Exactly this dinner, but not EXACTLY this dinner
August 8, 2022 6:47 AM   Subscribe

I made a meal last week that hit all my requirements: nutritious, easy, tasty, quick, easy, very easy, didn't take any time, easy, and also didn't take any effort. I want to put more versions of this into rotation. What's exactly the same but tastes a bit different?

I hate cooking and thinking deeply about meals (which means I also hate doing a big grocery shop). When trying to cook "properly" i.e. not eat popcorn for dinner I end up making a lot of on "vegetable and cheese on noodle," which is okay but not the healthiest. However, last week I made this bean salad and plopped some cold tuna steaks on top (husband already cooked those for lunches: a cheat). It took me under an hour to shop for AND prepare, it was really good, and—I can't emphasize enough how unusual this is for a new recipe—I didn't send my husband a SINGLE text about how much I hate this and how I'm sorry it won't be edible. (I didn't even have time, that's how quick it was!)

Here's what I liked about it:
- Took almost no time or effort whatsoever. I did have to chop two things but that's fine. Husband is making the tuna steaks anyway and doesn't mind.
- Didn't get weird in the fridge overnight the way leafy salads do (this recipe made enough for two nights and I will probably make a double batch next time).
- Ingredients I could reasonably expect to find if I just popped over to the market.
- One bowl, one chopping board, plus the colander I guess. Some salads require you to make a dressing separately and that is too much effort. This one isn't really "dressed" at all (I left out the oil and just used lime juice).
- High veg, high protein, but not in an ascetic way.

I will happily simply eat this for the rest of my life but I may occasionally need to taste something different. Seeking suggestions for
a) similar zero-effort salads and
b) possibly similar low-effort slabs of protein (fish or plant-based only) that can be made easily ahead of time and thrown on top? Then we can kind of put things together modularly.

No onions please! Also, I love you Metafilter but I'm not going to make a salad in a jar.
posted by babelfish to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen this chef on YouTube/TikTok? She does a lot of salads that look easy, fast, and good. I've only tried one so far, and I just modified it to fit what I had on hand. Yum! Mostly: chop it up, dump it in a bowl, pour dressing over it. Some dressings do require a separate bowl or blender, but it's still dump in a stir/blend. https://www.youtube.com/c/KatCanCook
posted by banjonaut at 7:03 AM on August 8, 2022

This video walks you through several ways to approach salads and make them quickly and easily. The video runs less than 7 minutes, and there's a brief summary, timestamp links, and links to external recipes in the details under the video.
posted by maudlin at 7:10 AM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm a pretty skilled cook, but I still like a can of black beans and a can of corn both drained and warmed up with some salsa from a jar on a tortilla with a bunch of cheese. If you had some strips of grilled chicken or steak to toss in there, all the better. Maybe a swipe of guac if you are feeling fancy.

For a week of prep, I sometimes get a pack of boneless skinless chicken thighs and a piece of flank steak and hit them with a spice rub and grill them all at once to add to things all week. Sometimes salads, sometimes sandwiches, and sometimes cooking them again with a sauce and some veggies.
posted by advicepig at 7:12 AM on August 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Fish is exactly the secret here. This will taste even better if you grill or pan-sear the fish directly before throwing it onto the vegetables. Make a little pan sauce with nice vinegar, put the whole contents of the pan on top of the vegetables and it will cook them ever so slightly. I don't know if you want to store that whole dish for subsequent days though.

Do you like other kinds of plant-based proteins like tofu or Gardein? I am very fond of those and have a collection of sauces. You can treat those things just like fish for the purpose of this salad.

I also love to make a "salad" that's just edamame, avocado and some slices of seared tuna. Again, not something to keep for days but if you store the parts separately it'll take two seconds to throw together.
posted by BibiRose at 7:35 AM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Once you get used to making homemade dressings you may never go back, and really, they're hardly any effort at all (says the person for whom a meal has gone from protein, two veg and and a starch to maybe an avocado and a can of tuna). Bonus: once you've got a feel for quantities, you can make them first in the bowl you're going to toss your salad in.

