So the basis of cheap meals seems to be (probably because both items are so relatively cheap and healthy) rice and pasta.
Rice is fantastic! Cook it with stock and it becomes something more interesting. Use a different method to create a base - risotto or congee - for adding just about anything else to it. Or have it plain. And you've got the different textures (and fragrance) such as a long grain or short grain, the ever so starchy arborio and fragrant jasmine and basmati. Hell - you can even make desserts out of it. Anyone who says that rice is boring is just lacking in imagination.
Pasta is one of those things that just seems to be done badly for quick takeaway meals in your local foodcourt for lunch. But it's soooo much more. Agli olio is about as simple as it gets - oil, garlic (which can be expanded out with onion), perhaps some chilli (in the form of dried flakes), parsley, salt and topped off with a little parmesan - and a great excuse for some sardines (for a bit of oily fish in the diet). A ragú is really simple too - there's nothing to it and hell, it's easier to use canned tomatoes (which are cheaper than their fresh counterpart).
Which means, at the moment, my inspiration is coming out mainly from Asian and Italian cuisine.
A lot of those things that we pay top dollar for were actually considered peasant food. The classic example of this is pizza - where it's not that unusual to pay more than $15 for one. I'm thinking about doing a recipe for pizza - assuming that a serving is half a pizza that I can spend a total of $4.50 on (actually surprisingly challenging as I like using cheeses such as blue vein and feta on pizza).
Spaghetti Bolognese probably fits into this category to some extent i.e. what quality of meat do you really need? And hell - chances are, it's even cheaper to do it in a slow cooker rather than using mince (in which case, you could use cheaper tough meat that, after a day of cooking, should practically melt in the mouth). Of course, I would have to find a good butcher in order to try this.
Risotto and congee have something in common - you can add just about anything to it. So they're both recipes that just keep on giving (though I'm pretty sure congee takes an insane amount of time to cook. I'm going to try it at a food court to get a feel for what it's supposed to be like).
But what's even more interesting is the way various cultures approach food. This is a hell of a lot harder as I'm currently using my father's first hand experience, and what cooking/travel shows have told me. So I assume that the Italians had nothing better to do than sit around for hours at a time gestating food for example - cause that's what TV said. I'd love to find sources of information on this sort of thing. Any hints anyone?
So I've got sooo much further to go. And winter's going to be interesting. Seeing as I'm sticking to seasonal things, then vegetables are going to change. I'd love to do a Ratatouille as it's just a delightful vegetarian dish that seems to stick to the ribs on cold winter nights. Of course, this is dependant on the price of egg plant.
In other words... watch this space. I'm starting to think that there may be an opportunity to get a sort of collaborative "keep it cheap" recipe site going. After all, interdependence is a way out of poverty...