Austerity Measures and the Simplified Pantry

Before we got rid of our TV, I was becoming weary of the amount of hours dedicated to cookery programs which encourage people to “fetishize” food and slaver over exotic culinary preparations. Historically, an unhealthy fascination with gourmandise seems to have proliferated in civilisations on the cusp of decline and I think we are no exception.

It was this extraordinary photographic project from the book “Hungry Planet” that gave me the impetus to embark on my next experiment in simplicity.

Not only do I feel convicted about the excesses of our western diet but it has become a matter of financial importance to rationalise our grocery bill. I have also noticed that the only times I have been successful in losing weight and enjoying the benefits of a healthier diet where when I pursued a simple and fairly repetitive “ethnic” diet in the past.

Previously this consisted of a “raw” porridge of soaked oats for breakfast (with salt or honey), miso soup for lunch and simply prepared vegetables for tea (usually stir fried with rice or noodles). Knowing that the majority of people in the world do a full day’s work on a bowl of rice or some other staple, with some sort of garnish, convinces me that it must be possible to flourish on a much simpler diet.

Only eating our own baked bread has helped me to cut down a bread addiction.

I think it was Mahatma Gandhi who said the table fork is the most destructive weapon wielded by humans. For ethical reasons, meat and dairy no longer make an appearance on our plates but I have noticed how I have still clung to the pursuit of a rich and exotic palate. After paying our mortgage, it is our grocery bill that consumes the next greatest segment of our household income. No small contributor to this is the tendency to need a specific, exotic ingredient for a particular dish, that usually prompts a trip to the supermarket where a number of luxury “treats” also tend to be put in the basket before the checkout is reached.

For the sake of austerity and health and in order to bring our pantry more into line with the simple food of our fellow humans in poorer parts of the world, the next step was to cut the number of ingredients available.

Initially I have opted to limit the entire grocery stock to 35 items. This is still incredibly generous in world terms and I think we will still be enjoying a richer and more varied diet than most global citizens. However, it is just an experimental step in the general direction of a simpler existence. At the same time I hope to cut the weekly grocery bill to £30 a week for the two of us. I think that is realistic.

So, for the curious, here is the new stock list:

1. Rice (at the moment this is white basmati rice)
2. Pasta (dry fusilli)
3. Rolled Oats (jumbo organic – for raw porridge and the occasional flapjack)
4. Wholemeal Flour (for bread making and other baking)
5. Maize or Plantain Meal (African staples that are filling and nutritious and hopefully making more frequent appearances as I learn how to prepare them)

Pulses (Our core source of protein – I adore all beans but had to pick my favourites)
6. Lentils (for bulking up soups and preparing dhals)
7. Butter Beans (I usually use in stews or mash)
8. Mung Beans (for sprouting and other uses)
9. Chick Peas (one of the most important items in our diet of curry, hummus and falafel; also delicious roasted as a snack)
10. Red Kidney Beans (mainly end up prepared with chilli or refried, Mexican style)

11. Olive Oil (only used sparingly for dipping and dressing)
12. Rapeseed Oil (absolutely my oil of choice, a great “butter” substitute in most recipes and doesn’t burn easily)
13. Salt (of course)
14. Agave Nectar (trying to switch refined sugar out for this)
15. Vinegar (prefer cider vinegar for most purposes but it will be a case of what is available)
16. Cocoa Powder (Probably one of my most useful ingredients, not just for hot chocolate and baking projects but I have it on my oats and am currently exploring other uses)

Seasoning (these tend to be ones that are easily and cheaply bought in bulk)
17. Chilli Powder
18. Paprika
19. Coriander
20. Cumin
21. Black Pepper
22. Mixed Herbs

23. Dessicated Coconut (for baking and dhals and other curries, can be soaked and blended for use as “creamed coconut”)
24. Almonds (appearing a lot these days, I’m learning to prepare my own almond milk)
25. Dried Dates (use as a sweetener and a snack)
26. Tinned Tomatoes

27. Tea (for drinking but also makes rice more interesting, just as toasted rice makes a cup of tea more interesting …)
28. Ground Coffee
29. Rooibos (also known as Red Bush Tea, can be used as a herb in cooking)
30. Peppermint Tea

31. Garlic (I’m not ashamed to say we eat a lot of it and I believe in its medicinal properties)
32. Onions (everything starts with onions)
33. 3 Other Seasonal Vegetables

I don’t expect to be either bored or malnourished … but I’ll let you know how we get on.

