take me to (spoonie) flavortown
May 7, 2021 8:44 PM   Subscribe

I need help. My body has reached the end of its tolerance for junky fast food, but I have fewer spoons than ever to do any real cooking. I need help thinking of core recipes to base my cupboard around.

My central idea here is "given a small pan of vegetables to roast, what else can I have on hand to make a meal?"

For example, from a mixture of yellow squash, red onions, and zucchini:
1. Seasoning: taco seasoning
HOH (have on hand): black beans, cheese, brown rice, salsa

2. Seasoning: steak chop
HOH hummus, toum, pita bread, and a tomato/cucumber salad

The HOH items are things I can prepare ahead of time, prepare in a few minutes while veggies are roasting, or buy ready-made.

Blacklisted food items:
Ginger, fennel, mushrooms, most cheeses (sans burrito-friendly cheeses)

For this exercise, please assume vegetarian. I don't really care for eggs unless they're scrambled in a dish with other more dominant textures and a sauce (like chilaquiles).

I know I'm a challenge to cook with, please help my depressed ass eat some real food.
posted by snerson to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
It is I, the low-effort chef! And, I feel you, I like cooked food but also don't want to wait for it more than like 30 minutes, if that.

Assuming you have olive oil, salt, a basic spice rack, and basic baking supplies, your shopping list is canned beans, canned chickpeas, frozen veg, fresh veg for roasting, ex-firm tofu, canned refried beans, canned tomatoes, shredded cheese, rice, frozen peas, noodles, eggs, bagged salad, tahini, lemons, tortillas, bread, can of coconut milk, peanut butter, apples, walnuts, butter.

Roast dinner: drain can of chickpeas, cut vegetables (carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, squash, your choice), roast with olive oil, salt and pepper, at 425 about 20 minutes. Tofu slices will also roast nicely. Paprika and garlic salt are also nice seasoning options.

Baked apples: core apples, put a pat of butter and some cinnamon in the middle, roast at 350 until soft. Peanut butter toast on the side.
HOH: bread, apples, peanut butter, butter, seasonings.

Vegetable soup: saute a chopped onion in olive oil, add chopped vegetables of your choice, add a package of broth, simmer until veg is bite-able. Throw in tofu chunks, can of beans, noodles etc as the spirit moves you.

Black bean soup: saute chopped onion, celery, carrots with some garlic in olive oil until softened; add two cans of black beans and 1 can of broth; simmer about 10 minutes, add can of tomatoes OR salsa, season to taste. Lime and cilantro are nice here.

Tuna noodle casserole: can of tuna, box of cooked macaroni, bag of frozen mixed veg, can of cream of mushroom soup. Optional: shredded cheese. Mix, pour into greased dish, bake at 400 about 15 minutes. Vegetarian version: replace tuna with chickpeas.

Mmmm Potato: bake a couple potatoes, add bean chili from a can, optional cheese. Bagged salad.

Green soup: 1 carton of broth, 1 can of tahini, 1 bag of spinach leaves, 3 tablespoons jarred garlic: boil and add leaves until all are fully wilted, blend smooth, add lemon juice to taste. You need a good blender for this, and you should know this is the low-effort version of Samin Nosrat's green soup.

I'm Tired Of Bagged Salad: scramble eggs, then lightly saute bagged greens with garlic and olive oil in the same pan. Make toast.

Enchiladas: wrap refried beans in a corn tortilla, optionally with shredded cheese. Pre-roasted veg can also be nice in there. Lay them tightly together in a baking pan and pour canned enchilada sauce on top. Optionally, top with cheese, black olives. Bake at 400 until hot all the way through, about 20 minutes. You can also use tofu in the centers, or roast vegetables in the same pan or at least the same oven.

Rice, peas, and cheese: the simple dish of my childhood. Make rice. Microwave frozen peas. Put shredded cheese on top. Deluxe version: canned bean chili on top of that.

I Guess It's Pasta: cook pasta, add can of chopped tomatoes and frozen veg, optional cheese, can of drained beans.

