What makes a recipe recession proof?

Recession-proof your pantry with stable, expert-recommended recipe ingredients.  (Photo: Getty)

Recession-proof your pantry with stable, expert-recommended recipe ingredients. (Photo: Getty)

Recently CBS news anchor Tony Dokoupil posted on Twitter on an “anti-recession” bean recipe that he claimed was “better than beef.”

The post was inundated with responses, sharing followers’ recession-proof ingredients, from other bean varieties to ramen. But what makes a recipe recession-proof? And why are beans on the recession-friendly ingredients list, but not meat?

What makes a recipe recession proof?

In general, a recipe is considered recession-proof if it includes ingredients that will last over time. That’s why we immediately think of items like canned goods — tomatoes, tuna, beans — or other off-the-shelf items that can go a long way, like pasta, rice, and flour. But we can also consider recession-proof ingredients that can be frozen and easily thawed or easily stretched.

“In talking to shop owners in my neighborhood, I hear different stories about the same topic,” says Richard LaMarita, a health support culinary arts chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education.

It all depends on your point of view. “Some say over the years, particularly in the days of a pandemic, they’ve seen nothing but drive up prices across the board,” says LaMarita. “As a private chef, I can see this angle: Food prices have gone up dramatically. When I go to estimate food costs, I’m usually free these days.”

However, some tell a different story. “Others with a more discerning eye tell me that while agricultural products and animal proteins are a volatile market, there are some products that have remained relatively stable, and relative is a relative term,” LaMarita says.

Which products are recession proof?

Such products tend to be, in general, packaged goods and bulk items. “Examples would be canned beans, canned tomatoes, packaged stock, dried pasta, chips, bottled juices, bulk nuts and seeds, bulk rice, and dried beans,” LaMarita says.

LaMarita isn’t a shopper at any of these stores, so she can’t be more specific about specific brands, but overall she says, “These products are less volatile in fluctuation. I think the best advice for a consumer is to check with your market.” local on specific products you may be interested in. Please note that your locality may make a difference.”

In a recession, we try to do more with less, and this shows in our kitchen, where we look for ingredients that are inexpensive, easy to find, easy to prepare, and can be stretched over multiple meals.

Easily available ingredients

Budget-conscious shoppers often use what people might consider “cheap” ingredients, but Jenn Nicken, founder of virtual cooking school The Chef and the Dish, says it’s time to take the stigma off that. “Ingredients are usually cheap because they’re found in abundance,” explains Nicken, “which also includes seasonal ingredients.”

“In the summer, a recipe that uses seasonal, local ingredients (e.g. tomatoes and basil) will be much cheaper than it would be in the winter, so the recession-proof recipe concept needs to align with the season to be truly cost-effective,” he adds. Nicken. It’s an important reason people can or keep, because they can keep seasonal produce (which is plentiful and inexpensive), to enjoy it again at a later time of the year.

Hearty and plentiful ingredients

Know these ingredients: The dishes you serve your family on a cold, miserable night that you know will stick to their ribs and keep them satisfied and full. “They tend to use a hearty base, which depending on where you’re from, could be wheat flour, cornmeal or rice,” Nicken says. Think pasta, bread, potatoes, rice or masa. Again, these are ingredients that tend to be found in abundance, but they’re also hearty and will keep your household full.

Long-life products

Recession-proof recipes tend to last a long time. “Consider things you can keep in your pantry that won’t spoil quickly: dried pasta, flour for making bread, rice,” says Nicken. “But also consider the final meal you prepare. Typically, recession-proof recipes can be stored in your freezer—think cabbage rolls, shepherd’s pie, and soups, which generally can be made in larger batches and keep”.

Flexibility and versatility

A truly recession-proof recipe is often flexible, so you can make variations depending on what’s available, affordable, and immediately at hand. So, you can substitute a fresh leafy vegetable for a potato or use beans or rice instead of meat.

