Eating Well on the Cheap

According to Hunger Free Colorado, one out of eight Coloradans struggles with hunger. When you’re struggling to figure out where your next meal is coming from, nutrition can seem like a luxury. We asked a chef for help.

Recipes by Liz Farrall, sous chef at Uncle
Recipe test photos by Giles Clasen

The Denver VOICE presented Liz Farrall, sous chef at the popular ramen joint Uncle, with a challenge. We asked if she could help us create a nutritious meal for four people for under $10—and then we asked if she could do it without a kitchen.

Farrall, a Colorado native, has been cooking in Denver for 12 years. She is also a five-time participant in Chefs Up Front, an annual culinary fundraiser that supports Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry and Cooking Matters programs. Cooking Matters teaches low-income families how to cook nutritious meals on a budget.

“I feel like I’m pretty privileged, and lucky to be healthy and have a job,” says Farrall. “So I’m trying to help out and give back.” Farrall also started a program at Uncle that gives $1 from every bun sold to a charity or nonprofit. 

Several Denver VOICE vendors have experience in kitchens, and they had some questions for Farrall: 

Why did you become a chef?

I became a chef because I love to cook and make people happy through my food.

How many of the dishes that you get to make are your own creations?

I wouldn’t say any dish I’ve ever made has been solely mine; cooking in a restaurant is very collaborative. 

What is your specialty?

I don’t have a specialty yet. I’m always trying to grow and learn. 

What is the biggest challenge to being a chef? 

There is no greatest challenge to being a chef. It’s all challenging, yet extremely rewarding. ■


Chicken and pasta with canned veggies. Credit: Giles Clasen

Chicken and pasta with canned veggies. Credit: Giles Clasen

Without a microwave for $10

The easiest way I’ve always fed myself on a budget is to buy a whole roasted chicken from King Soopers or Safeway for $6. I will also buy a bag of pasta. If you opt for a store brand, you can get a serving for four for a dollar. I will then spend my remaining $2.50 on some canned veggies. This will make four meals for me or feed four people one dinner.

Beans and rice. Credit: Giles Clasen

Beans and rice. Credit: Giles Clasen

With a microwave for $10

As I wandered through Safeway, I was surprised by how many microwavable food options are now available—there are a variety of microwaveable rices. I opted for brown rice, because it is the highest in nutritional value. They come in a two-pack for $2. I prefer pinto beans, but any bean will work. At most stores you can purchase a 16 oz can for under 80 cents. Combining beans and rice will give you a complete protein, which means no need for animal meat. I added a mini can of salsa for some extra flavor. All these items are non-perishable, so no need for a refrigerator either. Altogether on this meal I spent $4, and it lasted me two meals. Double the quantities and you can feed four on $8.

Souped-up ramen. Credit: Giles Clasen

Souped-up ramen. Credit: Giles Clasen

Microwave Part Two

Of course I tried to incorporate ramen into this...

I purchased top ramen, two for $1. I like the beef flavor, but any flavor you like will do. I then bought a can of mixed veggies: carrots, green beans, and corn, for 79 cents. I only used half the ramen flavor packet and mixed in half a pouch of dried miso soup, which I purchased for $1.50, I used the one with dried tofu, so I can have the added protein. I spent $3.50 and ate one giant bowl of ramen. Though very tasty, this was not as sustaining as the other meals.

Uncle is owned by chef Tommy Lee; the kitchen is run by Liz Farrall and Kevin Lewis. Uncle serves a variety of ramens, steamed buns, and worldly-inspired small plates.

The name Uncle comes from an Asian tradition. Unrelated friends and elders are often referred to as “aunt” or “uncle” out of respect and courtesy. The word uncle is obviously English, but references this tradition. Like the restaurant, the name is “American,” but uses Asian undertones, techniques, and traditions. 

2215 W. 32 Ave.  |  303-433-3263
Hours: Monday through Saturday 5-10 p.m.
Uncle does not accept reservations.