ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
It seems like everyone is trying to stretch their dollars these days, and so we thought we'd do our part. We call it the How Low Can You Go Family Supper Challenge. Here's how it works.
All this week, we're going to be talking with some of the nation's best cooks. All have agreed to come up with a budget-conscious, delicious meal for a family of four. And here's the hitch: That meal must cost less than $10; the cheaper the better, as long as the results are still tasty.
And we begin our challenge with celebrity chef Jose Andres. He presides over a culinary empire that includes a collection of acclaimed restaurants, several popular cookbooks and the "Made in Spain" PBS cooking show.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Made in Spain")
Mr. JOSE ANDRES (Chef): Well, I'm gonna show it all for you. I am Jose Andres, and this is "Made in Spain."
(Soundbite of applause)
NORRIS: Jose Andres gladly accepted our $10-or-less challenge. Instead of a little show and tell at one of his posh restaurants, Andres suggested that we join him at the DC Central Kitchen. It's a program that feeds the hungry while providing jobs training in the food service industry, and Andres is a frequent volunteer there.
For our challenge, he decided on a favorite family recipe, a dish that his wife, Patricia, prepared soon after they were married.
Mr. ANDRES: This probably is one of the most expensive dishes that she made for me ever not because of the ingredients, but because I think she called her mother, and I think she was on the phone almost through the entire process of making these chickpeas with a spinach. So, still what I remember is how good it was, how affordable it was, but the telephone call was really something that I will remember forever because it was expensive.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: The dish is a Moorish-style chickpea and spinach stew, or as Andres calls it:
Mr. ANDRES: Garbanzos con espinacas.
NORRIS: It's the kind of simple, one-pot meal that reminds Andres of his own childhood in Spain.
Mr. ANDRES: I remember that at the beginning of the month, the kind of menus my mom and my father would prepare for us would be more, you know, more fish and more chicken. Towards the end of the month, because my father will be waiting for the paycheck and the refrigerator will get kind of empty, I remember that even without a lot of food left, some of the best meals happened right there.
NORRIS: An empty refrigerator led to an abundance of creativity. After chatting with Andres in the front office, we were eager to see his culinary skills.
So we're here in the kitchen.
Mr. ANDRES: Let's go.
NORRIS: Tell us where we're going to get started.
Mr. ANDRES: Well, when we're talking about chickpeas…
NORRIS: We begin with the main ingredient: chickpeas. You can buy them in a can, but Andres suggests using dried chickpeas. They're less expensive. They have less salt and none of that goopy liquid you find in the can, but they take more work. They're like little pieces of gravel until you soak them overnight in water and a pinch of baking soda.
After that, rinse the softened chickpeas and boil them for about an hour in a heavy pot with just enough water to cover the beans. How do you know when they're done? Well, Andres says you just have to listen.
Mr. ANDRES: You're going to look at them again, and you're going to be looking at them. You're going to talk to them.
NORRIS: Okay. Well, if you're not fluent in chickpea…
Mr. ANDRES: Well…
NORRIS: …what will they be saying to you?
Mr. ANDRES: Take a look at what I'm doing here.
Mr. ANDRES: I'm talking to them. I'm touching them. I get them, and you see, my…
NORRIS: You squeeze it.
Mr. ANDRES: A little pressure with your fingers.
NORRIS: Your thumb and your forefingers.
Mr. ANDRES: Yeah.
Mr. ANDRES: And you see that they are like a very soft thing.
NORRIS: They smoosh.
Mr. ANDRES: The chickpeas is giving me…
NORRIS: Is it saying I'm ready?
Mr. ANDRES: The chickpeas is telling me, I'm ready. I'm so sorry, you cannot listen to them yet, but I know at the end of the recipe…
NORRIS: I'm becoming more fluent in chickpea.
Mr. ANDRES: …they'll be talking to you.
NORRIS: For Jose, talking to the food is just as important as tasting the food, and the taste should be punctuated with a little geek.
Mr. ANDRES: We're going to start with garlic. So we're going to put one, two, three, four, five. If you like garlic, you can put 10 cloves. If you don't like, don't put. You see, these recipes, they need to empower you to adapt them to your liking.
NORRIS: And by the way, don't worry about trying to jot down this recipe. It's posted at our Web site at npr.org.
Okay, let's get back to that food. Drop the whole peeled cloves in a skillet with hot olive oil. Once the cloves have browned on all sides, remove and set aside. Then use that same pan and that same olive oil to toast up some bread. We used torn pieces of French bread, but you can really use anything.
Mr. ANDRES: It can be a whole piece of half a bagel you didn't eat in the breakfast. Anything is bread for you. Perfect.
NORRIS: Smelling good in here.
Mr. ANDRES: So, so far so good. Garlic, bread, chickpeas, hey. Now is the moment we are adding the other spices.
NORRIS: Those other spices: cumin and paprika. And you don't sprinkle them on top of the cooked chickpeas. We're going for a richer flavor. So we add the spices to the olive oil in our skillet and we whisk the mixture to create a kind of paste.
When it's a nice reddish brown, stir that into the pot. While that's simmering, we get a quick upper body workout. Take the toasted bread and the browned garlic cloves and mash them up. We used a mortar and pestle, but a sturdy bowl and a large spoon would also do the trick.
Stir that mixture into the heavy stockpot, along with the chickpeas and the spices. The simmering pot takes on a deep terracotta hue that stirs up memories of home for Andres.
Mr. ANDRES: When we go on vacation in the south of Spain, where this comes from, when the sun is going down at sundown, the entire sand and the entire sky becomes this kind of very beautiful orange-going-red color. This almost reminds me of sundown and beautiful Andalusia overlooking Africa.
NORRIS: And into that gorgeous sunset goes the spinach, in our case, about a pound of baby spinach leaves.
Mr. ANDRES: And now, kind of the spinach are going to wilt, and they are going to start talking to the chickpeas and to the bread, and the garlic is talking to the cumin, and the paprika is talking to the chickpeas, and it's a beautiful conversation happening in this pot. And because of that beautiful conversation, that dish is going to be so tasty.
Okay. I cover it five minutes, and maybe we are ready to eat.
NORRIS: And if you want to serve the Andres-family-dinner-table version of this dish, use that five minutes to fry up some eggs, one for each serving, and keep the yolk slightly runny so you can blend it into the stew with your spoon.
As we finish our task, Andres is obviously pleased with his masterpiece, but how'd he do with our $10 challenge? How low did he go? Andres spent about $9.71 on all the ingredients. So he met the price challenge, but what about the taste? And I must say my team was a bit skeptical about swooning over what's essentially a pot of beans, however:
Unidentified Woman #1: That is so good.
Unidentified Man #1: Are you sure?
Unidentified Woman #1: I'm positive.
NORRIS: The spices and the garlic and the texture with that fried egg, oh, delicious. And if you want to try the recipe for Jose Andres' dish…
Mr. ANDRES: Garbanzos con espinacas.
NORRIS: …well, go to our Web site, and we want you to participate in the How Low Can You Go Dinner Challenge. Got a fabulous recipe to feed a family of four for less than $10? We'd love to see it. We might even put it on the air. So go to npr.org/budgetmeals for details on how to submit your recipe.
(Soundbite of music)
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.