One of the first things to learn about eating well on a budget is the cost difference between buying prepared food versus what you prepare at home.
For many, the thought of preparing everyday items at home appears daunting. The head starts swirling with thoughts of “I don’t have all the ingredients” and “it would never taste like what I buy in the store” or “I just can’t cook.”
Excuses. All excuses. The truth is most things really can be simply made, taste better than what you buy – sans preservatives and terrible artificial items – and are really cheaper.
Case in point: a jar of salsa. A four-pound jar of Pace Medium Salsa is around $5.58 at Walmart. That’s pretty good really because at a traditional grocery store a one-pound jar runs of any name-brand salsa runs around $3.50.
However, if you buy the products and make four pounds of salsa would cost around between $4.50 and $5.60 depending on whether the vegetables were in season and whether you had items like chili powder, salt and sugar already. Generally, I come out cheaper to make it and my numbers include buying the entire item i.e. a bunch of cilantro. If you break down actual cost of what goes into it, it comes out much cheaper than buying it premade..around $4.25 for four pounds.
I use leftover cilantro, onions, peppers and in other dishes or for a new batch of salsa later in the week. No waste.
Salsa takes about 15 minutes to make. My husband, Chef Mike, likes my salsa much better than anything we’ve bought and it never gives him heartburn.
Here is my salsa recipe. It makes around two pounds of salsa.
3 medium sized ripe to overripe tomatoes Hint: if you ask the produce person for tomatoes they will be getting rid of today because they are too ripe to sell, they will either sell them really cheap or give them to you. Cost: $1.50
1 medium onion – either Vidalia, white, or green onions – I get whatever is on sale. The Vidalia is best for taste, the green onions is best for color. White if you want it hot. Cost: 75 cents for either one onion or a bunch of green onions.
1 medium green bell pepper Cost: 78 cents right now
Cilantro – you have to buy it by the bunch. One bunch is plenty. You’ll have a good bit left over for other meals. Cost: 78 cents a bunch in season
Two small cloves of garlic Hint: if you buy fresh, it’s cheaper. Cost: 30 cents for a full garlic bulb which has about eight cloves
1 T White sugar
2 T Chili powder $1.00 for a full jar at the Dollar Store
2 T Salt $1.00 for a full box at most stores including the Dollar Store
Wash all your vegetables and cilantro. Cut the tomatoes into quarters, coring out the stem area. Cut about half the onion and half of bell pepper into quarters. If using green onions, cut two up into smaller pieces (size really doesn’t matter), including the greens. Cut the ends off the two garlic cloves and remove the outer skin. Cut in half.
Put all of these items on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Cook on broil for about 10 minutes, until you can smell the garlic and the green pepper starts to get a hint of brown.
Put all items in food processor. Add about one-quarter of the cilantro bunch. You don’t have to cut it, but make sure the bottom of the stem isn’t brown. I usually cut that thicker section off.
Add your seasonings and process. Taste and adjust seasonings to your likes. I usually add more salt or chili powder at this point, but it’s really a matter of individual taste.