umami on the cheap

December 1, 2009 § 4 Comments

just thinking about how i ate vegan/raw vegan for a year with very very little money (living off donations) in a warehouse with no kitchen.  and all we had was a camping stove.  and a coffeemaker.  we could boil water.

part of the reason that i was eating vegan.  was because it was less expensive for me.  since i didnt have a stove or an oven.  plus i dont like meat.  and meat and dairy products are really hard for me to digest.

and i love tasty food.  it needs to have flavor.  onions, garlic, ginger, pepper. im a southern girl.  i like it spicy. i love umami.

and there was no grocery store nearby.  the nearest ones were a couple of miles away and i didnt have a car.  so i had to walk it when i could.  that was easier in the warm weather.  but in the winter when the snow would blanket the sidewalks, there were plenty of times i just couldnt hike it.

so the closest stores were convenience stores in our working class neighborhood.  lots of chips and cookies and sodas.

so anyways, this morning as i was drinking my tea i was thinking about what did i eat back then?

(i am a grazer.  and i dont think in terms of ‘meals’ just in terms of ‘im hungry.  what is there to eat right now?’ so nuts, fruit, and crackers are a mainstay.

and i dont like soup.  cannot get into eating salty water.)

so whenever i could make it out to a grocery store.  like when someone would give me a ride, or let me borrow their car, or it was a nice enough day to walk to it.  this is what i stocked up on:

the staples

rice (i dont like ramen or most store bought pastas.  so rice was good for me.  you buy it in bulk. it lasts a long time.  and if guests stop by you can always just make some more rice.  brown rice is super good for you but takes much longer to boil.  so often i just went with white rice. )

couscous  (coucous can be used to make savory or sweet dishes.  in the morning i would make a hot cereal with it-see below- and in the evening i would chop up fresh veggies and mix it with some cooked couscous, olive oil, soy sauce and spices.)


soy sauce or braggs amino acids


dried lentils

dried red beans

dried black beans

black pepper




dried cinnamon


vitamin enriched soymilk (this was the splurge.  i love vanilla soymilk straight out of the carton)


roasted cashews.  (the other splurge.  love. love. love. cashews)

oranges (in the middle of a grey winter, oranges taste like a miracle)


olive oil (frankly, this is really expensive.  but, i consider it a necessity.  there are a lot of other foods that i was willing to give up before before olive oil…)

dried red pepper



dried basil



at the convenience stores i would buy:

black tea and green tea.

super expensive fruit every once in a while.  when the bananas didnt look too sad.

roasted nuts.  especially cashews.

100 percent juice concentrate: apple juice, grape, grapefruit, orange juice.



i would always keep my eye out for fresh fruit that was reasonably prices.  unfortunately a lot of the fruit would be tasteless, not sweet, in the middle of winter.  one of the ways to deal with this is to sprinkle some salt on the fruit.  the salt brings out some of the sweetness.  works great with watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, etc.

in the summer, i would buy whatever fruit was in season and cheap.  farmers markets are great when i could get to them.

  • avocados with salt or soy milk or hot sauce or lemon sprinkled on top.
  • fruit salad
  • fruit smoothies with soy milk
  • pineapples and avocados are filling



i drank a lot. a lot. of tea.

black and green tea

–suppresses the appetite, and has antioxidants.  also the caffeine can be a nice gentle pick me up when its hard to get moving.

i would buy the teas loose when possible (its usually cheaper loose and a tea ball is a couple of dollars.)

and i would buy the masala spice mix from india to put in the tea.  and then mix some vanilla soy milk with it.  (a lot of folks in the states call this ‘chai tea’, but in a lot of the world-including india- chai means tea. )

also, lemon in black tea.  would taste great in the evenings.


herbal teas/herbs/tisanes

when i would make it out to the natural food co op.  i would stock up on loose spices and loose teas from the bulk bins. the cool think about herbs and teas is that they are relatively inexpensive if you buy them in bulk.  if i had guests drop by, i could always offer them tea.  and teas in a pretty package (pretty paper or bags tied with ribbon) make a nice quick gift.  i often mix red raspberry, mint, and roses in a piece of plastic and tie with a ribbon for pregnant women and new moms.  red raspberry leaf is an excellent tonic for the uterus.  the dried roses are pretty.  and the mint is aromatic.

