I’m all about fresh, whole food, plant based meals…but could I pull off a vegan dinner party on a budget made from only long-shelf-life foods? SURE!
I volunteer at a local food bank, and fortunately, there are always plenty of fruits and vegetables available for the guests. In addition to the fresh food, guests can shop through shelves of canned goods. Every Saturday, I find myself thinking of how I would pull together a meal with the foods we have that day. This train of thought was only fueled more when we had a can drive at work for another food bank. Everyone brought in canned veggies and fruits, dried pastas and rice, and there were soup and beans for days. This is when I challenged myself to a vegan, gluten-free canned goods dinner party.
Later that day, I went to the store and bought 9 cans of beans, veggies, and fruit, a box of cereal, and a pack of corn tortillas for $18. The cereal and tortillas were arguably not “allowed” in my challenge, but the food bank always has a variety of breads, cereals, and baked goods, so it’s plausible that this grocery list would still be attainable at a food bank on a given day. The only other “cheat” to my plan was that I used spices and equipment I had on hand at home. Many folks can take for granted the stocked kitchen with all the tools and ingredients needed for culinary adventures. Volunteering at the food bank is a reminder that not everyone has a wedding registry full of kitchen equipment, including a stove and a spice rack full of flavors – sometimes guests only have access to a microwave at best. For the following recipes, I used the following appliances and kitchen gadgets:
- The oven
- A griddle (large pan on the stove would have worked well too)
- Food processor (S-blade)
- Stand mixer (handheld works too!)
- 1 large mixing bowl (reused for each course)
- A baking sheet
- A pie dish (any oven-safe casserole dish is great. Shape doesn’t matter)
- A mesh strainer
- Some powdered sugar
- Old Bay seasoning
Again, in a super strict execution of this $20-or-less dinner party idea, I might have broken some rules with the stocked kitchen. Good thing this isn’t a real cooking show!
Party-in-a-Can Dinner Menu
- Appetizer: “Cowboy Caviar” salsa and homemade baked tortilla chips
- Entree: Old Bay veggie fritters with a side of sauteed green beans
- Dessert: Peach cobbler with fresh coconut whipped cream
Cowboy Caviar with Baked Tortilla Chips
- 1 can of sweet corn, drained
- 1 can of diced fire roasted tomatoes with green chiles
- 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 package of corn tortillas
- Some oil (I used a combination of sunflower and coconut – SunCoco Oil)
- Kosher salt
- Heat oven to 350 degrees
- Brush tortillas with oil and stack
- Cut tortillas into quarters
- Spread triangles on baking sheet
- Sprinkle with salt
- Bake in oven until baked – 10-15 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack or paper towel
- While baking, open the three cans and drain the corn and black beans
- Combine beans, corn, and tomatoes in large bowl – it’s ready to serve!
Old Bay Veggie Fritters with a side of Sauteed Green Beans
- 1 can of chickpeas – save the bean water from the can!
- 1 can of chopped spinach, drained (squeeze through mesh strainer or with cheese cloth to prevent fritters from turning green)
- 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning
- 4 of the homemade tortilla chips, smashed into crumbs (in place of breadcrumbs)
- Using a mesh strainer over a mixing bowl, drain the chickpeas and set aside
- Mix aquafaba (literally, the bean water from the chickpeas) until liquid turns into white foam that can hold its shape like egg whites
- Put drained chickpeas, spinach, and artichoke hearts into food processor and mix until uniformly smooth
- Add half of the foamy aquafaba to the food processor; save the other half for later
- Add seasoning, crumbs, and mix again
- Heat griddle, and add oil
- Using a tablespoon, measure out dough and place on griddle
- Fry on each side until golden brown
- Transfer to paper towel to soak up excess oil, then serve
- Drain green beans and add to dry sautee pan. The canned veggies are salty enough and don’t need any additional salt. Add pepper as needed, and serve
Peach Cobbler with Homemade Coconut Whipped Cream
- 1 box, or at least 4 cups, of gluten-free cereal (I found a store brand cinnamon toast flavor)
- 1 large can of sliced peaches
- Remaining aquafaba from chickpeas
- 1 can of full fat coconut cream (must be refrigerated, and do not shake/tip before using)
- 1/4-1/2 cup of powdered sugar
- Put cereal in food processor
- Add aquafaba, and mix with pulverized cereal
- Transfer mixture to pie dish (or any oven-safe casserole dish) and evenly distribute as the pie crust
- Put in oven for 5 minutes, then remove to add peaches
- Drain peaches, and add them evenly in dish on top of sweet crunchy base
- Return to oven until they are soft and warm all the way through
- While baking, open coconut can, and use spoon to scoop out the top half (coconut cream – leave the oil in the can)
- Put cream in mixing bowl, and beat until fluffy and smooth
- Add sugar and mix again until whipped cream can stand in points
- When peaches are cooked through, and dish is bubby and aromatic, remove from oven
- Add fresh whipped topping and serve!
My final thoughts on this experiment:
- The salsa is always a hit. I’ve made it before, especially because it’s easy to bring places too!
- The chips were easy and good. The tortillas were 30 for $2, so it wouldn’t be a huge price difference to buy the chips if you are short on time.
- We easily had enough chips and salsa for 4 people.
- The chickpea/artichoke/spinach fritters were alright. Using crumbled chips was a gametime decision. I actually bought gluten free bread crumbs, so I can save those for another day. We ended up using some Vegenaise with splash of Texas Pete hot sauce for a swanky aoli. I was originally going for a crabcake-esque patty, and while this wasn’t on point, it was good all the same. I’d make these again!
- Green beans from a can are not very good. I knew this going in, and I confirmed it. In a pinch, it’ll do, but finding ways to incorporate at least one fresh veggie will always win!
- We had enough fritters for 4 people, and the green beans really only served 2.
- The cereal crust was ok, but it got chewy when it got soggy with peach juice. The idea of using cereal with added sweetness was to avoid more ingredients at home, and I’m still on board with that, but maybe I would use it as a crumbly topping with the baked peaches on the bottom if I were to make again.
- Using the aquafaba in not one, but two of the courses made me feel like culinary Macgyver.
- The whipped cream is always on point. Another swanky vegan upgrade anyone can do with a mixer!
- For $4.50 per person, without using rice or pasta (that would have been too easy!), this worked out pretty well. Not only did we have a good dinner; we got a humbling reminder of how fortunate we are, and an exercise in creative culinary resourcefulness. We all ended the evening with a full belly and a happy heart.