My colleague, Ms. Janie Jones, can probably out-frugal me any day of the week.  But even though thrift does not come naturally to me (says she whose ass is currently clad in designer denim), I too have a few Recessionista tricks up my sleeve.

One of the easiest ways to save some dough is to brown-bag lunch, especially since I work in downtown Manhattan, home of the $9 salad.  So when I’m feeling particularly economical, I often try to make a batch of food on Sunday to bring in for the week.  Sure, this can get monotonous, but it’s sometimes easier when I know I have a busy week ahead.   One of my favorite things to make is mujaddarah, which is a Middle Eastern dish of rice, lentils and caramelized onions.  Lentils are not only cheap, but nutritious and incredibly easy to cook, especially compared to other dried legumes. If you want to up the nutrition, use brown rice.  What really makes the dish is the caramelized onions, so don’t skimp on these.

I tend to vary it somewhat every time, so this is not a definitive recipe by any stretch of the imagination.


  • 1 cup lentils
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • as many onions as you can chop
  • olive oil
  • allspice

1. Chop onions into half-circles and place in skillet. Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, plus another tablespoon.  I also added a couple pats of butter and a splash of sherry.

2. Cook onions over low heat for about an hour, stirring occassionally, until they look like so:

IMG_25413. Cook lentils in 3 cups of water, with smashed garlic cloves, bay leaf, a dash of allspice, and whatever other spice in your cabinet strikes your fancy.  I added bit of garam masala this time.  Remove from heat and add a splash of balsamic vinegar.  I’ve also seen soy sauce recommended.

4. Cook rice.

5.  When lentils, rice and onions are done, drain and mix together.  Wish you had had more onions.  Portion into knock-off tupperware containers and make a note to remember to take one with you in the morning.

This makes about 4 servings.  I might add a bit of chopped parsley, if only to make it less beige.  It’s also good with a dollop of salted thick yogurt as garnish.

I’m too lazy to work out the math, but I’m pretty sure this rivals the 43 cent burrito for thriftyness, if not deliciousness.