Brown Bag Challenge: Day 1

Make a homemade, vegetarian curry for lunch, it's low-cost, healthy and filling.

We’re teaming up with fellow food bloggers to host a Brown-Bag Challenge, a month-long initiative to eat consciously and save money by packing a lunch each weekday instead of eating out. Join us here and share what you're eating on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #brownbag.

Confession: I bought lunch yesterday just because I could. I walked over to Taim, my favorite falafel place in the whole city, and I bought a falafel for lunch. I have no idea how much fat or calories the sandwich contained, but the sandwich was large so was likely not very diet-friendly. I justified the splurge because I'd been to the gym that morning, and because it was the last day I could eat a restaurant lunch before the Brown-Bag Challenge. This splurge cost me $8.

Today's lunch is smarter in so many ways. When I was searching for recipes, I was looking for something healthy to make with potatoes, because I have a whole bunch from my CSA that I wanted to use up. I found this recipe for Curried Potatoes and Chickpeas from Food Network Magazine; it's from a story they did last year on using leftover crunchy onions -- those things that go on top of green bean casserole. It looked quick and easy enough to make on a busy weeknight, and Toby, one of our resident dieticians, confirmed that it meets our Healthy Eats nutritional guidelines; it has 290 calories per serving and 15 grams of total fat (saturated fat = 7 grams).

I had potatoes, spices, limes and jalapenos at home, so I bought the following at the store:

Cilantro: $1.99

Chickpeas: $1.79 (I bought the 29-ounce can even though the recipe calls for 15 ounces. It was a better value, and I'll use the leftovers to make hummus)

Fried onions: $2.89
Greek yogurt: $1.25

My grocery store total was $7.92. I spent nearly the same amount on all the ingredients for an entire recipe as I did on one lunch. And since the recipe makes 6 servings, that comes to $1.32 per serving. Less than two dollars per serving. Makes my $8 falafel seem pretty frivolous.

I divided the potatoes and chickpeas into 6 containers of equal size so I'd get the portions right. I ate one portion for dinner, another for lunch today, and I'll eat another for lunch tomorrow. It's so delicious and filling, I won't get sick of it. I'm not sure I want to continue eating the same thing through the weekend though, so I'm going to try freezing the remaining portions -- I'll let you know how that goes.

Here's the recipe, but you can print (and review) it here.

Curried Potatoes and Chickpeas

Recipe courtesy Food Network Magazine Serves: 6

1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups fried onions (one 2.8-ounce can)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus leaves for topping
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced (remove seeds for less heat)

Put the potatoes, 2 teaspoons salt and enough cold water to cover in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are almost tender, 3 to 6 minutes. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain the potatoes.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and cayenne and cook, stirring, 30 seconds.

Add the chickpeas, 1 cup fried onions and 1/2 cup reserved cooking water; cook, mashing the potatoes with a spoon, until heated through, about 3 minutes. Add more cooking water, if needed. Season with salt.

Mix the yogurt, chopped cilantro, lime juice and 2 tablespoons water in a bowl. Divide the potato-chickpea mixture among bowls. Top with the yogurt sauce, the remaining 1 cup fried onions, the sliced jalapeno and cilantro leaves.

What did you make for lunch today?
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