Mid-week Meals On A Shoestring

Saving money on household expenses doesn’t mean you have to compromise on family meals. Here’s how to feed a crowd on a budget.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Saving money on household expenses doesn’t mean you have to compromise on family meals. Here’s how to feed a crowd on a budget.


Prep and Cook 1 hour 30 mins | Serves 6

2 cups (300 g) plain flour

200 g cold butter, chopped

750 g button mushrooms, sliced thinly

1 large (300 g) brown onion, thinly sliced

9 eggs, beaten lightly

1 cup (250 ml) cream

½ bunch fresh chives

2 cups (240 g) grated cheddar cheese

Rocket, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C (180 C fan-forced). Grease a 25cm-deep fluted flat tin with removable base.

2. Place flour, 150 g of the butter and a pinch of salt into a food processor; process until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and there are no lumps of butter left. Gradually add 3 tbsps of chilled water; process until the pastry just comes together. Turn pastry onto a lightly floured bench and knead lightly. Roll out between 2 sheets of baking paper to 4mm thick. Ease the pastry into the base and sides of the prepared tin. Prick the pastry base with a fork and freeze pastry case for 10 mins.

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3. Lay a large sheet of foil or baking paper in the flat tin, and fill with baking weights or rice. Place tin on oven tray and bake on lowest shelf for 30 mins. Then, remove tin from the oven, and remove the foil and weights. Bake for a further 10 mins, or until the pastry is pale golden and cooked.

4. In a large frying pan over high heat, heat the remaining 50 g butter, and cook the mushrooms and onions until golden brown. Don’t rush this process – wait until the mushrooms have released their moisture and that it has evaporated.

5. Whisk the eggs and cream in a medium bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

6. Spoon the mushroom mixture over the base of the pastry, followed by the chives and cheese. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the tart case. Bake on the lower shelf for 45 mins, or until the egg has just set. Serve topped with rocket and extra chives, if desired.

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Prep and Cook 30 mins | Serves 4

2½ cups (175 g) fresh breadcrumbs

4 (700 g) chicken thigh fillets, hammered flat

50 g butter, melted

¼ cup (70 g) sweet chilli sauce

¼ cup (75 g) kewpie mayonnaise

Juice from 1 lime

200 g pre-cut coleslaw (not dressed)

4 brioche burger buns, split in half

1 Lebanese cucumber, sliced with a peeler into ribbons

½ small (50 g) red onion, very finely sliced

1. Preheat oven to 220 C (200 C fan-forced). Line an oven tray with baking paper.

2. Add breadcrumbs to medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Brush the chicken pieces with butter, and dip into the crumb mixture. Press the crumbs firmly onto the chicken and place onto prepared tray. Bake for 25 mins, then turn the chicken over and bake for a further 5 mins. The crumbs should be golden brown, and the chicken, cooked through. 

3. In a medium bowl, combine the chilli sauce, mayonnaise and lime juice for the coleslaw dressing. Then, toss coleslaw through the dressing.

4. To assemble the burgers, spread coleslaw generously over the bottom bun, and then layer on the chicken patty. Top with the cucumber, onions and extra chilli sauce, if desired. 

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Prep and Cook 1 hour (+resting time) | Serves 6

¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil

2 medium (400 g) brown onions, chopped finely

2 celery sticks, chopped finely

2 medium (240 g) carrots, chopped finely

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

3-cm piece fresh ginger, grated

¼ cup (25 g) mild curry powder

1 cup (400 g) canned diced tomatoes

1 litre (4 cups) vegetable or chicken stock

1½ cups (300 g) red lentils

2 cups (560 g) Greek-style yoghurt Parsley, to serve


2 cups (300 g) self-raising flour

½ tsp salt

1 cup (280 g) Greek-style yoghurt

¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil

1. EASY FLATBREAD: Combine the flour and salt in an electric mixer bowl with the dough hook attachment. Start the mixer on the slowest speed and add yoghurt. Mix slowly until the flour is all incorporated. Knead the dough for at least another 5 mins in the mixer, until it is stretchy and elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. (Alternatively, combine the ingredients in a bowl, then tip out onto a floured surface and knead vigorously by hand for 5 to 6 mins.) If you have time, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 mins or so while you make the soup. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll each piece out on a floured surface to about 2mm thick. Layer them between pieces of plastic wrap or baking paper.

2. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, place one piece of flatbread in the pan. It will immediately start to bubble up. When the edges are starting to look golden and the bread is becoming less floury-looking around the edges (about 40 secs to 1 min), flip the bread carefully with a spatula. Cook for a further 40 secs to 1 min, remove and place on a piece of paper towel. Cover with a tea towel to keep warm. Repeat with remaining flatbreads.

3. Heat a large heavy-based pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the oil, then the onion, celery and carrot; cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 mins until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir for a further minute, or until fragrant.

4. Add the curry powder and remaining olive oil, and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the tomatoes, stock and 1 litre (4 cups) water. Bring to the boil; add the lentils. Cook, uncovered, for 10 mins, or until the lentils are very soft to the touch. Stir in half the yoghurt. Taste and season with salt, and remove from the heat.

5. Serve with an extra dollop of yoghurt, chopped parsley and the flatbread.

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Prep and Cook 1 hour | Serves 4

2 medium (600 g) eggplants

¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil

500 g lamb mince

3 medium (600 g) brown onions, chopped finely

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 slices bread, crusts removed, torn into 3-cm pieces

1½ cups (180 g) grated tasty cheese

100 g feta, crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 200 C (180 C fan-forced). Line a medium ovenproof dish with baking paper.

2. Cut the eggplants in half lengthways and scoop the flesh out of each half, leaving a thin layer of flesh in the skins. Cut the removed flesh into 2-cm cubes. Place eggplant halves in prepared dish. 

3. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, and fry the mince until brown and cooked through. Add the eggplant, onion and garlic; cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft and fragrant. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir through the cinnamon and the bread.

4. Spoon the lamb mixture into the eggplant halves and top with cheeses. Bake for 40 mins, or until cheese is golden and bubbling.

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Prep and Cook 30 mins | Serves 4

2 cups (400 g) basmati rice

⅓ cup (80 ml) light soy sauce

⅓ cup (75 g) brown sugar

2 tbsps peanut oil

1 bunch (200 g) broccolini, sliced lengthways

2 (360 g) chicken thigh fillets, sliced thinly

1 medium (200 g) brown onion, chopped finely

2 cloves garlic, chopped finely

2 tsps shrimp paste

2 tbsps hot chilli sauce

4 eggs

2 small red chillies, seeds in, sliced finely

1 Lebanese cucumber, peeled and sliced

1 ripe tomato, sliced

3 green onions (green shallots), sliced finely

Crispy fried shallots and crushed roasted peanuts, to serve

1. Boil rice until just tender, or alternatively, place the rice with 3 cups of water in a microwave rice cooker with the vent open, and microwave on high for 18 mins. Remove and fluff with a fork. 

2. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce and the brown sugar. 

3. Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a large non-stick frying pan (or wok) over high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the broccolini and cook until it has some charred spots. Remove from pan and put aside on a plate. 

4. Add another tsp of oil, add chicken and saute for 4 to 5 mins, or until browned and cooked through. Time will depend on how finely the chicken is sliced. Remove and add to the broccolini.

5. Reduce the heat to medium. Add a dash more oil if needed; cook the onion and garlic for 2 mins, then add the shrimp paste. Cook, stirring, for a further minute.

6. Add another tsp of oil, add the rice and chicken; stir fry until combined. Add ¼ cup (60 ml) of the soy and sugar mixture, and the hot chilli sauce. Continue to stir until the sauces are evenly distributed and the rice has a dry texture.

7. In a separate non-stick frying pan, add another tbsp of oil and fry the eggs, sunny side up, until the edges are crispy.

8. Add the fresh chilli to the remaining soy sauce mixture in the bowl.

9. Divide the rice mixture, cucumber and tomato among flour plates. Top with fried eggs and sprinkle with green onions, crispy shallots and peanuts.