Walnut Chorizo: roughly chop 2 cups walnuts, add drained can of black beans and packet of taco seasoning (or equivalent blend.) Adjust spiciness with chile powder. Saute until hot, eat on tortillas plus salad, optional cheese.

I'm Tired of These Leftovers: any leftover roast veg + drained can of chickpeans + 2 cups flour + 1 tablespoon baking powder + hot water + olive oil and salt. Mix, cook as a savory pancake on stovetop.

Orange vegetable soup: skin and roast a selection of orange veg (sweet potatoes, squash, carrots) until soft; blend with a can of coconut milk. Normally I would put ginger too, but nutmeg is also nice. Top with nuts maybe.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:28 PM on May 7 [32 favorites]

Pasta might be a good avenue to explore. I like to do pasta risotto style by toasting it in a big pan and adding liquid a cup or so at a time and letting it absorb as it simmers away. If you cook your other stuff in the pan first and set it aside, then combine at the end, you only have one pan to wash! Of course you can boil it separately, whatever is the least work for you, but you can put flavor directly into the pasta this way by using stock and other cooking liquids instead of just salt water.

My go-to “wtf am I feeding myself tonight” vegetarian pasta is butter beans, lacitano kale, garlic, onion, and lemon. You could do any combination of roasted and prepped veggies plus a drained can of beans. A little bit of tomato paste goes a long way, plus maybe a little bean liquid and something bright like lemon juice or caper juice for a little sauce.

Different combo ideas: navy beans, roasted broccoli and cauliflower, garlic, blistered cherry tomatoes. Chickpeas, roasted bell peppers and eggplant chunks, herbs de provence. Canellini beans, capers, butter, garlic, parsley. Roasted zucchini, olives, marinara sauce. Roasted butternut squash, green lentils, browned onions.

Finish with some flavorful olive oil, some nice vinegar, some crunched up nuts or seeds, even some giardiniera or other pickles you want to use up, or breadcrumbs. Use boxed or canned stock, cut pasta of your favorite shapes, go for the prechopped garlic if that will help too.
posted by Mizu at 11:17 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

The answer is beans and grains + dressings! I make a ton of different roasting pan meals that are mostly roasted veg with some chickpeas roasted along with, or with other legumes alongside. Then you can serve the mixture on rice/quinoa/barley, really whatever you like and find do-able in the moment. Buy or pre-make a couple different styles of sauces or dressings that keep well, and you'll be all set (maybe a vinaigrette, a chutney, and a hot sauce).

Your pan - zucchini, onion and yellow squash - could easily turn into another meal with the addition of some lima beans to make succotash (I'd add some cherry tomatoes to the roasting pan too). Some smoked salt on top makes it feel fancier than it is and is a nice thing to have around for dipping baby carrots and such. If you want it with something else, I think it'd be nice on brown rice or quinoa but I usually just eat a big bowl of the beans + veggies as a meal.

Other roasting pan meals I like:

Green beans + onion + peppers/tomatoes + chickpeas + your favorite mix of spices for making curry. Serve with whatever grain, and a bottled cilantro chutney if you'd like. Sweet potato is good in this too but that needs a head start in the oven.

Green beans + onion + baby potatoes + chickpeas (start the potatoes first or boil them beforehand so everything's done at the same time). Serve on romaine with a mustard-based vinaigrette. Top with almonds and/or capers if you want to be fancy. (This is sort of a veg nicoise salad
adjacent dish)

Delicata squash (or whatever winter squash) + broccoli + yuba (this is a little more effort, but saute onions /garlic, add yuba sheets torn into big bites, douse with lemon juice and add salt + pepper, once it's all cooked a bit, add it to your baking sheet for the last 10-15 minutes of roasting so you can get some nice crispy bits).
posted by snaw at 2:31 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]

Very easy soup - pack of frozen garden peas, tin of coconut milk, seasoning. Put them in a pan, heat through and blend. It’s extremely low effort and really delicious.
posted by ElasticParrot at 4:27 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]

Metafilter's Own Misha Fletcher wrote a cookbook of low-spoons recipes called "Cooking is Terrible." that you might like. I like it a lot better than normal "cooking made easy" cookbooks, because it's honest about what might count as easy or hard when you're really struggling.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:12 AM on May 8 [5 favorites]

At university, this was our "working late" meal: mix one can of chickpeas with one can of red sauce with vegetables. Eat cold, using pita breads for scooping if we had forgotten forks. This is actually very healthy, good and can be improved by heating up and serving on individual plates rather than from a shared plastic container. We were quite picky and favored organic brands with no additives. Any chili sauce can be added to taste.

