Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hamburger Curry - Local Dining on a Budget

Ah, the joys of college life, where “cooking dinner” means microwaving a can of Chef Boyardee, cup noodles are an honorary food group, and the only thing emptier than your wallet is your stomach.  For freshmen, it is almost a rite of passage to suffer through months of overpriced cafeteria food and MSG-laden instant meals, but somewhere around the 16th box of frozen chimichangas, you hit a point where you’d do just about anything for a good, home-cooked meal.  But for those of us who don’t know their way around a kitchen (read: most of us), diving headlong into the world of cooking can be a daunting task.

So for all the hungry college students of the world who are looking to test the culinary waters, I would like to share with you a local classic that was one of my first dishes, and the perfect dish for the amateur college chef: Hamburger Curry.

Curry, off the top of my head, originated from India, or maybe Thailand or something; I can’t be bothered to Google it, and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter, because when locals eat local food, it doesn’t even cross our minds what country we may have borrowed the idea from.  Here’s all you need to know about curry: kinda spicy, serve it over rice, broke da mouth.

If you want to be technical, local curry probably has the most in common with Japanese-style curry: thick, robust, and brown, but not as rich or milky as some other varieties.  In fact, some local curry favorites like chicken katsu curry (curry with fried chicken cutlet) and beef curry (curry with stew-style beef chunks) are served exactly as you might find them in Japan.

While I will not claim that hamburger curry (or any other local dish for that matter), is completely original, it’s a distinctly local spin on curry, a down-to-earth dish that wouldn’t feel out of place at a beachside family potluck, and most importantly, is cheap and easy to make.

So here’s what you’ll need and how much it'll set you back:

-1 pot of white rice, cost: pennies if you buy a decent sized bag [see Steph's blog for all you need to know about rice and Chinese cooking!]
-1 potato, cost: $0.50
-1 onion, cost: $0.50
-1 cups frozen peas & carrots, cost: $1.00
-1 small can of mushrooms, cost: $1.00
-1 package S&B Golden Curry Mix (half a box), cost: $2.00 [check the Asian foods aisle at your local supermarket]
-1 lb. ground beef, cost: $2.00 [go ahead and buy the cheapest grade, we’ll be draining off the fat anyways]

1. Defrost your frozen veggies, chop your onion and cut your potatoes into bite-size chunks, keeping in mind that they will shrink a little while stewing.

2. Brown and drain the ground beef.  If you don’t know what that means, stir your ground beef around a pan over medium heat until it turns brown, and then pour out the fat.  If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  You’ve just completed the hardest step!

3. Brown the onions in a 3 quart pot.  Add the beef and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Add curry mix (I like to cut the big block into smaller pieces so it mixes faster) and stir until evenly mixed.

5. Add potatoes, frozen veggies, and mushrooms and bring the pot to a boil again.  Lower heat and simmer for another 20 minutes.

6. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Makes about 15 small servings, or 8-10 average-sized meals depending on your appetite.  And there you have it, assuming you managed to avert total disaster, you’ve just whipped up a week’s worth of hearty, home-cooked meals for less than the price of a two-entree plate from Panda Express.

Keep in mind that the recipe above is just a rough set of guidelines for quick, cheap, and easy hamburger curry catered to my tastes.  The great thing about curry is that there’s plenty of room to bring in your own creativity, so don't be afraid to experiment with different types of veggies and protein!

So the next time you're down to your last $20 that needs to last you until your next paycheck, give this recipe a try!  You might just find that doing some local cooking is the trick to keeping both your stomach and your wallet full!


  1. Where you live that one onion costs 50 cents, 1lb hamburger costs 2 bucks and one can mushroom costs $1? Not in Hawaii. LOL

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  3. what are you browning the onions in? Butter, canola oil, olive oil?