Keto-friendly pantry/emergency recipes?
March 9, 2014 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I've switched over to keto (very low carb, moderate protein, high fat) eating and it's awesome, but I miss the flexibility of starches when it comes to haven't-shopped-in-two-weeks-what-are-we-going-to-eat dinners. Can you give me your ideas for keto-friendly meals that use quickly-defrostable frozen or otherwise storable ingredients?

Emergency dinners with starches are easy - boil some pasta or rice, or open a can of beans, or put together quick cornbread. The way I do low carb has been very reliant on fresh meats and vegetables. I can and do stock both those things in the freezer, but we don't have a microwave so using frozen meats requires some advance planning (I can thaw in running water in a pinch, but even that takes time).

I find myself cooking a lot of eggs in these situations because they keep forever and we always have them. But one can only eat so many frittatas for dinner.

Basically, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around convenient, low-carb dinners that actually feel like a meal. Any ideas for me, either recipes or strategies for freezing/storing ingredients so they're easier to use in a flash? I already freeze in individual portions whenever possible.
posted by peachfuzz to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Frozen shrimp and scallops thaw in water in under 5 minutes. Shrimp + frozen bell pepper mix + fajita seasoning + cheese + salsa = decent dinner.

Canned tuna and salmon are ideal for fish cakes. You could just keep some chopped parsley, etc in the freezer to add to fish before frying. Serve with frozen veg sides.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:34 AM on March 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Before you put the meat in the freezer, cook it first - add flavouring if you want, but just cook it thoroughly, let it cool in the fridge, then pop it into the freezer.

Then when you want a quick meal, you mix together your frozen vegetables and your frozen cooked meat and then cook them thoroughly.
posted by Katemonkey at 10:34 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make cauliflower rice by grating a head of cauliflower or, faster, putting chunks into a food processor and chopping until you have ricelike grains. Cauliflower rice can be frozen and used quickly without defrosting, just put it in a pan to heat. I have little freezer bags of cauliflower rice ready for quick recipes, very good for stir fry or adding to soups.

Chicken Fried Cauliflower Rice (I live alone so it's scaled for one):

1/2 cup frozen peppers stir fry
1 boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 T olive oil
1/2 cup cauliflower rice
1 egg
3 T soy sauce
Seasonings (your preference)

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add chicken. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to plate with tongs. Add cauliflower rice on one side, peppers on another (try keep separate to dry fry cauliflower and cook out moisture). Cook 5-6 minutes, then add egg and soy sauce. If using additional seasonings add. Stir all together and cook until egg has set. Add chicken to pan, stir again. Turn off heat and serve.

Oh, cauliflower rice is made by grating a head of cauliflower or, faster, putting chunks info a food processor and chopping until you have ricelike grains. Cauliflower rice can be frozen and used quickly without defrosting, just put it in a pan. I have little freezer bags of cauliflower rice
posted by Danila at 10:42 AM on March 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

You can make white bean soup with cupboard supplies in like, 10 minutes. Skip the cream if it puts you over your carb allotment.

Also Google around for low-carb fish cake recipes. We made a variation on this using canned... salmon? crab? a tin of each?. There is no potato or bread crumbs or batter.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:11 AM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

strategies for freezing/storing ingredients so they're easier to use in a flash?

I've been doing the keto thing for 3+ years, and here are my strategies to address the issue you describe:

Before I go to bed at night, I do a quick scan of the fridge to make sure I have something unfrozen, or defrosting, so I can cook it next day. Like you, I divide my frozen food into single serve portions; I just grab a few of those at night and put them in the fridge.

To be honest, though, the main strategy is that I've changed how I conceptualize dinner and feeding myself in general. For dinner, I go by what my body seems to need, and what gaps in my daily macros I need to fill. So, I might end up having a hamburger patty (thawed overnight), some kale, and that's it for dinner. And then tank up on coconut oil in a hot beverage after dinner while I relax.

A plate of keto food is just kinda weird-seeming (vs. Standard American Diet type dinners) at first. I think it's more a mental adjustment than anything.

Having said that, my freezer staples for quick meals are meatballs; Morning Star breakfast patties (a few carbs, but not many; and can be thrown in the frying pan still frozen); hamburger patties (small, quicker to defrost); and of course, our friend bacon.
posted by nacho fries at 11:20 AM on March 9, 2014

Beans are too carb-laden to be useful in a ketogenic diet in anything other than a very minimal amount. You'd do better with that soup recipe to dial up the cream (heavy cream has zero-to-trace carbs; beans have lots).
posted by nacho fries at 11:27 AM on March 9, 2014

Just in case you haven't already found /r/keto, /r/xxketo (for the keto-ing ladies) and /r/ketorecipies on reddit I highly recommend them to start. xxketo has some amazing pinterest boards linked on their sidebar, and there is so much good stuff on ketorecipies.

