I Cooked 11 Recipes For $25—Here's How You Can Too

June set out to cook a whole week's worth of meals for two on a $25 budget. The catch? Aaron does the shopping for her. Watch to see how she fared—and catch the rest of her series, Budget Eats, on YouTube!

Once upon a time, a viewer commented that in a future episode of Budget Eats Aaron should do all the shopping for me. Sometimes in life, all you have to do is plant a seed and wait patiently for it to sprout.

budget eats screenshot
June Xie

Lo and behold, many months later, Julia and I were discussing potential Budget Eats themes, and this one just felt right.

budget eats slack screenshot
June Xie

Heading into this episode, Julia and I agreed on these rules:

  1. $25 budget, no dietary restrictions.

  2. June has no influence on Aaron’s purchases.

  3. Cooking staples and condiments are allowed.

Aaron and I went shopping on a Saturday, and he was given free rein over the $25 budget. Alongside normal Budget Eats purchases like legumes, veggies, and a $1 bag of bones were more curated selections like sherry-flavored gelatin mix, creme-filled sandwich cookies, prepackaged khakhra, and a $5 splurge on paneer.

budget eats haul
June Xie

Unfortunately, our first task was throwing out some moldy tomatoes and strawberries and freezing the ones that were on their last legs. It turns out that when you buy $1 produce, you usually get what you pay for.

Dan Dan Mian

budget eats
June Xie

On day 2, I struck gold. After deciding, for once, to just cook something the way it's meant to be cooked, I made a shortcut version of dan dan noodles with instant ramen noodles and cooked a flavorful meat topping with scraps pulled off of our stock bones seasoned with doubanjiang, Sichuan peppercorns, white pepper, and MSG. I rated them a 10/10 upon the first bite and knew right away that this would be the best dish of the week.

Aaron agreed. Topped with crunchy roasted split peas, spicy snacking peanuts, expired Chinese pickled radish, and chili oil, my $2 version outshone other versions we'd previously paid $12 for at restaurants. The key lies in the excitement provided by your toppings, especially the chili crisp, which is the backbone of flavor in the whole dish. Another tip: do not overcook your instant noodles. Once submerged in the boiling water, drain in under 2 minutes for the perfect al dente texture: carryover cooking will take care of any crunchy bites as you plate.

Rating: 10/10

PB&J Cake

budget eats
June Xie

If you've seen one episode of Budget Eats, you know by now that I love my peanut butter. So when Aaron grabbed a bag of spicy hot peanuts, my subconscious was already spinning all 3.5 ounces of it into endless possibilities.

Aaron wasn't as big a fan of it as I was, but the chaos really worked for me: the spicy peanut butter mingling with grape-flavored Jell-O strawberry jam, seeping into chickpea-flour cake batter, topped with a strawberry creme-filled cookie. It felt both sweet and exciting, familiar and unexpected, surprising but also not shocking. One could say it was the embodiment of balance and quirk, the manic pixie dream girl of food.

Rating: 10/10

Shishito Poppers

budget eats
June Xie

Despite having rated several other dishes higher, these slightly too-dry bites of cheese- and tofu-filled shishito peppers stayed on my mind for longer than expected: I went back for leftovers twice the next day.

For this riff on jalapeño poppers, I dipped the stuffed peppers into chickpea cake batter and rolled them in a pulverized roasted split pea powder before baking them at 350° for 20 minutes. While not at all crisp, the coating was satisfyingly well-spiced, and when dipped into a trio of mayo, ketchup, and gochujang-sriracha sauces, every bite was reminiscent of fast-food chicken nuggets.

Rating: 8.9/10

Neapolitan Jell-O

budget eats
June Xie

My biggest concern this week was what to do with a packet of sherry-flavored gelatin. While I did attempt to use it in savory dishes (to my pleasant surprise and to Aaron's absolute horror), the best application was still in a dessert.

This being Budget Eats, I couldn't simply serve up a cup of off-brand Jell-O, even if it had fresh strawberries embedded in its translucent prison. That translucent prison would be the first layer of this Neapolitan creation, followed by two more layers that involved creamed tofu and crushed cookies being married into the gelatin mix.

While the flavors weren't horrendous, they also weren't something I looked forward to eating more of it. No regrets for experimentation, but not all attempts will be winners.

Rating: 9.2/10

You Might Also Like