In an ideal world, we’d all know where our food comes from and we’d make our meals from scratch, but with busy days and hectic schedules, it’s easy to head to the corner store for a carton of almond milk or some peanut butter. But many food staples are easier and less time-consuming to make than you might think, and for a fraction of the cost you’d typically pay at a supermarket. Non-dairy milk, flour, nut butter, salad dressing, spice blends, and energy bars are just a few of the supermarket staples you can easily make on your own. Here’s how to get started.
If you’re buying almond milk from the store, you’re missing out on the fresher, richer flavor of homemade. The process is ridiculously easy: soak raw almonds overnight, give them a whirl in your blender with water, and strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth. Add vanilla, a date, or even some nutmeg to make your milk just the way you like it. Add the fiber-rich leftover pulp to baked goods like muffins and scones.
Need milk in an instant? Simply blend 1 tablespoon almond butter with 2-1/2 to 3 cups of water until smooth. Add in one date and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract for a perfect, sweet beverage.
Celebrate your pioneer spirit by making your own flour. If you have oats, buckwheat groats, or dehydrated almond pulp (leftover from your homemade milk), use your high-speed blender or food processor to grind several cups down to a powdery consistency. You’re done!
A delicious yet pricey staple, nut butters can be easily made and customized in your own kitchen with the help of a trusty food processor. Add nuts of your choice (roasted are best) to your food processor and let it go. You’ll see the nuts first turn to powder, then a paste, and lastly to a creamy, buttery spread. Just be patient—it’ll become smooth and creamy eventually! Drop in a pinch of salt, and then play with additions like cinnamon or sugar to customize your spread.
Reading the long list of ingredients on the side of a salad dressing bottle can be quite illuminating. When shaking up your own creamy concoction at home, there is no need to add in all those emulsifiers and stabilizers—you can just stick to the good stuff. Tahini (you can make your own by following the nut butter instructions but substituting sesame seeds) is a great base for a rich dressing. Add in garlic, cumin, lemon, and salt, plus fresh herbs if you’ve got a window garden to harvest. Take five minutes on the weekend to make a batch to enjoy on salads, grilled veggies, and baked potatoes all week long.
Using different spice blends is a wonderful way to make your meals diverse and delicious—you can turn a pot of lentils into Indian dal with garam masala or heighten the flavor of a simple quick bread with pumpkin pie spice. Many basic spices are available in bulk and are often a fraction of the cost of ready-made spice blend jars, so purchase fresh, whole spices to mix up your own culinary concoctions. Be inspired by spice-blend recipes found online and customize to your liking. Store your homemade blends in airtight jars in the freezer to maintain maximum freshness.
Although packaged snacks offer some convenience, making them at home means having them when and how you want—sans preservatives and other questionable processed chemicals. Before going out for a morning run, long hike, or transcontinental flight, pull out your food processor and toss together equal parts pitted dates, oats, and nuts to make a batch of homemade granola bars in seconds. You can even toss in some chocolate chips (hey, it’s your energy bar). Pulse the ingredients until they hold together when pressed. Spread into a square or rectangular pan, chill and then cut into bars (or roll into bite-size balls). If you’re feeling adventurous, you can add in other dried fruits like figs, apricots, and goji berries. Here’s a tasty recipe to get you started.
Nicole Axworthy and Lisa Pitman are food writers and bloggers who consider themselves thrifty eaters when they make their meals from scratch.
Photo by Nicole Axworthy