I've been keto-ing since Jan 1, and I too love it. My hints:
* I always try to have a batch of almond flour scones made (i don't bother with the raspberries). They are super easy to make, and satisfy the "bread with dinner" need.
* my slowcooker is amazing. I love it for primarily pulled-chicken concoctions using various sauces from the Low Carb Grocery. I individually freeze my chicken breasts (or a couple thighs) and just put a few of them in frozen (some people might disagree here, but...) with some sauce, bacon and butter. Check out for the real recipe.
* Eggs and Bacon are always available in my fridge as a quick standalone meal, but yeah, that can get tiresome.
* Taco salad! Ground beef, homemade taco seasoning (the processed stuff has carbs), lettuce, sour cream, salsa and tons of cheese!
* In a pinch, grilled cheese sandwiches using slabs of ham as the bread are quick and easy. Pair with a keto-friendly soup?
* Other staples I always have on hand are snackable cheeses (cheese string, laughing cow, etc), almonds and pumpkin seeds. Add some sliced sandwich meat and some cucumber slices and I've got myself a perfectly acceptable keto meal.
posted by cgg at 11:47 AM on March 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

I freeze quite a lot of cooked meat, like others are saying - home-cooked hamburger patties, meatballs, meatloaf in slices, poached chicken breasts - diced, so they thaw very fast in a medium pan with a little water and fat or broth or cream. I also freeze baggies of browned ground beef, sometimes pre-seasoned (I'll do a batch taco-flavored and a batch Italo-Mediterranean), which can be chucked onto pretty much anything from salad to steamed broccoli and declared dinner.

People on /r/keto told me about Costco's 4g broccoli cheese soup, and I found out on my own that it is fridge-stable for a looong time (for refrigerated soup), so now I keep 1-2 2-packs of that on hand. It's a soup, a sauce, a casserole base.

I actually don't keep much uncooked protein in the freezer, besides bacon and seafood. The trick is to freeze things in a form that isn't terribly thick - hamburger patties are about as thick as I go. Everything else is ground, diced, or pre-sliced before freezing, and laid out as flat as possible to freeze - if I can't press the freezer bag flat, I'll lay things out on parchment on a cookie sheet to freeze there and then pack up 1-2 hours later.

If you don't have a steaming device (either one of the baskets that goes inside a pot, or a pot-top one), get one. You can have reheated protein and steamed vegetables in less than 20-30 minutes, a little less if you also have an electric kettle to speed up the boiling process.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:50 AM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I tend to bulk buy chicken breasts and then pound them flattish and freeze them and then bag them in single serving fashion. You can season them ahead of time and if you wrap them in foil they can go straight into the oven/toaster oven and cook quickly. Otherwise they fry up in now time in butter in a pan. The other go-to for me (I am not keto but am often looking for high protein clean eating sorts of things) is those tuna envelopes. They store forever, they are decently good for you (watch the mercury) and you can season and wrap it up in a lettuce leaf if you're still feeling like you need something "mealish" and not just "here is a plate of tuna salad"
posted by jessamyn at 2:12 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I try to always keep coconut milk, chicken broth, and curry paste in my cabinet. Those make a quick soup on their own, but you can throw in whatever veggies or protein you have on hand to make it more of a filling meal without having to think about it too hard. Coconut milk + canned tomatoes + whatever spices make you happy makes a great soup, too, just of course watch your servings with the tomatoes.

I also usually keep diced pancetta in my fridge, and it's a nice, hearty addition to vegetables, soups, and salads. A little pricey for what it is, but awfully convenient, especially since it keeps for a very long time. You could get a large hunk of pancetta and dice it yourself as-needed, too, of course.

Homemade salad dressings keep in the fridge longer than most people think they do, and when I have those on hand I'm more likely to make and enjoy salads. But also, packets of salad dressing mixes are usually low- to no-carb, and easy to keep on hand and mix with sour cream, mayo, heavy cream, oil, whatever.

I sometimes make big batches of cauliflower soup on the weekends, it keeps in the fridge through the week and can be garnished with any number of things to make it more interesting and filling (I tend toward the loaded baked potato stuff--cheese, bacon, sour cream--as they're staples that are easy to keep on hand and also are tasty.)