11 thoughts on “Austerity Measures and the Simplified Pantry

    1. I used to put a tablespoon of rooibos in a bolognaise, hoping to capitalise on it’s “smoky” edge. It is quite a subtle taste so can be drowned out by other things or go a bit tanniny if overcooked – but I think it added a certain something. Apart from that I have done a couple of experiments cooking rice with it, taking the idea from “tea rice”. That works fine but I think I’d like to experiment a bit more. I have yet to try baking a “tea brack” with rooibos but I think that will be worth a try. I’ll let you know if I hit on anything amazing.

  1. Simon Tricker says:

    Wow. An impressive and worthy ambition. I look forward to hearing how you get on.
    As a bread maker I noted the absence of yeast from your list. Have you mastered the art of sourdough or was it an accidental omission?
    Cheerio. Simon

    1. Ah, yes – yeast!

      I have a couple of sachets of yeast left in stock but the long-term plan is, indeed, sourdough! I used to keep a batch of rye sourdough on the go in my utility room until it began to harbour something bright orange and that was the end of it. I plan to have another go, though. You’ll know better than I that before the days when you could buy dried yeast at the supermarket, people were reliant on keeping a batch on the go or sharing it around.

      1. Simon Tricker says:

        And, let’s be honest, sourdough tastes better too!

        If you’re out of yeast and the sourdough isn’t quite there, I’ve found some supermarket bakeries will give you an oz or two of fresh yeast for free (unbelievable from Tescos!!)

  2. Hi Seymour,
    You’ve pretty much described my diet, with the exception that I eat fruit and loads of greens. Also, I don’t eat oil or fat foods.

    Remember your greens, they contribute vastly to good health.

    I’ve made sour dough, it’s rather nice, although it takes the best part of a week to make! It’s the fat in normal bread that makes people pile on the weight, so sour dough is so much better for you.

    A couple of comments from a health point of view…

    Whole grain rice or brown rice is much better than refined white rice. Tesco’s own brand is very cheap.

    Agave Nectar is not good for you! Honey is better, blended dates are better still.

    If you keep off the added fat foods, like oil and nuts, then I guarantee you will loose excess poundage!

    The low fat, whole food plant based vegan diet is just about the cheapest and one of the healthiest ways to eat. I’d love to hear how you get on.

    Stuart 🙂

    1. Hey, Stuart,

      Thank you for commenting!

      I appreciate the advice, too.

      I am already seeing where I might modify this list slightly. I have not felt quite comfortable about agave nectar as it is quite processed and not cheap. I guess if I drop it from the list then I’ll have space to add some fresh fruit 🙂

      I’d like to experiment with ground dates, though.Can I just stick some dried dates in the processor?

      And … yeah, brown rice instead of white … maybe soon … small steps … 🙂

      I’ll let you know how things go.

      1. When buying dates, or any other dried fruit, try and make sure that they have no preservatives in them.

        As long as you make absolutely sure that the dates are de-stoned, then you can blend them. They blend easier if pre-soaked. If you have a high powered blender (1kW+), they’ll blend ok anyway. Be careful though, if you throw a handful of dates into a blender running at high speed you can brake it. I snapped the output shaft of mine doing just that. To blend unsoaked dates, add some water into a blender, switch on, then add dates slowly one by one, of even half by half. This is purely to protect your blender!

        They are expensive, but as a treat you can make smoothies with dates in. I’ll often blend bananas and dates, or oranges and dates. Some people make dateorade by blending loads of dates and water.

        One of my favourite date recipes is banana and date ‘ice cream’. I make this by putting frozen bananas through my masticating juicer together with de-stoned dates. Out comes the most amazing banana and date ‘ice cream’ that is much better than just about any ice cream. Not only that, the banana and date ‘ice cream’ is actually good for you!

        The raw fruit based low fat vegan diet is very expensive, but worth it if you can afford it. The complex carbohydrate based low fat vegan diet is just about the cheapest diet going, yet is much better for you than almost any other diet – with the exception of the raw low fat vegan diet!

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