5 super-tasty recipes that are perfect for the week before payday

Running dry on cooking inspiration this month? We’ve got you. These cheap and delicious recipes are packed full of flavour and feature a host of pantry essentials to see you through on the week before payday

Cooking is one of those things in life that you have to be in the mood for if inspiration is to strike. And a frantic weeknight towards the end of the month doesn’t necessarily hit that sweet spot.

You’re tired. Your motivation is MIA – possibly off sunning itself in the Caribbean, while you scour your empty fridge and wonder what possible dish could work with a few tired-looking broccoli florets and yoghurt that may or may not be past its best-by date. 

Worse still, your end-of-month bank balance doesn’t allow for that Vietnamese bun cha takeaway you so urgently need to rescue the situation. 

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Fear not, though, because help is at hand. These tasty and fuss-free recipes from the amazing Ilhan Abdi  were made for those moments where you just need something to eat, pronto – without lavishing loads of time or money on the process (in fact they can all be made for under £2 per serving). 

From super-quick egg fried rice to moreish garlic sesame noodles, Ilhan has picked out the dishes that’ll use up all your pantry essentials and deliver a full thwack of flavour to boot. Raise a toast to our pre-payday saviours: 

Better Than Takeout Egg Fried Rice

Egg Fried RIce
Egg Fried RIce

This Chinese-inspired fried rice is a favourite of mine. It’s super-quick to put together and, let us not forget, dangerously delicious. 

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes


1 cup cooked rice (ensure it is chilled)
2 eggs, whisked
2 tbsp butter
1 carrot, diced
1 small onion, diced
½ tbsp soy sauce (add more if needed)
½ tsp garlic salt
½ tbsp sesame oil
1 spring onion, chopped to garnish


Start with the eggs. Add half the butter to your pan and pour in the beaten eggs. 

Break the eggs into smaller pieces as you cook. Try not to overcook them. Once ready, transfer to a plate and set aside.

Return the pan to the stove and add the remainder of the butter. Once melted, add your onions and carrot. Cook until soft. 

Turn up the heat to high and add in your cold rice, soy sauce and garlic salt. Stir to combine all the ingredients together. 

Leave to cook for about 3-4 minutes, making sure to stir occasionally. This helps the rice and veg to crisp up. 

Turn off the heat and add the sesame oil. Give it a taste test and add more soy sauce if needed. 

Top with the spring onion and enjoy right away.    

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My Coconut Noodle Soup 

Coconut noodle soup
Coconut noodle soup

In equal parts comforting and nourishing, this recipe is soup for the soul. And don’t we all need a bit of soul-fuelling right now.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minute


1-2 cloves garlic, diced
½ onion, diced
2cm fresh ginger, diced
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp chilli flakes
300ml coconut milk
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1-2 servings of cooked noodles of your choice (I like using thin rice noodles)
1-2 tbsp cooking oil
Salt to taste


In a wok or a deep frying pan, heat up the oil on medium heat. Add the garlic, turmeric and chilli. 

Mix that very well then add the onions. Once soft (it should take roughly 2-3 minutes), add the stock, coconut milk and salt. Stir to combine. 

Leave to simmer for 5-6 minutes. Add the ginger and cooked noodles then stir to combine. 

Remove from then heat and enjoy.

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Crispy Fried Rice With A Zesty Salad Topping 

Ilhan's inexpensive dinner recipes
Crispy fried rice

Got leftover rice? Then this quick vegan recipe will be right up your street. Don’t be put off by the large ingredient list; it’s mostly pantry items you’ll already have.

Prep time: 5-8 minutes
Cook time: 8-10 minutes


1 serving leftover rice (I use jasmine rice)
1 spring onion, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp cooking oil

For the topping

1 tbsp soy sauce
2-3 garlic cloves, diced
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp chilli oil, can be substituted with chilli flakes
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp white vinegar, any will work
Juice ½ lemon
1 tbsp mint, chopped
1 tbsp coriander, chopped
A few slices cucumber
¼ cup edamame (optional but recommended)


In a bowl, add all the salad ingredients. Mix well and leave to the side. 

Then in a skillet, heat up some oil on medium heat. Add the spring onions and leave to saute for a minute or two.

Add the rice and flatten it as much as possible. Add the soy sauce, making sure to distribute it as evenly as possible.

Turn up the heat to high and leave the rice to cook for 4-5 minutes. 

Flip the rice over, like a pancake. It should be crispy, so this will be easy to do. Then continue to fry for another 2-3 minutes. Next, break up the rice. 

Remove from heat. Place on a plate and top with the salad. Only do this when you are serving it up. 

Mix well; the juices from the salad will soften some of that crispy rice. Enjoy! 

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Garlic Sesame Noodles

Garlic Noodles
Garlic sesame noodles

There is nothing better than a wholesome meal made from pantry essentials just before payday. This one is takeout-level good.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes


2-3 garlic cloves, diced
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp tahini, sesame paste or peanut butter (I use tahini)
1-2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp chili flakes
1-2 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp garlic chili oil (optional)
Handful spinach
2 servings cooked noodles of your choice (or even spaghetti)


In a wok or a deep frying pan, heat up the cooking oil on medium heat. Add the garlic and leave to soften. 

Once the garlic gets a little bit of colour, lower the heat and add the remainder of ingredients, apart from the noodles and spinach. 

Return the heat to high and once it begins to simmer, add the noodles. Mix well. Once the noodles are covered well in the sauce, turn off the heat. Add the spinach and leave to wilt. 

Enjoy right away (but it also tastes great cold). 

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Falafel full of goodness


Falafel – the Middle Eastern globes of goodness. This popular street food is incredibly simple to do at home and is so satisfying after a long day. It also happens to be vegan.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes


2 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight (do not use the canned stuff)
1 white or red onion, small and roughly chopped
¼ cup coriander, chopped and stems removed
½ cup parsley, chopped and stems removed
4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 tbsp plain or chickpea flour
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Optional: pinch of cardamom powder


Start by soaking the chickpeas in water overnight. Make sure the water sits a few inches above the chickpeas as they will increase in size. 

The next day, drain the water and add to a food processor. Add the onion, parsley, coriander and all the spices. Run the food processor for 30 seconds at a time until the mixture is well combined and grinded. You may need to give your machine a helping hand by scraping down the sides between pulses. 

Transfer to a bowl and add the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Mix well and cover. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes. This mixture freezes very well, too. 

Once chilled, remove from the refrigerator and scoop to make small balls. If you are using your hands to do this, it helps to have wet hands. If the mixture is too dry, add a tbsp of lemon juice or water. If it’s too wet, add a tbsp of flour. 

Once all the balls are formed, heat up the frying oil. The temperature needs to be about 175°C. Don’t worry if you don’t have a thermometer; you can stick a wooden spoon or wooden chopstick into the oil and if bubbles form around it, this means the oil is ready. 

Cook the falafel in small batches for about two minutes each or until golden brown. Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. 

Serve right away while they are still hot. They taste fantastic in a wrap with some lettuce and tahini sauce.

Images: courtesy of Ilhan M

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