Category Archives: Asian

Korean fried chicken: $2.12/serving

Fried chicken can be expensive. Not only is there the cost of the chicken itself, there’s also the copious amount of oil used to fry it in. But did you know you can re-use fryer oil several times, even if it was used to cook meat? Just strain it when you’re done and store it in the fridge or freezer. This way $4 worth of oil (provided you’re already buying it inexpensively in bulk) becomes $2 or even $1 worth. Also, while it’s cheapest to just buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself, it’s often possible to find packages of drumsticks on markdown—not a lot of people seem to buy them, especially the big packages of 16 or more, so be on the lookout. When you see them, take them home, package them into manageable portions, and freeze them. This particular version of fried chicken was born of just that: a package of drumsticks on major markdown, plus a bounty of garlic harvested from my neighbor’s yard. (The pineapple was not on sale, but I’m going to invoke the pregnancy pass for that one.)

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Mushroom potstickers: $1.68/serving

Though these aren’t the best-ever potstickers, which by definition must involve pork*, they just might be the best vegetarian/vegan potstickers. Two kinds of flavorful mushrooms (or more, depending on your budget) sautéed with green onions, cilantro, soy sauce, sherry, sugar, and oyster sauce (or vegan oyster sauce), and that’s it. They’re easy enough for a weeknight meal if you’re used to making potstickers by hand, or a great appetizer choice for a mixed-crowd dinner party or potluck. You’ll never go back to the processed, frozen-in-a-bag kind again.

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Grilled chicken yakitori: $1.82/serving

Despite the fact we in Portland are more or less forced to make the absolute most of our three months of sunshine, I don’t do a whole lot of grilling. Mostly because there’s not much to grill other than large amounts of (expensive and not-too-good-for-you) meat, and also because if I am going to grill a large amount of expensive and not-too-good-for-you meat, I’d rather do it on the smoker and really make the whole enterprise worthwhile. Dragging out the grill for just a quick 20-30 minutes just seems so inefficient. But if I’m going to do it, this is one of the things I like to make. It’s on skewers so you can choose as many or as few bite-sized chicken pieces as you want, and the yakitori glaze really complements the grill-smoke flavor. Serve it as a full meal with rice and salad, or bring some skewers to a group barbecue.

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Garlic scallion noodles: 48 cents/serving

This is a terrific, flavor-packed weeknight meal that can be whipped up in minutes using pantry staples, some green onions, oyster sauce, and Vietnamese fish sauce. I made it specifically to use up some Chinese egg noodles I had wearing out their welcome in the fridge, but you can also use just plain ol’ spaghetti and I promise it’ll be just as good. You could also add meat or fried tofu for protein, if you’re so inclined, although it most certainly doesn’t cry out for any additions, especially given the amounts of butter and sugar in play here. (Trust me—you won’t be sorry.)

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Asian cabbage slaw: 50 cents/serving

This very well might be the most versatile slaw I know of—it’s terrific on its own as a salad, as a side with meat, or as a meal in a wrap, over noodles, or with rice, as it was enjoyed this time. I’m not a fan of mayonnaise-based slaws, so this one features light, crisp flavors and a sesame vinaigrette—perfect for summer, when it might have to sit outside in the sun. Make up a big ol’ bowl and keep it in the fridge for light, cheap, filling lunch salads throughout the week. (If you do this, save the peanuts as a garnish rather than mixing them in, as the acid in the rice vinegar will turn them mushy after a few days.)

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Pork and noodles in coconut-tamarind sauce: $1.52/serving

As a frozen bag of chipotle chiles in adobo (just empty out the can into a Ziploc) is to Mexican cooking, a frozen bag of tamarind paste is to Thai cooking: indispensable. It’s extremely versatile (you can use tamarind in place of lime juice) and you can always be sure you have some on hand. Tamarind paste can be found in brick form in pretty much any Asian market, and frozen, it lasts pretty much forever. I’ve probably had the same block in my freezer for almost two years, and I’m just now getting to the last little chunk. It’s great for any kind of curry or pad Thai, desserts, and thrown-together weeknight dishes like this one that could benefit from a little sweet tanginess.

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Szechuan chicken: $1.44/serving

I have a complicated relationship with this dish, which originally came out of an old Jeff Smith “Frugal Gourmet” paperback (I couldn’t tell you which one; I threw out the book long ago and kept only this page) that belonged to my mom. Though she wrote on this very recipe (“great!”) and I remember eating it growing up, she denies ever having made it. I started cooking it myself about a decade ago simply because it was easy, but B. is, has been, and probably always will be completely obsessed with it. He can eat an entire pan by himself, and for some reason never tires of what, to me, is a depressingly rudimentary flavor profile of pepper, soy sauce, and sherry. That said, it is a simple, tasty, cheap weeknight meal that can be used as a template for whatever you have on hand—feel free to add greens, vegetables, garlic, ginger…whatever strikes your fancy. Or keep to the original recipe, in all its original glory. It just might become an unexpected favorite in your house as well.

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Chinese takeout-style pork lo mein: $1.86/serving

Given the popularity of last month’s orange chicken and sesame noodles, I thought it’d be worth taking another crack at some Chinese “takeout” for under $2 a serving. (It should be noted that although it’s a smaller serving than what you’d receive at a restaurant, it’s not dramatically smaller.) Employing the help of Cook’s Illustrated, I think I was able to pull off a version that’s pretty dang close to the real thing. In fact, not only was it about three times as flavorful, it was missing about three times the amount of grease. As I recommend in the actual recipe, it’s worth investing in a large bag of dried shiitake mushrooms (available at all Asian markets) for this and other meals that call for shiitakes; they’re about one-third the price of fresh, and the liquid left over from reconstituting them makes an amazing mushroom stock or soup broth you can freeze for later.

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Stir-fried cabbage with ginger, chilies and rice: 70 cents/serving

This is not the first time I’ve set out to prove that if you have a head of cabbage, 20 minutes, and some pantry staples, you have a meal (see: pickled cabbage stir-fry, white beans and cabbage), but it bears repeating because this dish is so surprisingly good and involves so few ingredients. And in addition to costing under $1 per serving, it’s versatile—B. had leftovers the next day on bread with a fried egg on top and declared them even better than the night before. It may not be the photogenic bowl of food, but part of this is because the cabbage is so well-cooked and deeply flavored that it doesn’t even look like cabbage anymore, let alone taste like it.

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Fried tofu sub sandwich: $1.19 each

Inspired by the General Tso’s fried tofu sub featured on both Serious Eats and in The New York Times, this is a sandwich for meat lovers. I’ve been cooking tofu a long time, and this method of applying a dry-rub to water-expelled tofu (the latter being one of my tweaks), dredging in a slurry of egg white and cornstarch, and covering in panko before frying is something I had never thought of doing, and it completely transformed the tofu into something abjectly un-tofu-like. Super-crunchy on the outside, sweet, soft and flavorful on the inside, it tastes like an illicit state-fair treat or exotic Asian bar snack, not the humble, flavorless tofu you know. Nestled in a sub sandwich with spicy sriracha mayo, lettuce, roasted onions, and lime juice, it’s almost transcendent. I feel compelled to provide fair warning that this is a project—I made both the sub rolls and the mayo from scratch—but it’s completely worth it. (It should also be noted the original sub, from No. 7 Sub in Manhattan, costs $9.)

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