The $9 Meal: Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry With Basmati Rice


cauliflowerEvery self-respecting vegetarian knows that much of the best vegetable-centric food comes out of Asia—from Thai noodles to Indian curries.

And for the rest of us who are looking to save on home-cooked meals, we’d be wise to follow the vegetarians past the meat aisle and straight toward Southeast Asia.

In those cuisines, the strong flavors of ginger, cumin and curry powder give body to inexpensive vegetables and beans. Many Asian cuisines also don’t shy away from cooking oil, which ensures meatless main courses feel satisfying.

Here, a can of chickpeas and a whole cauliflower, pieced into florets, are transformed by a flavorful curry of slowly cooked onion, mustard seeds and fresh curry powder. Fluffy brown or white basmati rice and a sprinkling of toasted almonds turn this simple dish into a delicious meal—with plenty of protein.

While we love the idea of a fully stocked spice cabinet that makes cheap, mouth-watering vegetarian meals, actually building one takes a bit of an investment. But there’s no need for a spice spending spree. Just buy curry powder, the most important spice for this recipe (if your curry powder is old, your dish will taste flat), and get it at a local ethnic market, where it is likely to be cheaper. The same goes for the optional mustard seeds whose enigmatic undertone may carry your taste buds across the ocean to India.

Chickpea & Cauliflower Curry with Basmati Rice

Serves 4
Cost: $9
Time: 45 minutes


½ cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
½ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds (optional)
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons very fresh curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 can chickpeas, liquid reserved
1 cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
1 ½ cups basmati rice, cooked according to package directions

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Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Scrape into a pan and set aside.

In a large saucepan with a lid, heat the oil over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the mustard seeds and cover. They will pop loudly, like kernels of popcorn. When they’re quiet, add the onion and reduce the heat to medium. (If you’re not using the mustard seeds, start with the heat at medium and just add the onions.) Cook until onions are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the spices and stir to incorporate, cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste until it is integrated into the vegetables.

Stir in the chickpeas and cauliflower, then add about ¾ cup of water, or the liquid from the chickpea can plus enough water to make ¾ cup. The curry shouldn’t be particularly wet, but there should be about ½-inch of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Bring the curry to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the liquid boils off, add some more.

While the curry is cooking, make the rice.

When the cauliflower is tender and easily pierced with a knife, remove the lid and cook another 1-2 minutes to let the sauce thicken. Taste for salt.

Serve portions on top of basmati rice. Top each with a generous sprinkling of toasted almonds.

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  • Kurohime

    A few seasons ago on Top Chef, the challenge was to make a meal for four using only $10.  As a result, I did a meal-planning exercise with my GED students and the meal had to include protein, carb, vegetable and fruit, and cost no more than $10; everyone was surprised that it can be done.  Living in NYC, we abuse the convenience of food delivery when we can eat healthier for less.

  • vegan

    as a long time vegetarian, i have recently become vegan/plant based diet/ herbivore and my grocery bill has been about $20 less per wk due to the high price of cheese and dairy.  my motivation is for many reasons (health, environment, animals, etc.  see movie “forks over knives”)  other than $ but it certainly helps to be saving ~$80/month for my choices.

    in regard to spices, i suggest buying from the bulk spices.  they are much fresher with this method b/c spices begin to go stale after about 6 months and they are sold in huge quantities that most people could never use in that period of time.  it’s a win win to save $ and improve flavor.  my bulk spice purchases are usually less than $1.

    thanks for the article!  

    • Alynn Mahle

      I m lucky enough to live near the West Side market in Cleveland. Ohio, where we have access to fresh and dried varieties of many spices–it is amazing. I love that we can get whole fennel, cloves, etc and grind them with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder; this is the single best way to get THE freshest spices!

    • Christina

      I’m vegan as well, maybe LearnVest should do an article about how much money we save!

  • C.L.

    I just tried this recipe and it’s very good.  While it’s not a quick recipe to make, it did last for two dinners for two people… which made it $4.50 per meal! 

  • Maia Bradford

    Trying this tonight but substituting chicken breast for the cauliflower.  My husband won’t eat cauliflower and HAS to have meat at every meal whereas I’m a vegetarian.  So, 4 chicken breasts cost about $5, I only use 2 breasts for 4 servings because I divide the breasts in half for portion control.  The other items on the list are staples in my pantry so I still come out ahead cost-wise.