Trade the meat (sometimes)

Meat and fish are some of the most expensive things we put in our shopping carts. But you don’t have to run out of meat (unless you want to). Instead: Jenna Helwig, the food director of Really simplesays to reduce the proportion of meat or fish to vegetables in your meals.

For example, instead of using a pound of pan-fried shrimp, use a pound and add another head of broccoli. Instead of using a pound of ground beef for burgers, replace half of it with chopped sauteed mushrooms. “Not only will you save money by making these changes,” says Helwig, “you’ll eat more produce—a win-win.”

Frozen shop

Believe it or not, the same ingredients can be cheaper depending on whether they’re frozen. And frozen ingredients are actually better when it comes to pliability. “Frozen fish is usually less expensive than fresh, and there’s no rush to cook it,” says Helwig. “Frozen berries last much longer than fresh, but they’re just as nutritious and perfect for smoothies. You can save $2 on 10 ounces of frozen raspberries over fresh.” In fact, you’d have to buy several bunches of fresh spinach to equal a box of — and then you’d have to wash and cook them.

Avoid food waste

Food waste equals wasted money. When you throw away food, cooked or uncooked, you’re essentially throwing away your money. “To reduce food waste, avoid overbuying perishable ingredients (even if they’re on sale), get into the habit of eating dinner leftovers for lunch, and learn how to cook a ‘catch-all’ meal or two like omelette and stir-fry to use up any bits left in the fridge,” says Helwig.

The best recession-proof ingredients to stock up on

Canned (or dried) beans.

Beans of each variety pack a ton of nutrients and calories into any meal, which comes in handy when working to reduce your grocery budget. “The fiber content of beans will keep you full and satisfied long after a meal and is helpful in feeding the good gut bacteria, binding and eliminating toxins and wastes from your body and also helps lower cholesterol and body weight says Trista Best, a registered dietitian. Along with fiber, Best says beans are high in protein, a macronutrient that can often be found deficient in the diets of those trying to save money at the grocery store.

Rice (preferably brown)

Rice is cheap, filling, and when combined with beans forms a complete protein. “Protein is made up of amino acids. There are twenty amino acids, nine of which are essential, which means they must be obtained through diet,” says Best. “Animal protein sources naturally contain all 20 amino acids and are therefore naturally complete proteins, but many plant proteins are not. Getting all the essential amino acids is necessary for healthy living and the combination of rice and beans provides the right combination of amino acids to accomplish this.”

Tomato paste

“Tomato paste is requested in a variety of recipes as a way to create depth and intensity of flavor, especially for a braised beef,” says John Castellucci, executive chef of Cooks and Soldiers and culinary director of Castellucci Hospitality Group in Atlanta, in Georgia. “Even if fresh tomatoes aren’t available or are too expensive, tomato paste usually doesn’t fluctuate.”

Canned fish

Canned fish should be on your radar, as it hasn’t been affected by inflation in recent years like many other meats. “Spain has a huge range of high quality canned fish. I love boquerones (white anchovies) and ventresca (tuna belly). They can be used to make a delicious cold starter or even folded into a hot stew towards the end to add robust flavor,” Castellucci says. Another option is canned Alaskan salmon, which is made with sustainably wild salmon, is high in quality protein, omega-3s, and other nutrients, and can be incorporated into all kinds of recipes.

A recession-proof recipe

LaMarita shares an example of a hearty seasonal (for winter) stew recipe that would be recession-proof.

There will always be vegetables that are affordable or on sale – keep an eye out for them. “Start by sauteing an onion, garlic, celery, and maybe a turnip. If you really want to save money, use dried onion and garlic powder,” says LaMarita. “Add some spices like turmeric or paprika. Take some bulk barley and add it to the pot with some packaged vegetable stock and some canned tomato. Cook it for an hour. Drain a jar of beans, maybe two different kinds like a white bean and a kidney bean and add them to the pot.”

“Simmer for 5 minutes and finish with some herbs (which you can grow in little pots on your windowsill) and voilà, you’ve got a delicious vegetable bean stew made on a dime,” explains LaMarita.

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