I live in a country where street-food is hazardous, 99% restaurants are unhygienic and the rest of 1% restaurants are either extremely expensive(as compared to my level of income) for everyday-meal or unavailable in the neighborhood, and, packed foods(like cereal, cornflakes, etc.) are also unavailable. I am also not a food-enthusiast and very lazy to cook.

I have gas stove. I don't have oven.

Readily eatable vegetables are not available. For example, tomatoes, lettuces, broccoli and cucumbers are not available. Fruits are totally imported and consequently very expensive. Even if they were available, raw vegetables or fruits do not stay in the stomach for long and eating only raw fruits gives acidity.

Cheap available foods are rice, broiler-meat, lentils, wheat-flour. Mutton and beef are expensive. Liquid milk is unavailable. Powdered milk is expensive. Fish is very messy to buy and cook. Eggs are not healthy to eat thrice a day. All types of spices are available but packed spices are little expensive. Vegetables are available but takes time to sanitize, but, I fear peeling.

Can anyone please tell me what kind of foods can I adapt for my everyday life that are cheap, need least effort to prepare, healthy, keep me working for a long time and do not need freezing to preserve?

Please suggest me some single-pot meals that are easy to cook. Unattended cooking must be the priority.

  • Any complaints about the veggie-fruit market or that it is ok?
    – Coral Doe
    Aug 24 '12 at 9:25
  • Raw (and cooked) vegetables can contain fibres and nutrient that can make you feel (and be) more full than meat. Beans are also a good solution, but they require long time to boil (if you can't find frozen at stores; frozen beans ussually take less time to boil).
    – Coral Doe
    Aug 24 '12 at 9:39
  • Yikes. What country do you live in!
    – TFD
    Aug 24 '12 at 10:31
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    I'm sorry, but I don't really see how it's possible to answer this question. We can't know all of the ingredients that are available or unavailable to you, what type of kitchen equipment you may have (you can make some delicious one-pot meals in a slow-cooker), or what you consider "cheap" (this varies based on country - heck, even town within the country - employment status and type, other living expenses, etc.). I also don't understand how rice and lentils are "messy to cook". Is it possible for you to add more concrete details?
    – Laura
    Aug 24 '12 at 13:47
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    @BROY: well, it would give a better idea of the type of food that is available where you live
    – nico
    Aug 24 '12 at 16:46

As you mention you fear peeling, I'm going to assume that you're using a paring knife. If you can get a vegetable peeler, even a bad one is loads easier than doing it with a knife.

Due to the concerns with food safety, (but I admit, not an expert on it), I'd be inclined to do something like:

  • Cut up any meats or vegetables into bite-sized or smaller portions
  • Heat the with a little bit of oil or ghee 'til it shimmers
  • Cook everything over medium high heat 'til browned a bit.
  • Add whatever spices, cook for a few seconds 'til fragrant
  • Add water (about 2x as much rice as you're going to add)
  • Bring water to a boil
  • Let it boil for a couple of minutes (at least the minimum time recommended in your area for food safety concerns)
  • Continue to cook to make sure any meat is mostly cooked or if lentils, mostly softened
  • Add rice
  • Bring back to a boil (not 100% sure this step is necessary, but it helps to normalize the rice cooking time)
  • Put a lid on the pot, reduce heat to low, let sit for 20-25 minutes 'til rice is cooked.

In other countries, I'd say this could be easier in a rice cooker, but you'd still want to brown any meat (which means dirtying a second vessel), and you can't get the boiling you need for the food sanitation purposes.

The cooking time might be able to be reduced by cutting the food smaller, but that means more time cutting stuff up, so it's a bit of a trade-off.

If you have couscous or other small pasta available, it's quicker cooking than rice, but you'll need to adjust the water (in other situations, I'd intentionally be short on water, and add more if necessary, as it's easier than dealing with too much liquid ... but if you were to do that, you'd need to make sure it's sterilized water as it wouldn't be brought back to a boil) ... your other options is to add way too much liquid, and just make a soup.

As we're looking at time concerns, I'd be inclined to stick with just two or three additions to the rice (meat / lentils / vegetables), but vary it based on what's available, cheap, and doesn't look like it's past it's prime in the market ... with enough variety so you're not getting tired of it. You can also change the spices for variety, or until you find a combination you really like.

  • I don't know why this is getting upvotes years later -- but it's worth mentioning that there are now appliances that can cook rice / slow cook, but can also get hot enough to brown meat. Some also function as pressure cookers (eg, 'Instant Pot'), which could be useful for pasteurizing/sanitizing things. Also, some quicker cooking lentils cook in roughly the same time as brown rice.
    – Joe
    Jul 16 '18 at 19:42

Usually cheap and fast don't go together. For example the cheapest cuts of meat can be the most delicious if cooked slowly for a long time. Root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips) are delicious roasted, especially in olive oil (frankly everything is, even large summer squash that is almost tasteless transforms in the oven) but they need about an hour. If you have an oven and a microwave, I suggest cooking in the evening (perhaps after eating) and then reheating that the next day for you your lunch and dinner.

The other direction would be pasta (bought or made; it takes time to make it but you can make it one evening and cook it the next) or rice with a sauce made from canned (or cooked by you the previous day) ingredients. The sauce should either have a little meat, or have something to complement the grain protein: that will be either legumes (beans, lentils etc) or dairy (cheese, yogurt etc).

I think your best bet will be to do something each night after dinner that works towards your next night's meal. That will give you quick meals when you're hungry, but with the yumminess that time-of-cooking can provide.

  • Also, if you have a freezer you can prepare large-ish batches, divide them into single portions and freeze them.
    – nico
    Aug 24 '12 at 16:48