real cheap eats

R then raids E’s pantry for cinnamon and nutmeg, hides E’s entire stock of chocolat en poudre, and proceeds to heat whole milk on the stovetop while chopping up a giant block of dark chocolate and lecturing Enjolras about what it means to take proper pride in being French.  

(the fourth time R breaks into E’s house to make sure Enjolras is drinking “properly patriotic” hot chocolate with breakfast, E comments that things would be a lot simpler if R just slept over.)

Quick Chorizo & Chickpea Stew

I simply love the way the warming spices and meatiness of Chorizo leaches into the sauce when stewed like this and the chickpeas quickly start to soak up all those flavours too.  Green beans add some crunchy bite while the mushrooms fill out the stew and add a sweet nuttiness, but you can substitute almost any green vegetables and leave the mushrooms out if you don’t like them.  I go fairly easy on the additional spices as the chorizo really does provide a lot of flavour and I don’t like to overwhelm it.


Ingredients (makes 2 portions at £1.85 per portion):

100-120g Chorizo sausage

1 x 400g tin Chickpeas

1 x 400g tin Chopped Tomatoes

1 large Red Onion

100g Green Beans

3 or 4 Chestnut Mushrooms

3 cloves of Garlic

½tsp Cumin seeds

½tsp Smoked Paprika

500ml Chicken Stock

A little Olive Oil for cooking

A few sprigs of Thyme

A handful of fresh Basil leaves

A handful of flat leaf Parsley

The juice of half a Lime

Method (prep and cooking 15-20 minutes):

Get large pan on the hob over a medium heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Roughly chop the onion and throw into to the warmed pan, season with salt and black pepper, stir and turn the heat down low. Then lightly crush the garlic cloves and add those, skin on. Cook on a low heat for 5min, stirring occasionally so that the onions don’t colour.

Meanwhile, get your stock ready and heated, chop the chorizo into roughly ½cm thick pieces and wash and trim the green beans, halving the larger ones. Set these aside. Toast the cumin seeds in the small pan for 1 minute; add the smoked paprika for 10 or 15 seconds before grinding the seeds into a powder in a mortar with a pestle (add a little coarse salt to help grind it up).

Add the Chorizo to the onions and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the spices. Stir before adding about half the stock and then the tomatoes. Gently simmer on a low-medium heat for, picking the thyme leaves and adding those. After about 8 minutes add the green beans and the chickpeas. If the stew is too thick then add more stock until it’s the right consistency. Cut the mushrooms into quarters an add those, cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes. Finally add the basil leaves and parsley squeeze in the lime juice, stir and serve with a chunk of bread.

Smoked Mackerel with Sweet Peppers, Spinach & Chilli, served on Garlic & Chilli spiked Kumara Mash

Heat, sweetness, salt and a touch of sour - this meal has a lot of bold flavours and makes a small amount of smoked mackerel go a long way.  The smoky salty-sweetness of the mackerel just works so well with sweet crunch of the peppers and the heat of the chilli.  As I’m cooking for one I tend to make a double amount of the mackerel part and have the rest on toast for lunch or a snack the next day, which avoids using the dreaded half a pepper*.

The other thing that this dish has is a hearty combination of textures from silky creaminess to crunchy bite.  The Kumara (any sweet potato) Mash is a skin-on mash, saving all those nutrients just under the skin from the food waste bin and also providing more texture. 

There’s a lot of so called ‘chefy’ talk on cooking shows insisting that vegetable mashes should be completely smooth, like a puree.  I think that a slightly rough mix of textures gives a rustic feel that I think makes the mash more interesting and robust, able to stand up against the firmer fleshiness of the main event.  Sweet potato is great for mashing as it easily takes on that comforting silkiness without the addition of any butter or cream, but really holds it’s texture as well.

Ingredients (makes 2 portions at £1.97 per portion**):

2 small fillets of Smoked Mackerel

1 sweet Romero Pepper

3 Spring Onions

Approx 60g (roughly half a bag) of baby leaf Spinach, washed

1 red Chilli

1 or 2 Kumara (Sweet Potato), depending on the size

2 cloves of Garlic

1 tsp dried Sage

A little Rapeseed or Olive Oil

A handful of finely chopped fresh Parsley and Coriander

½ a Lime


Wash the Sweet Potatoes and slice each one lengthways and then slice each half lengthways again before cutting into roughly 3cm sized pieces, then place into a small pan, season well with salt and just cover with boiling water.  Simmer with a lid on for 8-10 minutes or until tender enough for a knife to easily pierce the potato pieces. 

Meanwhile press down on the two garlic cloves with the heal of your hand so they’re lightly crushed and place in a dry frying pan, with skins still on, over a medium heat.  This will soften and sweeten the garlic before it’s added to the mash.  Keep an eye on them and flip them over every once in a while so they don’t burn. Slice the chilli and the sweet pepper into strips and then the spring onions into 2cm pieces saving the greener, leafy parts for later.

When the sweet potato is tender drain and then return to the pan off the heat.  Remove the garlic cloves from the pan and allow to cool slightly.   Add a little olive or rapeseed oil to the frying pan and return it to the heat before adding the sliced pepper, spring onion and half the sliced chilli, all seasoned with salt and pepper, to cook on a medium heat, stirring or tossing occasionally.  Remove the skins from the garlic and finely slice one clove before adding it to most of the remaining chilli (leave a few slices for scattering at the end) and chop the chilli and garlic together until finely mingled.  Finely chop the remaining leafy parts of the spring onion and the stalks of the parsley and coriander.  Add this to the sweet potato, along with the dried sage, a drizzle of your preferred oil and season with cracked black pepper.  Then mash in the warm pan until mostly smooth with a few rougher bits.  Check the seasoning and then set aside.

Flake the mackerel, skin and all, in rough pieces into the pan with the pepper and spring onion and finely slice the other garlic clove before adding that to the pan as well.  Stir until warmed through and then add the spinach and most of the remaining chopped herbs, cooking briefly until it’s wilted.  Serve on top of the mash and scatter a few coriander leaves and slices of chilli over the top.  A squeeze of lime over the top really lifts the dish and brings the flavours together.


* Cooking for just myself frequently leads to the issue of only needing half of things to make a good sized meal portion.  Half used vegetables can easily find themselves forgotten at the back of a fridge shelf until they’re no good to eat and part of my mission in Real Cheap Eats is to cut out food waste.  With this recipe a single smoked mackerel (usually packaged as two fillets at supermarkets but can also often be economically sourced from a fishmonger) is enough for two portions so it makes sense to double up the portions even if you’re cooking for just yourself.  Other times I will think of different dishes to cook using the same core ingredients on each day so that I can keep eating fresh food and avoid wasting left over ingredients.

** All costs are based upon what I was able to source the ingredients for from local groceries, mongers and butchers and sustainable produce wherever possible.  There are occasions where I can only source a particular ingredient from a supermarket in which case I aim to ensure I’m buying fair traded, sustainably managed produce.  By aiming to use up ingredients efficiently and not waste anything I can still keep the costs low enough for my minimum wage budget.