7 Super Cheap Recipes That Taste Gourmet

Eating on a budget shouldn't mean you're stuck eating rice and beans every night of the week, and there are actually a ton of affordable ways to make your food taste more expensive — you just need to know a few simple hacks and recipe basics to economize where it counts.

When I first moved to New York City, I was determined to cut costs in easy places, which often boiled down to what I ate. At 22, this meant I was mostly investing in dried ramen, mac and cheese, and flavorless batches of bean-based stews. I had no idea that there are actually super cost-effective and delicious recipes out there that don't mean total deprivation to your taste buds. 

Not to mention I often didn't finish entire batches of the food I made because I would get so incredibly sick of it, making it far less economical in the long run. I was also incredibly adverse to buying ingredients that seemed to have a high "up front" cost, like spices, which actually last forever and are hugely important in making cheap basics taste good.

If you're looking for ways to economize on home-cooked meals, but don't want to sacrifice flavor, here are seven awesome recipes that won't break the bank, but will taste like they did.

1. Greek Yogurt In Mac & Cheese

 This crazy simple recipe from Spoon University literally just includes adding Greek yogurt to your instant mac and cheese. It gives the noodles a creamy, slightly tangy flavor and tastes way more substantial. You can also throw in some quick add ins, like spinach, mushrooms, and broccoli, to get in your veggie quota.

2. Doctored Instant Ramen

I associated dried packets of ramen with a nutritionless late-night college snack for years — it genuinely never occurred to me that they are meant to be used as an inexpensive base for actual delicious recipes. A ramen hack article on Serious Eats by chef and food author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt recommended adding some thinly sliced meats, spinach, a hard boiled egg, and some ramen staples, like chili bean sauce and thai curry paste for an awesome and super cost-effective dinner.

3. Smoked Sausage & Rice

Rice is an awesome inexpensive base for most meals, and it doesn't have to taste bland or boring. This super simple recipe from Southern Living starts with a brown rice base, smoked sausage, and green peppers, and includes a few other inexpensive and reusable bells and whistles for a comforting and delicious meal.

4. Black Beans & Mexican Rice

OK, I know I said eating cheaply didn't mean eating rice and beans, but this recipe from My Recipes is actually delicious. The Mexican rice means the base is already super tasty, and it also calls for chili peppers and cilantro for flavor. And because black beans are filled with protein, you don't need to invest in a meet if you don't want one.

5. Fried Rice

Next up we've got... more rice! But again, don't worry — this Southern Living recipe is anything but bland and definitely won't burn a hole in your wallet. You'll just need some super basics, like rice, soy sauce, a chopped protein, and some frozen veggies, and you're already more than halfway done. You can also use brown rice for added health benefits.

6.  Mushroom & Bacon Pasta

My mouth is already watering just thinking about this pasta-based recipe from Food.com. Start with a super economical pasta base and throw in a few chopped add-ins, and you're basically good to go. This is also a great one for company, because it looks super impressive on a plate while being incredibly easy to make.

7. Mediterranean Spaghetti Salad 

This pasta dish is also another great one for cooking for company on a budget. Start with pasta, some fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, and a few herbs, and you have yourself a large portion of a super tasty pasta salad. It's also great if you're ever in need of a "fancy-looking" vegetarian option.

If you're living on a budget but can't stand the idea of taste bud deprivation, don't fret! There are plenty of awesome recipes to satisfy the gourmet-lover inside you — and even better, a lot of them are crazy easy to make.

Images: StateofIsraelLauren Bosak, perke, WxmomBret OblackAlpha, Sherman Geronimo-Tan, vmiramontes/Flickr

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