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5 Frugal Gourmet Food And Cooking Ingredients On A Budget

By Heather Levin

I have a recipe for Mile-High Banana Pudding that I’ve been wanting to try for months. And this recipe is like the Gold Medal Winner of Banana Puddings. But it calls for 2 vanilla beans…

Have you ever priced vanilla beans at the store? You might as well be buying gold. Vanilla beans are outrageously expensive. And my stubbornness over these prices has kept me from making this fabulous recipe.

That was all until I discovered a crafty way around the problem. I discovered that I didn’t have to pay the grocery store’s absurd prices to get those beans.

I’ve also learned that all it takes is the addition of one gourmet ingredient to turn an ordinary meal into something extraordinary.

Let’s take a look at some of these awesome ideas and get your cooking gourmet on a budget in no time!

1. Vanilla Beans

It’s only fitting that I start with the vanilla beans since they’re what started this whole revolution. Don’t pay your grocery store $10 for two measly beans; that should just be illegal anyways.

You can get them super cheap on eBay. This store sells 30 for $12.95. That’s 30 bean pods, for $12.95. Mile-High Banana Pudding, here I come!

2. Salt

Salt is amazing. I’m not talking about the generic white salt that sits on every table. I’m talking about gourmet salt. The right salt can completely transform a bland dish into something extraordinary.

Gourmet salts are a cheap way to add some gourmet flair to your meals because you don’t need a lot. Gourmet salts are meant to be sprinkled on the dish right before you eat it. So, a little amount goes a very long way.

Trader Joe’s sells an incredible Himalayan Pink salt. This is my favorite salt ever, and it completely changes the way my food tastes. Their grinder of Himalayan Pink is $3.

Black Lava Salt is another favorite. And it tastes completely different than Himalayan Pink. eBay is a great place to bid on either one of these gourmet salts.

3. Sundried Tomatoes

Sundried tomatoes are delicious but very expensive. Rest assured, you can easily make your own at home, even if you don’t have a food dehydrator. Heck, you can even make them in a sunny car. Here’s a great tutorial that shows you how.

Another great gourmet tip is to pack sundried tomatoes into olives (with tasty additions like basil and garlic) for an even more gourmet punch.

And if you don’t want to make your own, you can still get sundried tomatoes in bulk at Costco for very cheap!

4. Gourmet Spices

Three words: ethnic grocery store. Shopping at ethnic stores is a great money saving tip at the grocery store. After all, why pay $6 for curry when you can get it half that price at an Indian market?

That sesame oil that’s $9? Half price at your local Asian market. Pita bread, falafel, and hummus? Hit your Middle Eastern Market.

I love ethnic grocery stores because you can find wonderfully diverse food and spices for a fraction of the cost compared to your mainstream grocery store. For instance, I live within walking distance of Detroit’s Mexicantown. I can get ancho chiles, talmales, chile pepper, and mole sauce all for pennies on the dollar compared to the Kroger in the next town.

If you live close to an ethnic market, or close to a city with an ethnic district, go there for your ethnic food and spices. Another benefit? It’ll likely be fresher. Here are some other tips to save money at the grocery store.

5. Half and Half

If you’ve never used half and half, you’re in for a treat. This tiny jar of liquid can turn a Plain Jane dish into something really tasty. You can get this stuff for 99 cents at Trader Joe’s, or $2 at most grocery stores.

Add it to pasta sauce to make it richer and creamier. You can also add a splash of Vodka and some basil for a real gourmet treat. Or you can add it to canned tomato soup (again, basil is great here) to liven it up. It also is great as creamer for coffee.

Final Tip: If you want to find some awesome recipes for cooking gourmet on a budget, check out BrokeAssGourmet. This blog is a wonderful resource for cooking fancy on the cheap.

Last Word

Do any of you have some tips for getting gourmet ingredients on the cheap? Or, do you have some tips for adding a small pinch of gourmet to an everyday meal to turn it into something special? If so, please write in! I’d love some extra tips for my own cooking, and I’m sure other readers would as well.

(Photo credit: jlastras)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • Karmella

    You are so right about the Trader Joes Himalayan – I found that after I had just spent $20 on a small container of it somewhere else!!

    • Heather Levin

      Karmella, I know! I was in a spice store just yesterday and they were selling tiny TINY bags of the Himalayan pink salt for $4.95. Go Trader Joe’s! :)

  • Eva Collins

    I always enjoy your tips, Heather! Thanks for all the great advice! Eva.

    • Heather Levin

      Eva, thank you so much for reading!

  • Jessica

    Sustainable Sourcing https://secure.sustainablesourcing.com also carries a variety of Himalayan pink salt that is very affordable.Plus, I know they are an eco-friendly company so I feel good buying from them.

    • Heather Levin

      Jessica, I’ve never heard of Sustainable Sourcing but I’m very much into living green and making conscious buying decisions. I’ll definitely give them a look; thank you for writing in with that link!

  • SK

    There are things that I will only buy at Trader Joe’s such as goat cheese, feta, hummus, wine, olive oil, sesamee oil and flat bread they have the best prices ever. Other places I have found is a wherehouse district market called the 17th Street Market in Tucson and it carries most every Middle Eastern and Asian spices there are for half the price you would (if you could find in the grocery). They also contain produce that is out of the ordinary and organic too. I have gone to the .99 cent store and found a few organic items such as spinach, and lettuce (with roots on it) I am so much more frugal today than I was 10 years ago and am pretty impressed at what I can do to stretch a dollar.

  • Judy Chivers

    I am snowbirding this winter and staying with my daughter in Hawaii on the North Shore. The area is a wealth of fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh herbs which are available at two different farmer’s markets. One is open on Wednesday evenings and Saturday Mornings. The other is known as the Sunday market with many gourmet items such as local chocolate, coffee, iced fruit bars, beef, salt, butter and cheese all produced locally. I buy all my produce at these markets and save a lot as Hawaii is very expensive. We also like Asian foods and find the small local Thai, Chinese, and Korean markets are more reasonably priced than the larger chain super markets.

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