Sometimes we’re hesitant to add the indulgent foods we love to our shopping carts. But you might be surprised by just how much bang for your buck you can get from so-called luxury ingredients. We share some kitchen smarts so you can treat yourself a little every day.
Red meat lovers can get their fix and stay on budget by choosing a marinating steak. Not only are cuts like blade, inside round and sirloin tip intensely beefy, but they also become tender and juicy after a stint in marinade. Try a red-wine-, soy-sauce- or even cola-based marinade to add flavour and break down chewy fibres, and be sure to pierce the meat with a fork before marinating to increase absorption. (Read our guide to marinades, rubs and sauces for more marinating tips.) Slice this meat before serving to stretch it even further, cutting across the grain to ensure extra tenderness.
2. Fresh Parmesan
This hard cheese might seem pricey, but it’s amazing how long it lasts when it’s shaved and used as a garnish on top of pasta dishes, salads or fried eggs. (Tip: Use a potato peeler to slice off a few large curls per serving to maximize impact.) Once you’ve used up the cheese, don’t throw away those rinds—freeze them in a zip-top bag to be added to homemade broth, soup or stock for deep umami flavour. Likewise, you can pop a Parmesan rind in the cooking water to add extra taste to beans, grains or pasta.
These shellfish aren’t just for fancy restaurants or romantic evenings in—they’re surprisingly economical for everyday cooking. Get extra value by adding them to broth along with finely sliced vegetables (try sweet peppers, leeks, green onions, garlic and fennel) and serving the light-tasting soup with plenty of crusty bread and butter. Mussels pair wonderfully with satisfying pastas, too. Stay on budget by treating them as a garnish instead of piling them on each plate.
4. Cherries, raspberries and strawberries
To get your fix of these flavourful red fruits year-round—at a lower cost—keep the freezer stocked with frozen cherries and berries. (Buy them already frozen or purchase extra in-season and freeze at home.) Simply defrost overnight in the fridge or for about a minute in the microwave. Just a spoonful adds a touch of luxurious flavour and colour to your yogourt or oatmeal. Making a pie or crisp? Combine berries and cherries with apples and pears to make them go further. (Try our Apple-Raspberry Crisp, either using raspberries or substituting what you have on hand.)
5. Fresh herbs
Buy fresh bunches of thyme, oregano and parsley at their peak in summer to add pungency to stews, soups and casseroles. The rest of the year, small packages of fresh herbs are readily available. Freeze leftover sprigs along with vegetable scraps for making homemade broth later on, or mix chopped leaves with wine or broth and freeze in ice-cube trays for an easy flavourful addition when cooking up soups, stews, pasta sauces and more. You can also pop a fresh stem of thyme or rosemary into a bottle of oil, vinegar or lemonade for a burst of seasoning.
6. Balsamic vinegar
This grape-based product tends to have a higher price tag than other vinegars, but it’s more concentrated, so you use less. It’s also extremely versatile: Add a dash to sliced strawberries to complement their sweetness, or drizzle it on salad along with olive oil and a touch of maple syrup for a quick and easy dressing. Balsamic is wonderful for braising red meats, using in marinades and topping soups. It also lends itself to reductions for pouring over ice cream or chocolate desserts—just add sugar and crushed raspberries, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until you have a rich sauce.
Quinoa costs more than a similar-sized amount of rice, but don’t think of this ingredient as filler—let it play an equal role on your plate. Cook 1 cup (250 mL) quinoa, let cool in a large bowl and then add plenty of chopped sweet peppers, tomatoes, parsley, green onions and chickpeas drizzled with oil and vinegar to make a satisfying meal for four. Top quinoa with sautéed mushrooms, poached eggs and a shaving of Parmesan for brunch, lunch or dinner. Or add 1/2 cup (125 mL) quinoa to your favourite vegetable or chicken soup recipe.
Decadent, buttery lobster is no splurge if you properly remove the meat; learn how to get every morsel with our video tutorial. Then stretch this ingredient in dishes such as seafood macaroni and cheese, or serve it in crunchy Boston lettuce leaves with avocado and jalapeños. Don’t forget to keep the shells to make a flavourful broth: Roast in the oven at 400˚F (200˚C) for 10 minutes, then simmer in water with onion, carrot and celery.
9. Sea salt
Many people think of sea salt as a luxury. Though it’s a little more expensive, it’s not used in large amounts like table salt. Instead, it’s best used as a garnish right before serving—just a pinch is enough to finish cooked vegetables, roasted meats and other savoury foods. Sprinkle flakes onto sweet dishes, too (like ice cream with caramel sauce) and even overtop fresh-baked brownies. To preserve its natural moistness and shelf life, store sea salt in an airtight container, only transferring a little at a time to a serving dish.
This trendy food isn’t just for restaurants—it’s also a cost-effective green for home cooks. Kale comes in huge bunches, but it’s such a chameleon ingredient that you can eat it daily without getting bored, and its sturdy leaves spoil more slowly than lettuce. Shred it fresh for salads; steam it like spinach in stir-fries; wilt it into soups; or dehydrate it at a low heat in the oven, lightly sprayed with oil and salted, to make kale chips. To make it last longer, store kale in the fridge in an airtight bag for up to one week, and wash it just before using.