Having the most frugal grocery budget in the world isn’t going to help you any if you can’t put together at least a few healthy, tasty, and cheap eats! Every month, The Outlier Model features a cheap recipe idea, along with the cost breakdown.

Simple Vietnamese “Sour Soup”

Vietnamese sour soup, or cahn chua, is typically made with seafood in addition to an assortment of fruits and vegetables, and using tamarind for seasoning.  It’s a refreshing soup which can be eaten alone or spooned over rice.  In my family, we’ve traditionally prepared it without seafood and even without tamarind, making it a very economical but filling soup.  It’s a great soup to make when you have some leftover tomatoes and celery!  Here’s my version of the family recipe.

What you need:

  • 1 cup beansprouts ($0.20)
  • 3 large tomatoes, quartered, or 5 small tomatoes, halved  (5 romas for $1, at 79 cents/lb)
  • okra (10-15 small ones, $1)
  • few stalks of basil (< $0.25, when bought at $1 a bundle)
  • 1L homemade stock (chicken or veggie, < $1*)
  • a bit of dried parsley and basil

Bring the stock to a boil.  Add herbs, tomatoes and okra and bring down to a simmer.  Once the tomatoes and okra are cooked (15-20 minutes) and just before serving, add the beansprouts.  Season to taste with salt or fish sauce.  Serve as-is or over rice.

Servings: 4+, depending on whether it is eaten with or without rice
Cost per serving: About $1, at most

Nice to have: Fish or shrimp, 1-2 tsp of tamarind for the “sour” taste, chunks of pineapple

Feeling adventurous? Traditionally, the Vietnamese use fish heads!  If you are not so keen on having your food look back at you, look at buying salmon trimmings from your local fish market.  These are typically tails or sides that are leftover after fillets are cut.  Granville Island in Vancouver, BC has an excellent fish market with great deals on trimmings.

*I estimate the cost of homemade chicken stock as follows:

$7 for a chicken, which I cut into legs ($0.50 x 2), thighs ($0.50 x 2), wings ($1) and breasts ($1.50 x 2).  That leaves the “cost” of the carcass at $1, from which I make 1 to 2L of stock/chicken scraps.  The scraps I peel from the bones and save for other uses (-$0.25), leaving the cost of the carcass/stock at $0.75.  I add herbs to the stock and seasonings, which I consider a minor cost (< $0.25).  Therefore, I estimate the cost at $1 per batch, at most.

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