The picture to the left shows off a mega budget meal of sweet and sour rice that came in about £2 for 4 people. Peppers, carrots, courgettes and mushrooms are cut chunky and gently fried with ginger, garlic, onions and chilli to make a basic sweet and sour dish which I cut with red wine vinegar to add the sour. At the end add a tin of basics pineapple, a few bits of corn from a frozen bag and let it and bubble through. Eat with plain rice and fresh coriander. Its a great way to eat something very fresh and tasty without the gloopy sauce you buy and with the rice to mop up the sauce, its a good cheap-eat.
Other ways with rice are more of the risotto-ey variety and involve gently frying whatever you have lurking in the bottom of the fridge with the basics rice and then adding a few stock cubes, a splosh of wine or wine vinegar and leaving to bubble through into a soupy richness that you can eat spoonful by spoonful from a big bowl. Add a grating of hard cheese or some melty brie, some finely chopped herbs and a blob of butter and this is an amazingly cheap way to construct a spesh dish from a simple staple.
Some more rice-y risotto-ey flavours are roasted tomato rice finished with white wine, mozzarella and fresh basil and a stronger flavoured one with celery, blue cheese from the basics range and some toasted walnuts on the top. By starting with a very cheap base you can add on some more expensive bits and still keep the overall cost relatively cheap. Try to keep and odd ends of cheese and bung them in a freezer bag. once you've got a good fistfull lob them into any rice dish with a stock cube and some juices and bubble them well to make a good cheesy rice mix. Use this mix to stuff peppers or courgettes, fry in little cakes and eat with a fried egg and some homemade sweet tomato sauce... If you have cold rice leftover then simply fry onion, ginger and garlic, a bit of fresh chilli and then lob in the rice and some beaten egg. Stir and stir until the egg has fried and add a swill of soy sauce and you have a lovely bowl of homemade egg fried rice which you can spesh up again with some toasted cashew nuts if you need a bit more of a substantial dish... Another fave is the former rice mix but with chickpeas, tamarind and coriander added instead of the egg and soy sauce. A curry-ish style quick rice dish that goes down very well with a dollop of yoghurt on.
Of course, rice can be made to simply bulk out or mop up the juicy bits of dishes. Curries being a good example of this. A very basic potato curry is a dish I return to again and again. Ginger, garlic and onion fried with turmeric, black salt, cumin seeds and chilli. Fry until softened, add a tin or two of cheap-ass tomatoes and a load of potato chunks. Add a bit more liquid if necessary, cover, turn down and wait until the potatoes are cooked through. So, so good and very simple. Just rice and this is a massively cheap and comforting dish that can be dressed up with fresh coriander, more chilli, yoghurt, grated apple and mango or just stretched for another day with the addition of chick peas and, for an amazebombs brekkie treat,with a fried egg on top...
Cheap rice also works well when done as a sweet dish. Basics rice, basics evaporated milk, brown sugar..... a long, gentle cooking (use the slow cooker, this works really well). Finish with creme fraiche, a grating of fresh nutmeg and there you have a dreamy, creamy pudding. Keep it plain and eat it with a blob of good jam on it or add some grated apples, cinnamon and raisins. You can add cardamon, toasted almonds and a bit of rose water for a fancier finish. Another great way with this sweet rice is to add diced pumpkin (post-Halloween there are loads of mega cheap pumpkins lurking about) and cook until very tender, add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, a teensy bit of clove and more evaporated milk. This makes a golden-hued sweet pumpkin pie that you can do in one pot and finish under the grill with a bit more brown sugar. It tastes really, really good, it's dead cheap and if there is any left you can let it go cold and slice it like a cake. Neeeeeeed!