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The recipe for financial success could be wilting in the bottom of your refrigerator vegetable drawer. Unless that includes kale, because the words “success” and “kale” never should be used together, unless it’s to say, “I successfully avoided buying kale.”

But even if last year’s super-food should manage to sneak into the house, Leanne Brown can tell me exactly how to make it into an affordable and probably not-too disgusting kale Caesar salad or even a kale and soft-boiled egg breakfast salad. “Throwing an egg on top of basically anything is usually a great idea,” Brown writes on her blog.

Although I say an even better idea would be to first throw out the kale.

Say ‘Beans!’ to just beans

Brown is the author of a very smart new cookbook, “Good and Cheap: Eat Well On $4 a Day.” The idea started when she was a graduate student studying nutrition and public health at New York University. The Canadian native and home cook was interested in exploring food options for people on tight budgets, particularly those on SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, which average about $4 per person per day. (For comparison, the USDA estimates that a family of four eating moderately spends $239 a week, or $8.53 a day.)

“We were challenged to make these menus, but I discovered that mine had a much wider variety than my colleagues brought, which was a lot of greens and beans and rice over and over,” Brown says. “I would go crazy if I did that.”

For her thesis project Brown developed an entire book’s worth of recipes that’s naturally heavy on vegetables while still being fun, including recipes for spicy pulled pork, peach coffee cake and banana pancakes. She put the whole thing into an online document, free to download, and when the book got a mention at the Reddit website, the project went viral. “Fifty-thousand people downloaded it that first night,” she says. “I started to hear from people who said, ‘This is really going to help me.’

A Kickstarter campaign to print and distribute 500 books ultimately raised more than $144,000 and produced 40,000 books. That got the interest of publishers, including Workman Publishing, which is giving away one copy of the revised and expanded book for each copy purchased. A map at LeanneBrown.com, shows the locations of the 890 organizations that, so far, have distributed more than 71,000 free or deeply discounted copies of “Good and Cheap.”

“That’s the thing I’m most proud of,” Brown says. “I look at that map and I get all giggly and happy.”

Got rice? Got stuff? Then cook!

While the book is designed to aid the 14 percent of households classified as “food insecure,” “Good and Cheap” also is a terrific resource for anyone looking to cut the household grocery bill. If you really want to save money on food, you’re going to have to cook. Having your next few meals planned, scooping up sale items at the store or farmer’s market, and making good use of leftovers are all going to give you something tastier, healthier and cheaper than going out.

Learning some basic cooking moves also means you’re going to cut out one of the most wasteful and least-satisfying forms of spending — eating out because you don’t have a meal planned at home. The result is overpaying for restaurant take-out or hitting up some casual dining place at $50 a pop. Instead, throw together a casserole, take the leftovers for lunch and save your money for a really great dinner out. Or use the money saved to cut debt, boost a college fund or to save for some worthy goal.

“For some people, cooking can be a horrible chore, but I think cooking is something where you can eat better and enjoy your food,” Brown says. “Most of us have the ability to cook better than the places where you’re eating out, especially if you can’t afford the fancy places.”

Learning just a few basic recipes and techniques is also the key to avoiding food waste. Forty percent of food in the United States is never eaten, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which amounts to $165 billion a year. Fifty-two percent of that is fruit and vegetables, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Instead of throwing it out, toss your leftover produce into Brown’s recipes for crustless quiche or jambalaya.

“You can look in the fridge and see that half a tomato and that leftover broccoli with the weird leftover sauce, and take some rice and a can of tomatoes from the cupboard,” Brown says. “That comes from getting a few recipes under your belt and learning that you don’t have to have a specific recipe to guide you. I know how to make rice with stuff. There’s only a few things we do in cooking, and you can always substitute something.”

Just don’t make that something kale, OK?

Brian O’Connor is author of “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese.”

boconnor@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2145

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