One of the best appetizers is a light, delicious soup; it can even be the highlight of a simple meal. When preparing multiple-course meals, especially on a budget, you'll really want to limit what you spend on the appetizer -- it won't fill your diners, so you don't want to throw away a ton on the ingredients. That said, you can build a tasty soup on a very miniscule budget and still leave those eating your meal with satisfied smiles and empty bowls.
Egg drop soup is the perfect start to a meal traversing Asian cuisine. Start with a large batch of chicken broth (the cost for this is minimal if you make your own) and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, chop up some green onions and beat a couple of eggs in a bowl with a splash of soy sauce and some ground pepper. When the broth is boiling, scoop some of the hot broth into the egg bowl, turn off the heat, stir the mixture for a few seconds, then pour it slowly into the pot. The egg should cook almost instantly in strands; serve bowls of this mixture with extra soy sauce and a garnish of green onions.
Gazpacho goes well with any summer time dish, and since it's cold, you make it ahead of time. There are many variations of gazpacho, but the basic ingredients are tomatoes (preferably fresh), cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, tomato juice, hot pepper sauce, and spices. You want to puree the vegetables and then cook them until they are broken down -- then chill the soup until ready to serve. Croutons and sprigs of cilantro go nicely on top of gazpacho.
For a heartier appetizer soup, whip up a batch of minestrone, which you can use as a complete meal for a later lunch, if you like. Compile an array of fresh vegetables -- leeks, carrots, zucchini, green beans, and celery are classic minestrone ingredients -- and chop them to roughly the same size. Sauté them in olive oil, then put into a pot with broth, canned tomatoes, and herbs. After about 30 minutes of cooking, add in some small pasta and cannellini beans and cook until the pasta is soft. Serve hot!
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