For a less meal-like option, but still something quick and tasty, many of the Japanese soup packets are very low carb. We particularly like Kikkoman Osuimono in our house--it's great when we're sick, or when coming home late at night or after a long day of travel.
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:34 PM on March 9, 2014

Great ideas! Thanks, all.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:59 PM on March 10, 2014

I have zero experience with keto and I am a carb fiend (so apologies in advance), but I do have experience with serious dietary restrictions, the need to cook from scratch to meet them without my diet taking all my time, and my ex husband and both sons skew strongly towards carnivore which has given me experience with cooking a meat heavy meal (for them) and a few veggies on the side (for me). So, some thoughts:

1) Keep frozen chicken parts on hand that are individually frozen. I takes more than an hour to bake them but you do not need to thaw first and "prep" time is almost non-existent. Toss some pieces in an oven pan, top with spices of your choices (paprika and fresh ground black pepper are my go to favorites), toss in a little butter and put some water in the pan. You can heat some water in a pot or just use hot tap water to speed up the cooking time. About thirty minutes or so before they are done, pull it out and add a small portion of keto friendly veggies, chopped or diced or cubed. I used to do baby new potatoes, which I know are not keto friendly. I left the small ones whole and I cut the larger ones into halves or quarters, depending on size. My point: If you cut it small enough, it will cook in that time. Leftover baked chicken is also one of the few leftovers I will happily eat cold.

2) Choose beef cuts like fajita meat, beef for stir fry, or breakfast steaks. If you cannot find packages of precut beef that fit the bill, choose a piece of beef that you think looks good and ask the butcher to slice it for you. I used to select a large London broil and ask the butcher to cut it into breakfast steaks for me. A two inch thick steak becomes a couple dozen two inch wide breakfast steaks. I never froze them because my son would cook this for a single meal for three people, but I did freeze eye or round steaks in Ziploc bags with one or two steak per Ziploc bag, laid flat so they thawed rapidly. You could do the same with breakfast steaks and they would thaw in hot water in no time.

One of the things my son did was cooked up all the breakfast steaks and then left the last two or three in the (deep) frying pan, added water and salt and chopped veggies and made a homemade beef stew for me that took almost no time. I was never a fan of beef stew until my son began doing this. My veggies were potatoes, carrots, corn, onions, etc. Just use keto friendly veggies, cubed or diced to reduce cooking time.

3) Buy bags of frozen veggies or make your own bags of pre-chopped veggies to stick in the fridge or freezer. I don't like overcooked veggies. I like things cooked quickly so they retain their nutrients, so I favor stir fry type cooking, grilling, and similar short cooking times, which means lots of chopping. This can be a hassle to have to deal with after working all day. My son took over all the cooking but he would not do vegetable prep and I was working a full time job. If I could not find a bag of frozen veggies that I liked and which also fit my dietary restrictions, I bought fresh produce and chopped it up on Sunday and made little Ziploc baggies to stick in the fridge so my son could pull out diced/cubed/shredded veggies when he cooking for me. That way neither of us had to do vegetable prep during the work week if we did not want to.

4) Fondue: If I went keto, I think I would learn a whole lot more about fondue. It isn't just about dipping bread into cheese. The bread may not be keto friendly, but the cheese should be and fondue can include dipping meat into hot oil to cook it. It sounds to me like a potentially keto friendly eating adventure.

5) Stock up on keto friendly "finger foods." I did not grow up with this, but one thing I did for a time was I kept roasted nuts, feta cheese, dried fruit (or fresh fruit, like red grapes), organic chips and similar finger foods on hand. Any one of these alone strikes me as "just a snack" but combine three to five of them on a plate and it suddenly has enough variety and substance to feel like a meal to me. My selection of finger foods was very limited because I have issues with sulfur and most dried fruits and veggies are preserved with sulfur. I could only find one brand of dried cherries that contained no sulfur. So my experience is that this is very do-able even if you have a relatively short list of finger foods to work with. This became a favorite quick and easy alternative for me for a time.

6) Although I am a carb fiend, I do have a fondness for bacon and melted cheeses. If I went keto, I think I would try to invent a keto-friendly version of those potato-boat appetizers you see at restaurants, where they scoop out the potatoes and add a few diced tomatoes and a bunch of cheese and bacon. I think cutting keto friendly veggies on the diagonal could substitute for the potato base to make it something you can pick up and then assume the tomatoes are just a condiment. So substitute whatever seeds, nuts, etc sounds yummy. Pile on the cheese and bacon, and heat.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 1:08 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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