How do you cook well on a budget?

It’s an eternal question that many of us face, no matter how we might define “budget.”

In yesterday’s food section, I chatted with Leanne Brown, the author of “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” (Workman, $16.95), the best book I’ve seen on the subject.

She shared all kinds of tips for cutting down costs while amping up flavor and variety, especially when cooking for kids.

I made this peanut chicken and broccoli dish on a date recently (yes, I’m sticking to my own advice about bringing cooking back into the world of dating), and it was a hit, especially the coconut rice and peanut sauce. Per her advice, I chopped up the broccoli stem and cooked it a little longer than the florets, and you could add any other vegetables you have in your fridge.

Peanut Chicken and Broccoli with Coconut Rice from “Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown. Photo by Leanne Brown.

Peanut Chicken and Broccoli with Coconut Rice

This recipe uses peanut sauce to elevate a pretty plain chicken and broccoli stir-fry to something you’ll want to serve to your favorite guests. Make a full batch of the peanut sauce, and use some for this and the rest for dipping veggies, dressing salads, or smothering your favorite protein. You could replace the chicken with tofu that has been cubed and marinated in 1/4 cup soy sauce.
— Leanne Brown

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 lb. chicken (any part), chopped into bite-size pieces
Pepper, to taste
2 tsp. vegetable oil
6 cups chopped broccoli, stems and florets separated (about 1 large bunch)
1/2 cup peanut sauce (see recipe below)
Chopped fresh cilantro

Rinse the rice. Add it, along with the coconut milk, salt and 1 1/2 cups water to a pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low. Let the rice simmer, covered, with the lid askew, until the liquid is gone, about 20 minutes. If the rice is done before the stir-fry, remove it from the heat, fluff it a bit with a fork so it doesn’t stick to the pot, and cover to keep it warm.

While the rice cooks, sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and set aside.

Place a large pan or wok over medium-high heat and add 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil. Let it get hot and add the broccoli stems. Cook, stirring occasionally, to soften the stems, about 3 minutes. Add the tops of the broccoli and ¼ cup of water and cover the pan. It will steam and sizzle a lot, so watch out! Let the broccoli cook until the water evaporates, about 3 more minutes. Test a piece of broccoli with a fork. It should be just barely tender, but not soft. Turn off the heat and remove the broccoli from the pan.

Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the pan and put it back over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add another ¼ cup water and stir occasionally until the chicken is cooked all the way through, another 2 minutes.

Add the peanut sauce and stir to coat the chicken. Don’t worry if the sauce seems too thick at first. It will blend with the water to become a glaze. Once the chicken is coated with sauce, put the broccoli back into the pan and stir it all together. Taste and add salt as needed.

Scoop the coconut rice onto plates and top with the broccoli, chicken and cilantro. Serves 6.

Peanut Sauce

1 jalapeño pepper or other chili (remove seeds for less heat), or 2 tablespoons chili paste
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot or small onion
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 to 1 cup coconut milk
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 cup sugar-free peanut butter
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. brown sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp. sesame oil

Finely chop the jalapeño, garlic and shallot, or use a food processor to make them into a paste. (If you’re using chili paste instead of a fresh pepper, add it with the coconut milk.)

Add the oil to a saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s warm, sauté the pepper and garlic paste until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the 1/2 cup of coconut milk, turmeric and chili paste, if using.

Let everything come to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. Stir in the peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, if using, and sesame oil. If the sauce is too thick, add more coconut milk to thin it out. Once the mixture is well combined, taste it and add whatever you think it needs, concentrating on salt and spices in particular. Makes 1 cup.

— From “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” (Workman, $16.95) by Leanne Brown