loose teas/herbs

echinacea–healthy immune system


dandelion–healthy immune system


hibiscus/jamaica/karkade (which makes a beautiful deep purple red color in your mug)




lemon grass–energizing


red raspberry–strong uterus

sage–wakes me up and cleans the blood


a yummy warm breakfast.

bring the water boil.

put in the water as it is starting to boil, diced apples, cinnamon, and ginger.

pour in the couscous.

let the couscous cook until it is fluffy and has soaked in some of the water.

eat and enjoy.  great for cold morning.  warm, spicy, and sweet.

you can replace the apples for oranges.  also yummy.


dried beans

i dont really like lentils.  but a lot of people do.  and you dont have to soak them for very long before you cook them.

i soak the red and black beans over night with garlic and onions and pepper in a pot. then i would put some fresh water in the pot.  and cook it slowly with some diced tomatoes and olive oil.  before eating i sprinkle ontop fresh green onions, and other veggies.  and season to taste.

eat it with some rice.


also can put a bit of olive oil in a pot.  and fry some carrots and potatoes for a few minutes with soy sauce until the veggies have softened.  then add garlic, peppers, onions, and a bit of lemon and spices into the pot.  fry for a couple of more minutes.  and serve ontop of rice or couscous.


i found a blender at the thrift store for ten bucks.  made soymilk smoothies.  soymilk, diced apples, diced oranges, and diced bananas.  add a bit of cinnamon on top.


i grew sprouts.  some people dont like the texture of sprouts.  i can understand that. sprouts for me are really useful.  they are easy to grow.  they are really nutritious and help to clean the blood and build the immune system.

i like to sprinkle them on savory veggie dishes.  like stir fried veggies. and raw salads.

i sprouted black beans, wheat, alfalfa, buckwheat, sesame.  lentils can also sprout.  here is a list of seeds to sprout.


chop up some raw okra.  mix it with some olive oil and soy sauce.  eat.  great finger food for the grazer.


twice i have found cheap dehydrators. ten to fifteen bucks.   one time at a thrift store.  and one time at a garage sale.  both times, they were still in their original boxes and came with the instruction booklets.  fucking gold.  i especially love dehydrated tomatoes.  slice the tomatoes and put them in the dehydrator for a day.  then put them in a small jar with diced garlic, black pepper, and pour in olive oil until the olive oil covers the tomatoes.  set it aside for a couple of days.

umami.  pure umami. i will just eat the dried tomatoes whole (great for grazing).  also can slice them and put them in any savory dish.  they add a hearty almost meaty flavor to anything.


kale.  back when i was a kid.  my mom used to grow kale in her yard.  and sometimes she would pick kale out in the grasses/woods beside grocery stores or wherever she saw it.   only the other southern black kids that i knew ate kale.  now, i guess it is considered some ‘wonder health food’.  well, at least it is still cheap.  kale is a thick leafy green.  that is chockfull of wonderfulness.  i like to eat it raw.  chop it up.  marinate in olive oil, vinegar, garlic. also it doesnt go bad too quickly.

also when i had a blender.  and it was summer.  i would blend up some orange slices, apple, a touch of lemon, and whatever other fruits i felt like (fresh strawberries) and then take the blended up fruit sauce and use it as a dressing to put on top of fresh kale and other green leaves (like spinach) and maybe some spring onion.

also i would make green smoothies.  in a blender mix.  some kale, bananas, orange, and whatever fruits i like.  great for breakfast.  thick and filling.

also the  kale leaf makes a nice substitute for tortillas, when i make veggie wraps.  the veggies can be cooked or raw.  and the kale leaf is thick and strong enough to hold the veggies inside.


in my bag i normally stashed roasted nuts (cashews!),  an apple or orange, or crackers.  that way when i get hungry out on the town i always had something to munch on.  sometimes i would pack a tea ball with tea or herbas and a camping cup/thermos, so that i could make tea.  as long as i could find some hot water.




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