Vegan on a Budget #1: Veggie Pasta

A typical conversation ensues when someone finds out I’m vegan:  they usually respond first with shock (“I don’t know how you can do it!”, “But what do you eat?”, “So you don’t even wear leather?!”), then feel the need to tell me why they aren’t vegan themselves (despite the fact that I have never once asked anyone to explain this to me).  Can it, people, I don’t care.  It’s all excuses to me, save for the few people I know who live in remote places without access to decent grocery stores.  But whatever.  Maybe cheese fries are just that important to you.  I don’t know.

Anyway, the number 1 reason I get why people aren’t vegan is, “I just like cheese too much”.  I can’t really help you with that.  Daiya exists, but other than that we vegans do need to learn to live without our jarred nacho cheese dip and Easy-Mac (there are better things in life, I promise you, but that’s another post for another time).  The number 2 response is, “Isn’t being vegan expensive?”

It’s a common belief, and not completely untrue.  When I first went vegan I was buying meat substitutes left and right, and they can add up.  Having been trapped in a cheeseburger-or-grilled-chicken-or-tacos-or-pasta rut for eighteen years, I had a lot to learn about making entrees without meat or at least a meat analogue.  Boca Crumbles are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but they are pricey and not really that good for you either.

The other reason people think being vegan is expensive is because most people automatically assume we eat 100% organic.  I know people who do, but only a few.  I do eat as much organic produce as possible, but if it’s double the price I pass on it and get whatever’s cheap.

The point is, just like “normal” people meals, they can be as cheap or as inexpensive as you want them to be.  I actually spend less on food now than I did when I ate meat.  From time to time I’ll post a meal that’s particularly budget-friendly and let you know roughly what I spent to make it.  Hopefully it will prove that being vegan doesn’t have to mean lots of expensive or fancy ingredients.  And think of all the money you’ll save on cholesterol medications twenty years down the road 😉

Vegetable Pasta

Vegetable Saute

Vegetable Saute

In the instance of the photo above, I used a relatively simple mix of pasta toppings including an onion (50 cents), a green bell pepper (50 cents), 4 ounces of fresh Cremini mushrooms ($1), and pine nuts (35 cents, purchased in bulk).  The ingredients themselves don’t matter so much; what matters is, this is what was inexpensive and/or I already had in my fridge.  I heated the mix on medium with a little olive oil and a drizzle of white wine (both of which I already had).

In a separate pot, I cooked the noodles, using whole wheat angelhair I found on sale for 85 cents per pound.  If you want to reduce the cost of your meal even further, drop the noodles in while the water is at a rolling boil, then cover the pot (with the lid tipped a little to prevent it from boiling over) and reduce the heat to medium.  Five minutes later, turn the burner off all together.  You’ll save a little on your power bill and your noodles will still cook to perfection.

Sauce

Sauce

There are two ways you can make the sauce.

Store-Bought: Buy a can of whatever plain ol pasta sauce you can find.  I got a big can of chunky vegetable (store brand) for 70 cents.  Heat it up over the stove and add some oregano, a little pinch of cinnamon and/or chili powder, some cracked red and black pepper, and a little garlic (2 cents/clove at the farmer’s market) and some fresh basil if you have it (I grow my own, so it’s always free).

Homemade: Check out your grocery store, farmer’s market, or produce market to see if you can find some soft tomatoes for cheap.  The grocery stores often throw away all of the squishy, overripe produce, so if you talk to the department manager they’ll often give you a good deal on it.  Farmer’s markets are a way to try your hand at haggling.  If you’re not into that, just visit the same farmer a few weeks in a row and chat them up–they almost always slip a few extra tomatoes into your bag.  If you grow your own tomatoes, even better.  I bought 1/4 bushel of tomatoes for $6 at the farmer’s market and used less than a fourth of the tomatoes to make a sizable batch of sauce.

Chop up the tomatoes (around ten for enough sauce to feed 4-6 people) and boil them down over medium-high for 2-3 hours, then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook them until you get sick of waiting.  Add some spices in there while you’re at it.  Leave the lid off the pot for at least an hour to reduce some of the water (I also strain mine over a mesh screen).  If you want it chunky, leave it be, otherwise toss it in the food processor or use an immersion blender to smooth it out.  If you have leftovers you can can (can-can, can you do the can-can) it or freeze it for later use.

The Finished Product!

The Finished Product!

So, in short: Buy some cheap vegetables, and find an inexpensive way to get sauce (by either buying it or making it yourself).  Scrounge around your refrigerator and use up all the produce you can.  Cook up some noodles, mix it all together, and voila–an inexpensive entree that has the added benefit of not being a greasy corpse.

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