get the freshest food at the best cost, in many areas we’d be eating nothing but rutabagas and turnips if we followed this strictly. For the record, I love them both, but not as a steady diet!
In mid winter, one of the best bets for vegetables is to find sales priced items on special. Often shipped in large quantities, they tend to travel quickly and arrive in the best shape. Lo and behold, Zucchini was on sale 69 cents a pound, so Stuffed Vegetables immediately came to mind. Make these with whatever is reasonable and whatever looks good. Because I was only stuffing one type of vegetable, I added a bit of bell pepper and tomato to the stuffing.
By the way, these are not your Mother’s stuffed vegetables (at least not if you’re as old as me!) These are slightly cannibalistic veggies…vegetables stuffed with vegetables. Bulgar rounds them out and gives a slightly chewy, nutty taste echoed by the Parmesan sprinkled on top. For a totally vegetarian meal, use vegetable stock or water instead of chicken stock.
To complete the meal, I add a “Hamburger bun save” – basically a Parmesan Toast which is actually a go to recipe when I have left over buns. It doesn’t matter if you’re buns are slightly stale or even a little crushed – the wonderful, nutty Parmesan and the garlic butter would make even an old shoe taste good! I estimate the cost of the Parmesan toast as $1.20. The cost of the meal comes in at about $5.16; scroll down to see how I did it…
Vegetables stuffed with Bulgur, serves four, cost $3.96
- 3/4 cup bulgur
- 1 cup chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium carrot, diced small
- 1 small onion, chopped, if using an onion to stuff, use the center and top
- 1 cup mushrooms, diced (4 ounces)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon tarragon or oregano
- Vegetables for stuffing: use one per person of peppers, tomatoes or medium onions and/or two per person of zucchini, squash or large onion.
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the bulgur in a heat proof bowl. In a sauce pan or microwave, bring the broth/water up to a boil, then pour over the bulgar. Let the bulgar sit for about 20 minutes to absorb the liquid. Drain off any excess liquid – save the liquid to add to the bottom of the baking dish.
Vegetables for stuffing, preparation:
- Peppers: lay length wise and cut off the top third, then remove stems and seeds from both portions. Set the bottom portion aside and dice the top third portion and reserve. Note: it is more frugal to divide one pepper into half to serve each person, but this method allows you to use the reserved, chopped pepper for the stuffing.
- Zucchini: working lengthwise, remove the top half and dice and reserve. Scoop out seeds of the bottom third to create a “boat.” An ice cream scoop or melon baller makes quick work of this.
- Tomatoes: slice the top portion of the tomatoes off and scoop out the seeds to create a cup. Discard seeds. Salt the inside of the tomato and place upside down to draw out some of the liquid. Chop the top portion and reserve.
- Onions: If large, cut in half and if medium-sized, remove the top third. A melon baller will be helpful. Chop the removed onion and/or tops and reserve.
Note: Making this recipe by picking a combination of vegetables ensures you’ll be able to make a flavorful, colorful stuffing. If you only Stuff one or two types, consider supplementing your chopped vegetables with others and only using part of reserved the vegetable you are stuffing, saving the rest for another use. Example: You wouldn’t necessarily want an onion stuffed with onion or tomato stuffed with only tomato! I n the photo, above, you can see that while I only stuffed Zucchini, I added a bit of Tomato and Bell Pepper. Any left over stuffing is a wonderful addition to a salad or a quick snack on its own.
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrot and chopped onion and sweat about five minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms, and the reserved diced vegetables, along with the garlic to the pan. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are nearly tender, about five minutes; they’ll cook more inside the stuffed vegetables.
If the vegetables start to stick or dry out too much, add a bit of water to the pan. Add the bulgar to the sautéed vegetables. Stir in the chopped tarragon or oregano. Taste for salt and pepper at this point and add if necessary.
Stuff the vegetables with the bulgur mixture, mounding well. Place all vegetables except stuffed tomatoes in a shallow baking dish. The tomatoes, if you’re using, will be added about 15 minutes into the cooking time.
Add about 1/2 an inch or so of liquid (saved from draining the Bulgar) supplemented with water or broth )to the bottom of the dish. Cover tightly and bake until the vegetables are tender but still intact, 35 to 45 minutes or so, depending on how crisp/tender you wish your vegetables to be.
Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, then place carefully under the broiler for a few minutes until cheese is nicely melted and the top of the vegetables slightly browned. I find it is much easier to remove the vegetables to a foil lined tray (I simply turn the foil I covered my pan with upside down) and then broil them. The tray is easier to handle than a hot, liquid filled pan and the clean up much easier.
Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:
- Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
- Follow my Strategies – You’ll see them all explained on the upper left tab of every page and how I apply them, below.
- Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
- Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.
- The stuffing freezes very well for short amounts of time – to speed things along next time you make these, consider making enough stuffing for two batches. When you prepare your stuffing for the second batch, use the reserved, chopped vegetables in salads or another dish.
- Any left over stuffing mixture is wonderful in salads or as a snack, and if you use very shallow vegetables like the zucchini, there will be some left over.
- Choose the bargain vegetables, on sale, at the grocery.
- This is a wonderful dish to use left overs in, either random or planned! Carrots left over from the night before – toss them in this stuffing.
Strategies: to bring the cost down on the recipe to about $3.96
- Zucchini: Can be surprisingly expensive or down right cheap. At 69 cents a pound, and about a pound each, I spent $1.43.
- Tomato: Varies wildly in price and quality in the winter! For this recipe I used some sales priced cherry tomatoes I happened to have on hand, but normally would use plum tomatoes, about 1/2 cup. Cost about 50 cents.
- Bell Peppers: It’s a good idea to figure out the per pound or per pepper pricing. An average pepper is about five ounces, but if going per pepper, get the largest ones you can find. Green are almost always less expensive than colored peppers. A sale of 69 cents a pepper is a great winter price; I used half, 35 cents.
- Chicken Broth: I save all my chicken bones and vegetable parings and scraps and make my chicken broth. It really is an incredible savings and makes quite a difference in the taste of my dishes. I don’t count it as a cost.
- Bulgur: This is really a dirt cheap grain. Look for it in bulk rather than in the box. Cost for a cup, about 60 cents.
- Olive Oil: I have a little strategy for buying olive oil – using coupons and sales to lower the price, so click on the link. I think it’s important to use olive oil as opposed to many others – the health benefits outweigh a bit more extra cost, and it can be had at a very reasonable price. Cost for this recipe: 8 cents.
- Mushrooms: They are often on sale at my grocery for about 1/2 price, especially around holidays. I pick them up when they run 89 to 99 cents a package. Turns out, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods, the simple button mushroom as many good qualities as it’s more expensive siblings! Go underdog! Cost for 1/2 package, about 5 ounces, is 50 cents.
- Carrots: Rarely go on sale, but when they do, stock up. In the winter I often pick them up for 50 cents a pound. Don’t let them languish in moisture on the bottom of your refrigerator and they’ll last longer…turn them from time to time. Cost for one, about 8 cents.
- Onion: I’m lucky and stocked up at 33 cents a pound in December when our store had them on special. Keep them in a cool place, and use any right away if they look like they’re going to shoot. At any rate, they’re always dirt cheap. A medium onion is about 5 – 6 ounces. Cost 10 cents.
- Garlic: Runs around 59 to 99 cents a head in my area in the boxes. It can be a little tricky to discern the best prices because it can also be bought by the pound, and generally you’ll pay less this way.Cost for this recipe, for fresh garlic, about 5 cents.
- Tarragon: This is an underutilized herb, I think. If you have access to fresh tarragon, by all means use it. If you have dried, use that. But if you don’t have and don’t want to go out and buy, or don’t think you’ll use it again, by all means, just use the oregano.
- Parmesan Cheese: There was a time I only used “real” Parmesan, but budget dictated that I had to scrimp, and I’ve found that really, sometimes the canned isn’t so bad. Sometimes, though, it’s important to use real Parmesan, and I think this is the perfect place. I used a large hole grater – I think the taste is more distinct with the larger grate and I can get by with a little less. At $5.99 a pound, I used about an ounce, so my cost is around 37 cents.
Put Your own Spin on It:
- If you use tomato, why not use the extra you’ve cut off to rub on some toasted bread with garlic?
- This dish is beautiful with colorful bell peppers.
- You can layer in or mix in ricotta, add some Italian sausage, too, in this.
- This is good with Quinoa instead of the Bulgur.
My PayOff: I love that fact that this is filling and healthy – There are 7 grams of protein in the stuffed peppers, and two servings of vegetables – making this a complete meal without any meat except for the small amount of chicken broth.
Recipe Priced February, 2014