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The Meatless Challenge: 7 Vegetarian Meals for $10 or Less

photo: sarniebill1

With so many laudable but expensive food movements like buying organic and fair trade, you’ve got to love one that cuts your grocery bill.

Meatless Monday has become a trendy thing to do for both home cooks and restaurants, largely for its sustainability. (The gist: meat requires more land, water and energy to produce, and releases more greenhouse gases.)

But following the trend is also a great way to save on grocery costs. Prices have risen along with the growing middle class in developing countries. Beef prices are up 6.7% compared with last July, and pork is up 6%. Chicken is up 1%. Going meatless once a week, whether on Monday or some other night, can save a family of four hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.

As with our first “meals under $10″ challenge, we asked food and finance bloggers, as well as chefs and home cooks, to send in their best suggestions for a meal fit for a family of four. But this time, the gourmet fare had to be meatless, yet hearty enough to appeal to the carnivores who, budget or sustainability be darned, would still rather have steak. (We’ve shared the results below with recipe details, or, where available, linked to their blogs.)

Now Frugal Foodie has a challenge for you: what’s your best super-cheap yet gourmet vegetarian meal? Post it in the comments, and don’t forget to “like” your favorite submissions.

(All cost estimates are based on non-sale New York City supermarket prices. If it’s a cheap meal in NYC, we figure cooks in most other places in the country will spend even less. Prices are also adjusted for quantity: if a recipe calls for half an onion, you’ll probably find something to do with the other half. Finally, estimates don’t take into account basic ingredients you likely already have, like flour, olive oil or dried spices.)

Spiced Veggie Burgers

Cost: $2.35, or $0.59 per serving

“This recipe is a favorite of my kids and is so simple to make that they love to join in,” says globe-trotting writer G.L. Troubridge. Boil a cup of white rice with water and half a vegetable stock cube. Chop half of a large onion very fine, and mix with the cooked rice, a crushed clove of garlic, half a package of stuffing mix, and your choice of cooked vegetables. (Troubridge like peas and sweetcorn.) Add salt, pepper and chili powder to taste. Form into patties. If desired, place a cube of cheese in the middle and close the patty over it. Bake, grill or shallow fry.

Serve with sliced tomatoes and lettuce on a roll, and a simple green salad, and you’ll barely break the $1 mark per serving.

Eggplant Stew

Cost: $3.92, or $0.98 per serving

Give in-season eggplant http://www.mint.com/blog/saving/fall-farmers-market-09292010/ a starring role with a savory stew. “It’s just sauteed eggplant, chickpeas, a can of stewed tomatoes and garlic — optionally oregano, basil and salt — served over brown rice,” says Sandra Lira of Zanda Panda Bakeware http://zandapanda.com. “But it’s delicious, especially with warm bread.”

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Cost: $6.15, or $1.54 per serving

A lack of ground turkey prompted Alysa Bajenaru of “Inspired RD” to craft this meatless Moroccan-style dish from a reader-submitted meaty version. The result: what she says is “one of the best meals I have cooked in a long time.” Double it to serve four.

Vegetable Cottage Pie

Cost: $6.43, or $1.61 per serving

Cottage pie usually contains ground beef, but action-adventure novelist K.S. Brooks makes this cheap, tasty veggie version with extra squash, leeks and mushrooms instead. Steam four cups quartered and sliced zucchini or summer squash until almost cooked through. Mix in baking dish with two cups coarsely chopped leeks, one cup sliced mushrooms, a teaspoon and a half of parsley, an eighth of a teaspoon savory and black pepper to taste. Bake 20 minutes uncovered at 350 degrees. Cover pie with mashed potatoes and, if desired, grated Parmesan. Bake for another 20 minutes.

Lentil Soup with “Sausage”

Cost: $7.10, or $1.78 per serving

Vegetarian “sausage” in this thick soup from Alexandra Caspero of “Delicious Knowledge” gets so disguised that meat lovers won’t know the difference. (Frugal Foodie isn’t a fan of faux meat, and she liked the recipe with and without the veggie sausage inclusion.)

Chickpea Curry with Couscous

Cost: $9.56, or $2.39 per serving

Store-bought yellow curry sauce makes this chickpea, raisin and pine nut concoction less intimidating. It can even be prepared as a one-dish meal with the couscous mixed in, says Rania Batayneh of “Essential Nutrition for You.”

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Portabellas

Cost: $9.89, or $2.47 per serving

Lori Bell of Alta Lorna, Calif., offered up the recipe for these stuffed, broiled mushroom caps: In a pan, saute two minced cloves of garlic, a small chopped onion, one minced Roma tomato and a quarter cup chopped cilantro with one tablespoon olive oil. Cook until onion is a little soft. Toss in two cups spinach and stir with a little salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and allow the spinach to wilt. While the spinach is wilting, wash and stem four large portabella mushrooms. Place them on a plate and sprinkle them with a little extra water and cover them with plastic wrap. Microwave the mushrooms for about two minutes — you’ll be able to squish them a little when they’re done. Pour off the liquid and place them on a cookie sheet for the broiler, set aside. Place half a block (4 oz.) soft cream cheese in a bowl with a teaspoon of dry ranch mix and blend it well. Set the cream cheese mixture aside.

Place a slice (or two if the mushroom is real big) of extra sharp cheese on the inside cap of the mushroom. At this point if you’d like to spice up your mushroom add slices of jalapeno on top of the cheese. Toss the spinach mixture around so all the flavors are incorporated, then divide the spinach into four piles. Place a pile of spinach mixture on top of the extra sharp cheese and jalapeno slices. Place a quarter of the cream cheese mixture on top of each mushroom and spread it loosely to cover the spinach. Give each mushroom a couple of grinds of fresh ground pepper. Place in the broiler until cream cheese mixture browns.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.