For your vegetables, 3. seasoning: Thai curry paste in a jar, coconut milk in a can, soy sauce, lime. Sauté your vegetables in vegetable oil, add a tablespoon of curry paste, stir till the aroma unfolds, add coconut milk, bring to a simmer and season to taste with lime juice and soy sauce. Serve with rice. At my local grocery store very far out in the countryside, I can buy precooked rice in portion-sized bags (actually precooked most grains), maybe you can too. I always have a bag on hand for if I am too tired to even cook rice.

ONE-POT WHITE BEAN PASTA (if you don't like parmesan, add a little extra salt or some Vegemite before serving. You can use the method in this recipe for your roasted vegetables as well.

Chop a small onion and a small carrot. Sauté in olive oil till the onions are translucent, not at all brown. Add crushed garlic and stir a bit, then add a can of Puy, brown or black lentils and a teaspoon of thyme or herbes de Provence. Fill the empty can with hot water and mix in some vegetable instant broth, add this to the pan. season to taste and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, depending on how much bite you like in your lentils. To me, if I am alone, this is a perfect meal, and my kids and their friends love it too, though it is not a pretty dish. I might have a piece of bread with it.
If you want some more color in it, add a good handful of pre-washed and chopped kale along with the lentils. You can also replace the broth with a can of chopped tomatoes and a bit of extra seasoning to taste.
You can fancy up your bread by toasting it lightly, putting goats' cheese and a thick slice of tomato on top, and then putting it under the broiler for a few minutes. (I thought you maybe would like goats' cheese, if not just put olive oil and tomato on the toast before broiling. Then you must season with salt)
posted by mumimor at 5:29 AM on May 8

After posting, I thought of something you might consider: we are all so used to relatively cheap take-out and restaurant food, so that becomes our standard of how food should present itself and taste. But in many places, weekday food is much simpler and one has the same, local food every week, all year. Maybe you are putting too much pressure on yourself, to be your own restaurant.
This time of year, I like a bowl of new boiled potatoes, skin on, shredded pointy cabbage dressed with vinaigrette, and hummus for protein. I like it so much, I eat it at least twice a week.
posted by mumimor at 5:45 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]

Also I'm doing a lot of this style of cooking lately and here are some of my go-to HOH things to buy or make ahead:

Nice olives (the kind that in US grocery stores are sold in clamshells in the deli department, not in cans)
Salsa, if stores near you sell one you like
Rinse canned white beans and marinate them with garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice
Chop cucumbers, dress with soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, and a crushed garlic clove, and leave to marinate
Either of Juliet Banana's Mexican pickled onion recipes from this thread
This Korean spinach and sesame seed side

Here are my go-to things to make fresh that are real quick:

Toss green beans in oil and roast them at like 450° until they're starting to brown a little
Heat up frozen peas and carrots in butter with some cumin
Mix 50/50 pesto-in-a-jar and tomato-sauce-in-a-jar and put it on noodles
This sort of rice-and-beans-and-coconut-milk situation
This sort of roast-things-and-toss-them-with-salad situation. (That recipe has sausages, but I've made it without them, maybe swapping in more vegetables or fake meat, and it's still good)

And yeah, seconding that it's ok to eat the same thing two or three times a week if you're not sick of it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:02 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]

I used to roast vegetables and season one pan with Mexican seasonings and one with Italian. I used the Mexican in burritos and tacos and over rice and the Italian as a lasagna later or with quinoa. Vegetables I roasted included Yukon gold potatoes, yams, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, Brussel spouts, onions and garlic. I used sundries tomatoes in olive oil and herbs to season.
posted by DixieBaby at 7:27 AM on May 8

