It is the general consensus that cooking Indian food is an expensive pastime and while I can understand how it can be perceived that way, I would actually argue that it is one of the best cuisines for economical eating.
Initially, stocking your spice cabinet can be pricey, but once you have made the investment and begin using your spices regularly, the price per portion is nominal. Buy whole spices such as cumin, coriander, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, cassia bark and cardamom pods. They can last for up to a year - simply use a pestle and mortar to blend.
Ground spices such as turmeric, garam masala and chilli powder, are what I consider to be store cupboard essentials. Keep these in airtight containers and only buy in small amounts as they only last between three- six months.
Batch cooking and freezing meals is a great way to eat wholesome food without over-spending and hearty curries are ideal for this, if you freeze on day of cooking and defrost on day of eating the flavour and quality won't be impaired, in fact, the flavours develop during freezing so the curry will taste even better.
My recommended curries for batch cooking, the ones that I think freeze the best, tend to contain chickpeas, pulses, chicken (never breast as this will dry out and is expensive), lamb, vegetables (my favourites are cauliflower, peas and potatoes), dhal and even paneer.
I use a lot of fresh herbs in my cooking too alongside chilli, garlic and ginger and if I ever overbuy these then I create pastes that I can freeze in cubes and pull out when I need them. I know lots of people do this with homemade stock and leftover wine; simply fill an ice cube tray with your mixture and freeze. It is a great routine to get in to and can be a massive timesaver, as well as good on the pennies!
When I cook I am also very mindful of what is seasonal and local. Buying foods that are in season are not only packed full of flavour, but they are normally cheaper. That's also why I buy local whenever I can. I'll go to my local butcher or greengrocer and ask them what's at the best price and then I tend to plan meals around my purchases.
One way to keep the price down is to cook the occasional dish without meat. Vegetable curries jam-packed full of different ingredients, as well as pulses and beans (an alternative source of protein) will be just as satisfying and filling as a meat alternative. This could halve the cost of your dish as well as containing an excellent array of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. In the colder months, I recommend a vegetable curry for a health boost to fight off those nasty winter bugs.
Fish and seafood also make tasty dishes, but opt for the cheaper and less common varieties. I always try to choose sustainable fish, those which are plentiful and responsibly sourced such as basa, whiting, coley and gurnard rather than cod and salmon which in comparison are very expensive.
Rice and breads are cheap to buy and create too and these are excellent accompaniments to bulk up a meal and leave you feeling fuller for longer. Chapattis and pitta breads are easy to make and chapattis contain three main ingredients - flour, water and oil - items even the sparsest of cupboards contain!
Grow your own - it may sound like a lot of effort, but even having herb pots or a bay tree will save money and ensure you always have a plentiful supply of greenery to add to your dishes.
Want something quick and light - with a well-stocked spice cabinet you need never face a mundane meal again. I even add spices to my omelettes, meaning even a light supper is packed full of flavour!
Before investing in your spices be prepared for what you need and how they'll be used. Make a list of ingredients and most importantly, make room in your freezer!