Fine Asian Cuisine on a Shoestring

So as my friends and family know, I love to cook. My darling Ellis and I cook at home most nights. Not only is it cost effective, it’s a great way for the two of us to bond. We are also very adventure eaters – willing to try even the most bizarre cooking endeavor. In just the last few weeks we have cooked ceviche (shrimp and fish “cooked” using lemon and lime juices only) and beef tongue (delish if cooked correctly). This week has been pretty busy for both of us in the office, so we have sadly been surviving on ramen and easy mac. Wednesday I’d had enough. While my first instinct was to go out to eat after hours of yard work, in the interest of spendthriftyness I decided to cook a truly decadent meal at home instead. Today’s lesson – be adventurous and save big.

I am very lucky to live in a city with a thriving immigrant population. Just a short drive from home there is a “Little Korea”, a “Little Mexico”, and a “Little India”. While its not as tourist traveled as other Chinatowns, its people are just as wonderful and it has just as many unique and exotic offerings. One of my favorite dates is to go to an Asian grocery store, find something that looks yum (even though the label is often not in English), and take it home to cook. This is a WONDERFUL cheap date. Asian markets have all kinds of exciting fare. Even if you don't spend a single dime, its so fun to walk around, look at the colorful jars of eel, packets of freeze dried prawn, and other fun poorly translated household items. My adventures in cooking from the Asian grocery stores have produced results from totally disgusting to fan-freakin-tastic. This most recent meal, I can say without a doubt, has been my finest hour. And not only was it tasty, a great meal for 2 with leftovers came to a grand total of $8.65. Here is the rundown on making a cheap, easy, delicious, and exotic meal for under 10 bucks.

Tom Ka Gai - Thai Coconut Soup $5.09 for 4 servings


  • One packet of Tom Ka - available in Asian grocers. At my stop it was $0.99
  • One can of coconut milk - also in Asian stores, but sold in the ethnic food section of most grocery stores $1.15 a can
  • One can of chicken broth - $0.95
  • 1/2 cup of water - virtually free out of the tap
  • A few handfuls of sliced mushrooms - the entire container was $1.35 on sale, but this was just a lucky break
  • 2 chopped green onions - I got one bunch for $0.65 which is more than enough

This is the most simple dish to make. Squeeze the Tom Ka (pronounced DOM ga) out of its pack into a soup pot. Its a paste and comes out easily if you run the pack under hot water first. Add all of the other ingredients, stir, and simmer over a low heat until mushrooms are tender. Keep stirring occasionally so that there is no risk of scorching. That's all there is!

Steamed Pork and Spinach Dumplings $2.99 with plenty of leftover dumplings


  • One bag of frozen prepared dumplings - there is a WIDE variety of dumpling types in the freezer section. Try them all. I think that of all the types I've tried so far, this one is my favorite. They are $2.99 in my grocer of choice and come in a large bag. A good serving is 4-6 and there are about 5 servings per bag.

Take out the number of dumplings that you plan to cook. You want them to be separated, which can be tricky if still frozen. These dumplings can be stored in the fridge, but must be eaten fairly quickly. If they are frozen together, and you can't break them apart, don't fight them. Being too rough will result in the dumplings splitting open and the stuffings dropping out. If you MUST steam them together, the only disadvantage is that they may not come out as pretty. Prepare your steamer (I use a metal steam basket, but bamboo works too) by spraying it with PAM to eliminate sticking. Place it in a pot with water (mine allows about 3/4 an inch) bring to a rolling boil and cover. Steam the dumplings for 10-12 minutes. BE CAREFUL not to let the water cook out!!!! Add water to your pot as needed to prevent burning the bottom of your pots. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

So today after work, if you are dying for some Chinese food, skip the restaurant and go to the grocery store. For the cost of Coconut soup in my favorite Thai place ($3.50 a bowl) and steamed dumplings (4.95 for 6) for one, you can make a wonderful meal for two and have great leftovers to take to work the next day. I promise, the whole office will be green with envy... and your wallet will be a little greener too!


Erin said...

You forgot to mention that you went to the Asian market with your awesomely cool twin sister! I also recommend homemade fried rice. Make it with day old rice. I use BirdsEye Steam Fresh Asian medley veggies. Get a skillet nice and hot, add some peanut or vegetable oil. Throw in the rice and add the veggies. Pour in some soy sauce and saute. Patrick and I made it earlier this week with some Tom Ka and it was AWESOME.

Anonymous said...

YUM! Though perhaps I should've read it closer to lunch because now I'm very hungry!