For me, it helps to change my idea of what “a meal” looks like. Crackers, nut butter, and applesauce can be a “meal.” Oatmeal and fruited yogurt can be dinner. Progresso soup is a meal.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:39 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]

Tofu + side veg (approx. 15 minutes):

Slice firm tofu into roughly 1/4-inch slices (anywhere from full tofu block to bite-sized, for the length and width dimensions). Use a clean rag or paper towel on top and bottom to press out the water. Heat a thin layer of cooking oil in a saute pan, and add the tofu when hot. Cook the tofu for 5 minutes on each side (don't fuss with it before the five minutes is up, like I always try to do - for some reason in stocks to the pan if you fuss with it, but not if you just let it cook the full five minutes). Turn off the stove burner. If you've put too much oil in the pan, drain it. Pour in flavoring sauce (eg. vegetarian Worcestershire sauce, plain or spicy, is what I generally use), and make sure it coats/glazes both sides of all of the tofu pieces.

While the tofu is cooking, make a veggie (basic salad lettuce mix, cook a frozen veggie, basically anything works).

Eat both, either mixed together in a bowl or separately on a plate.
posted by eviemath at 8:08 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]

Cous cous + veggie sausage (8-10 minutes):

Cook a box of flavored cous cous mix following the directions on the box.

Slice a veggie sausage into rounds and saute it in a frying pan.

Add sausage slices to cooked cous cous, eat.

Bonus variation: add frozen peas to the cous cous for a green vegetable. For the cous cous, you usually boil water, then turn the heat off and add the cous cous, stir, and let sit, covered, for five minutes. Frozen peas take 3-4 minutes to cook. So I add them just as the water is just starting to boil. (Use a slightly larger pot than you otherwise would just for the cous cous, and add between 1-2 servings of peas.)

You could also just microwave any frozen green veggie separately, and add it in at the step where you mix the veggie sausage rounds into the cous cous.
posted by eviemath at 8:14 AM on May 8

Veg + spaetzle (about 20 minutes):

Boil spaetzle (a German egg pasta/dumpling) or similar sort of pasta of your preference.

Saute/stir fry whatever other stuff you have on hand. Chopped green beans, cabbage, broccoli, whatever. My local store has a good veggie sausage, so I usually slice one into rounds then halves or quarters and saute it with onions and garlic, adding the other veggies at the appropriate point (sooner for broccoli, cabbage, green beans, or just at the end for peas). Mix in the spaetzle and saute some more. (The speatzle will need another few minutes, but if you are just using regular pasta, just mix it in rather than sauntering.)

* Spaetzle really expands. Follow package directions and use less than you think you need (1/4 cup per person is plenty).
* Unlike pasta with pasta sauce, the spaetzle/pasta is secondary or should ideally be at most half of the final mix. But it's tasty regardless of proportions, so don't stress about this detail.
* Because the spaetzle expands, you'll need a larger frying pan than you think you will. When making this for two people, I use my wok. When making for one, I use my large cast iron frying pan.
* You can mix in some kraut when serving, for additional flavor.
posted by eviemath at 8:31 AM on May 8

Damn, now I’m really craving spaetzle. Curse my Swabian ancestors!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:52 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]

Damn, now I’m really craving spaetzle. Curse my Swabian ancestors!

We ran out last month, and the mail order sources available in Canada were mostly out of stock at the time:( I should check again, though!
posted by eviemath at 10:11 AM on May 8

