Tag Archive: recipe

Cheap eats! Vietnamese noodle soup

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.

If you haven’t had pho, or Vietnamese beef noodle soup, truly you are missing out. It is a wonderfully rich, broth soup made with slow simmered beef bones and served with rice noodles and thinly sliced meats. Most people know pho as a cheap meal out, but it’s also an economical soup to make at home, both in terms of time and also money.


What you need:

  • Pho seasoning pouch or block (<$1)
  • beef bones ($2-3 for a giant bag)
  • tops of  daikon and carrots (free! – save these in your freezer until you use them in soup stocks)
  • 1 small onion, roasted ($0.20)
  • 1 small ginger root, peeled, sliced thickly and roasted ($0.35)
  • bean sprouts ($0.30)
  • fresh basil, whole ($0.5 half a bunch)
  • green onion, chopped finely ($0.33 a bunch)
  • cilantro, chopped finely ($0.50 half a bunch)
  • 1 package rice noodles ($1.49 a package)
  • hoisin sauce and chili sauce (<$0.25 per serving)
  • salt and sugar (<$0.10 per serving)

Nice to have:

  • star anise (your flavour pouch should have this, but it’s nice to toss in a few whole)
  • meat of choice – brisket or chicken breast is easy to use, but experiment to see what you like!
  • white onion, Thai chili or jalapeno

Or, tempt fate by "roasting" over a bare element!

Clean and cut in half the onion and the ginger. Roast for a few minutes in the oven or toast on an unoiled pan until browned.

Fill a large pot with approximate 3L of water and bring to a boil. Add beef bones, daikon top, carrot tops, roasted onion, roasted ginger, and flavour pouch or block. If you intend on making cooked meat for the soup, add the cut of meat you are using now.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for at least one hour.

Strain the mixture into a new pot. If you are using pre-cooked meats (slices of leftover chicken, pork meatballs or tripe), add them now. If you had added meat earlier, slice it now and add it to the pot. Put the soup on low to simmer and add salt and sugar to taste.

Blub, blub, blub...

Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water and cook rice noodles according to the package directions. One package makes 5-6 servings of rice noodles.

While the noodles are cooking, wash bean sprouts, cilantro, green onion, and basil. Chop the cilantro and green onion finely. Slice white onion and red chilies or jalapenos.

Divide the cooked noodles into large soup bowls and add broth and meat. Garnish with fresh herbs and veggies and serve with hoisin sauce and chili sauce on the side.

Servings: 6+

Cost per serving: It really depends on how many servings you get, which depends on how much water you used initially and how concentrated you allowed the broth to get.  If you assume only 6 servings, your cost ranges from about $1.40 to $1.75 per serving depending on what kind of meat and how much, if any, you include.

Remember, pho is not meant to be a meat-intensive meal!

Feeling adventurous? Use thinly sliced raw beef and add them to the bottom of your bowl before adding noodles or soup.  Then, allow the meat to cook in the hot soup just before eating.  Or, try other popular toppings, such as tripe or tendon.

Frugal hack: Use leftover cilantro, basil and green onion to top a stir fry or instant noodles later in the week.  If you store washed and chopped herbs in a sealed container, they will keep for quite a while.  At the moment, I have fresh cilantro in my fridge that is almost two weeks old.  It’s still green and crisp!


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.

This is a great meat-efficient recipe that produces soup stock as a byproduct.  I used daikon (a large, white radish), but regular radishes and carrots would work, as would large chunks of cabbage.  Basically, you want veggies that will absorb flavor well.

What you need:

  • ribs ($2.50 for 4-5 servings of meat, where each serving was 2-3 large ribs or ~2oz of meat)
  • 1.5-2 cups of root vegetables or cabbage ($1)
  • 15ml soy sauce (< $0.10)
  • 10ml fish sauce (< $0.05)
  • 1 tbsp chili sauce (< $0.10)
  • 1-2 tsp sugar (< $0.05)
  • 1 small knob of ginger ($0.40)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed (~$0.06 when bought at $0.79 for 3 bulbs)
  • Salt and sugar to taste (for the broth)

Boil the ribs for 1 hour in a medium to large pot of water.  Add a bit of salt and sugar to season the broth – not too much, as you can always add more later.  After one hour, remove the cooked ribs and set aside the broth – you can use it to make soup later!  If you’re not going to use it right away, let it cool, skim off the fat, and then freeze it.

Chop the ribs up into individual ribs.  If you have a cleaver, cut the ribs into halves or thirds to make it easier to marinade.  Place the ribs into a mixing bowl and add soy sauce, fish sauce, chili sauce and sugar.  Mix well and set aside.  Peel and chop root vegetables into large chunks.  I used half of my daikon for the braised ribs and half for making soup with my leftover broth.

Heat up oil in a small-medium sized pot.  Toss in ginger and garlic.  Add ribs and sauce mixture, and brown for 3-4 minutes.  Then add your veggies, fill the pot with just enough water to almost cover everything, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to a low simmer.  Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Taste at half an hour.  Add more soy sauce or chili sauce if needed, and continue cooking.  If you use daikon like I did, you can tell when it’s done because the daikon starts to absorb the colour of the sauce!

When finished, serve on top of jasmine rice.  Yum.

<This is where a picture would be if I could find the picture I took!> Grr…

Servings: 4-5, plus bonus soup broth!

Cost per serving: About $1, not including any soup you might make

Feeling adventurous? Don’t use meat!  An assortment of braised cabbage, daikon, carrots, beans and fried tofu – served with rice – is one of my favourite meals.  If you don’t use meat, skip straight to heating oil in a pot and add the sauces directly to the veggies.  You can buy pre-fried tofu for about $2 for 10-12 large chunks.

Links: What is braising?

Cheap eats! Vietnamese “Sour Soup”

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.

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.

I love McDonalds breakfast Egg McMuffins. How could you not? Egg, processed cheese, salty bacon, warm and crispy English muffin … drool. But at $2-something for the basic English muffin and almost $3 for the extras, it’s not a very good deal. But having an egg English muffin is a great way to start your day with protein and carbs. Here’s how you can make it at home.

Homemade egg McMuffins

What you need:

  • English muffins – $0.17 each ($2 for 6 when on sale. I often get it at $1 for 6 and put them in the freezer!)
  • Cheese – $0.17 per slice of Kraft Singles processed cheese (24 slices for $3.99 on sale)
  • Egg – $0.17 per egg (12 eggs for $2, every month and a half at Shoppers! Time your shopping!)
  • Oil – maybe a few cents?

Cut the English muffin in half and get it toasting. Meanwhile, heat up a bit of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Get it really hot. Crack the egg into the pan and fry until it reaches your level of doneness. I like it with the yolk still gooey! Put the cheese slice on top, then assemble your English muffin. Less than five minutes after you started… Done! Serve with a bit of cut fruit on the side.

Servings: 1
Cost per serving: Less than 60 cents.

Nice to have: Slice of fresh tomato, “real” cheese, bacon or ham. This adds a bit more cost to the total meal but should still come in at less than $1 per serving.

Feeling adventurous? Use an unusual type of cheese instead of cheddar.