Total time:25 minutes
I grew up with a mom who always cooked, always put a cookbook under my nose, and always accepted my cooking “experiments,” but it wasn’t until I went to college in Berkeley, California, that I wasn’t. only cooking for fun, but also for a living.
Berkeley is a culinary mecca with farmers’ markets, abundant produce in supermarkets and great restaurants, yet my cooking was hampered by limitations of time, knowledge, budget, tools and energy.
Even now, after nearly a decade of working as a recipe developer, there are limitations in play – after all, we have lives. Of the many lessons I learned in college, here are a few principles that still guide me in the kitchen, helping me come up with 150 dinners with less than 10 ingredients and 45 minutes for my first cookbook, “I Dream of Dinner (so You Don Don) is not necessary.)”
Build a refrigerator pantry. My frugality and schedule in college meant I couldn’t plan meals around the best of the farmers’ market seasons, as the food writers tell you. Instead, I relied on a few ingredients that would last a while and were delicious year round. That meant preserves and grains, yes, but also fresh ingredients like kale, cabbage, celery, scallions, ginger, cucumbers, lemons, and limes. If you limit yourself to a few ingredients, you will begin to know them well, understand their properties and feel more comfortable using them – even without a prescription.
Cook like you’re the dishwasher (because you are). Many recipes have cooking instructions in the ingredient list, such as “1 bunch of kale, smashed and chopped.” Cooking videos show these ingredients in some small bowls. But why wash all those bowls if I just… don’t? Besides, who has so many small bowls? I didn’t do it in college and I still don’t.
Instead, I chopped ingredients when I needed them, because that’s how I watched my mom prepare dinner. This subtle switch makes the most of your time and counter space. In the Cumin Beans With Tomatillo and Chips, for example, you’re instructed to slice the tomatillos and then move them to a serving platter, their final destination. Slice the red onion on the now empty cutting board. Go ahead and season the red onion with salt on the cutting board. In a cooking video, those two moves may have required two extra bowls. Not necessary.
The secret to super crispy chicken wings? Brine and roast them – no frying necessary.
Buy only essential tools. There was no room for those multi-piece cookware sets that you say you must have a kitchen. Instead, I bought tools that I needed and didn’t have a hack for. For example, my egg frying pan was used several times a week until a few months ago when my friend (kindly) told me what I already knew: it was time for a new one. I didn’t have a rice cooker and steaming rice on the stovetop never worked out well, but I had a large pan and could cook rice as pasta (see next bullet)?
Recognize that boundaries in knowledge are okay. You can never know everything about cooking; instead of worrying about what you don’t know, focus on what you like and feel comfortable with. I was afraid of hurting myself and roommates with raw chicken, so I embraced proteins that didn’t require cooking to a certain temperature, such as tempeh, tofu, beans, and processed meats like salami. The orange glazed tempeh from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks that play repeatedly, just like pita breads with hummus and crunchy vegetables.
Broccoli chicken burgers with gooey pockets of cheddar make for a juicy bun with moxie
Rice tested me: Regardless of the rice-to-water ratio I tried, it never came out right on the stovetop. But I really really wanted rice, so I tried boiling it in a big pot of salted water and then draining it, just like pasta. It functions! An entire section of the book is devoted to this method of cooking grains; it’s a consistent way to get individual, non-lumpy grains, which are great for salads and stir-fries. (If you want a fluffier rice, after draining, return it to the pan, cover and let it steam for a few minutes.)
Cook what is filling, tasty and fast. The purpose of cooking in college was to feed yourself and whoever was hanging out — fast. It didn’t have to be beautiful, it didn’t have to be impressive. It was food that felt good to cook and eat. That’s what I did then and still do now.
Cumin Beans With Tomatillo And Chips
This vegetarian staple is like a seven-layer dip got a makeover in the produce aisle. The first layer is raw tomatillos, which are tart as a green apple and juicy as a tomato (you could also use sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, or cabbage). Then come spiced black beans, dollops of spicy sour cream, red onions, a tangy lime dressing, and heaps of crumbled tortilla chips. For more layers, add cilantro, scallions, avocado, crumbled bacon, pickled jalapeños, Cotija, and/or Fritos.
Storage notes: Refrigerate up to 3 days without chips.
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- 8 ounces tomatillos (about 5), husks removed, halved and thinly sliced
- Fine sea salt
- 1 small red onion (5 ounces), halved and thinly sliced
- Finely ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large lime, finely grated and squeezed (about 2 tablespoons juice)
- 1 teaspoon green hot sauce, plus more to serve
- One 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 cup sour cream, plus more if needed
- A bag of tortilla chips (3-ounce), plus more if needed
Divide the tomatillos among a medium serving bowl and sprinkle lightly with the salt. In a medium bowl, sprinkle the onions with a pinch of salt and pepper and toss with your hands until the slices begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, the zest and juice of the lime, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper, taste and add more hot sauce, salt and/or pepper if desired. Pour a quarter of the dressing over the tomatillos.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering. Add the beans and cumin and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes until the beans are hot and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Spoon the beans over the tomatillos, followed by about a dozen teaspoon-sized dollops of sour cream. Garnish with the red onion and spoon over the rest of the dressing. Crumble a few handfuls of tortilla chips on top and add more if desired. If you like it spicy, add more hot sauce.
Serve family style, with extra chips on the side, if needed.
Calories: 429; Total fat: 29 g; Saturated fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 8mg; Sodium: 424mg; Carbohydrates: 37 g; Dietary fiber: 9 g; sugar: 5 g; Protein: 9 grams
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietician or nutritionist.
Adapted from “I dream of dinner (so you don’t have to)” by Ali Slagle (Clarkson Potter, 2022).
Tested by Alexis Sargent; e-mail questions to [email protected]†
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