Use frozen chopped onions and other veg. Meal planning takes effort, and having veg. in the freezer means you can have the nutrition without peeling and messing about. I love butternut squash, frozen is great.
Carrots cooked in butter and chicken broth are amazing; you can do them in the oven. They take time but not effort, let them get quite tender. Add some tofu for a more complete meal.
Cauliflower roasted with olive oil and hot sauce.
Baked crispy tofu - make a big batch, freeze some; it's not as good as fresh, but still good, and easy protein.
While water boils for pasta, slice cabbage into 1 in. slabs, saute with olive oil until quite golden on both sides. Cabbage keeps really well, so you can have it in the fridge as backup. You can also saute sliced cabbage.
There are lots of Indian meals in pouches that are great on rice or pasta, or with bread. easy and nutritious.
I like to make bulghur wheat pilaf. Saute onions (use the fozen ones), add bulghur wheat saute a minute or 2 more, add broth or water & Better Than Bouillon, cook until tender. Great w/broccoli.
1 can black beans, 1 can corn, 1 can's worth of salsa is an easy salad with protein for a complete meal. nicer after a day in the fridge.
Can of white beans, 1 can artichokes, sliced, marinate in vinaigrette for at least an hour, cook spiral pasta and have as a salad or even warm.
Many frozen meals don't have enough vegetables for me. I always have canned beets in the cupboard because I love them with a bit of vinegar, and want more veg. I also try to keep red peppers in the fridge, fast and easy to slice one. Many frozen meals can have some spinach or broccoli from the freezer added.
A (microwave) baked sweet potato is easy, nutritious, filling.
Once in a while, baked beans on toast or hummus, carrots & pita bread.
posted by theora55 at 10:52 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]

I found a cheap, easy, tasty and nutritious recipe on The New York Times website under the headline "A Riff on Sesame Noodles for When You Tire of Peanut Butter Sandwiches."

This recipe was a find. Because ADD, organization and executive functioning have never been my strong suit. I'm always bracing myself for having to hunt down an elusive yet indispensable ingredient for a planned meal. So it was a shock to realize that I had all I needed for this dish except an (optional) cucumber.

Anyway, here it is. Enjoy!
To make it, boil up a pound of whatever noodles you have: rice noodles, spaghetti, ramen, soba, egg noodles — it’s all good.

While the noodles are cooking, make the dressing by whisking together ⅓ cup peanut butter with ¼ cup soy sauce and 3 tablespoons each toasted Asian sesame oil and rice vinegar (or some other mild vinegar — white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or lime juice all work nicely). Season this with a grated garlic clove and a grated inch-long piece of fresh ginger root, if you have it (or leave it out). Then, sweeten to taste with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar, honey or maple syrup.

If you want to add vegetables, slice up some cucumber, radish or celery — or anything crunchy, fennel or carrots would also work — and dress with a little sesame oil, rice or other vinegar, and salt.

Set the vegetables aside while you combine the dressing with the drained noodles, along with some chopped peanuts or sesame seeds if you like. Top with the veggies if using. You can garnish it with a handful of fresh cilantro, scallion greens or celery leaves, if you have them. But it’s good without the greens, too.
posted by virago at 1:12 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]

That reminds me of my favorite, Noodles And Butter But Make It Healthy: boil a package of long noodles, then right before you are going to take them out, dump in a bag of greens to wilt. Frozen peas too if you want a protein. Drain everything and toss with butter and pepper. A little soy sauce or sesame seeds are also good, maybe green onions.

Lifehack peanut sauce: cup-ish of peanut butter, 1/2 cup soy sauce, tablespoon of jam or honey, chopped and mashed clove of garlic, a little hot sauce, optional chopped and mashed piece of ginger. Stir together and let it sit in the fridge, then toss with noodles or other compatible foods like tofu.

You can get a two-for-one with green onions if you buy some, save the white part with the roots and then put it roots down in an inch of water. Set it on the windowsill and keep the water topped up-- you will get new green onions in a couple of days. You can't keep it going longer than that second round, but it is a low-effort houseplant and if you like green onions, you can just always have some on hand this way. Green onions are a nice little touch on a lot of foods that make it look more fancy than it was before you garnished it.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:33 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

I got a camera that prints sticker photos. When I find something that I will eat repeatedly and reliably, I take a photo and add the photo and a recipe to a personal recipe book. In a few years, I'll have a collection of photos of food that I will reliably eat.
posted by aniola at 6:32 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]

Add veggies or beans to soup or Tasty bite meals.

DIY pizza on pita bread.
posted by oceano at 3:12 AM on May 10

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