It's amazing how swapping out different vinegars changes the flavour. If I'm putting fruit in a salad, I might use cider vinegar; balsamic is kind of my fallback. White wine is gentler. Seriously, play with them a bit... don't bother measuring, just pour a couple of glugs of oil in a bowl, a third or so as much acid (the aforementioned vinegar and/or lemon juice), some garlic maybe (usually!), something sweet (maple syrup is my fave), a bit of mustard perhaps and then give it a taste. Adjust as necessary, and extend with some water if desired (commercial dressings often have water as their first ingredient). Don't be afraid to experiment. The other day I was having a green salad with some fake crab meat, and was going to make some dressing when I came across a little left over in the fridge. I wondered what it would taste like with some cocktail sauce mixed in, and the answer is "AMAZING."

It will have taken you longer to read this than to do it, and the results are top drawer. This will up your salad game as much as what you toss in it.

And if you want to completely ignore this advice: a can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed, chopped kalamata olives, minced garlic, and lemon juice, tossed with an undrained can of oil-packed tuna. A summer mainstay for me.
posted by kate4914 at 8:58 AM on August 8, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I really like this tuna and white bean salad from Budget Bytes for similar reasons. I often add in diced tomatoes and cucumbers to it, for more vegetables, and you can either go in a cilantro direction, or in a "some other herbs/scallions" direction (parsley, dill, scallions are a nice combo.)

She has a couple of other bean salads that might also suit your tastes, and in general I love her recipes for being a combo of "don't need to cook every night", she's clear about what stores well, and being not too fussy to make.
posted by jenettsilver at 9:04 AM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

How about an algorithm?

1. Vary your beans. There's a whole world of beans out there.

2. Include something acidic (tomato, sauerkraut/kimchi, vinegar/lemon, etc.)

3. Add 1+ vegetables. Any vegetable you like. Chop if needed.

4. Include something fat (oil, olives avocado, nuts/seeds, etc.)

5. Include something salty (salt, sauerkraut, salted nuts, olives, canned beans/tomatoes, etc.)

6. Optional: if this starts getting too boring, mix up some spice mixes and use a different spice mix each time.
posted by aniola at 9:09 AM on August 8, 2022 [9 favorites]

My answer was inspired from back when I worked making "custom" deli sandwiches, where they give you a sheet of paper and you check some boxes (pick 2 spreads from these options, 3 veg, etc.) and then they make you a sandwich.
posted by aniola at 9:15 AM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Y'all are really underestimating how much I hate to cook or think about food but thank you for the totally unearned confidence! I am drinking a Soylent for lunch as we speak, I definitely shan't be inventing types of salad
posted by babelfish at 10:13 AM on August 8, 2022 [6 favorites]

A tin of either butter beans/pinto beans/chickpeas + chopped tomatoes, lightly dresses with salt, pepper, red wine vinegar and oil of choice, serve with slice of good bread if you need starch.

A portion of frozen (ideally unseasoned) or fresh (but washed and prepared) stir fry veg mix, cocktail prawns (small, ready cooked, often in the freezer section)/boiled eggs, packet of ramen, use as much or as little of the noodles as you like, use all the spice packet. I don’t bother defrosting anything, I just toss it all into a largeish bowl and cover with boiling water (I have an electric kettle). As long as there is enough boiling water to cover everything the hot water defrosts and heats through the veg and protein.

Greek salad comprising chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumber, crumbled feta, olives from a jar, add tuna if you want. Lightly dress with pepper, olive oil and a bit of red wine vinegar. Test and only add salt if the feta and olives haven’t provided enough. Serve with a slice of nice bread if you like.

Ball of mozzarella and either sliced peaches/plums/tomatoes, lightly season with salt, pepper, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If using tomatoes basil leaves are nice.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:06 AM on August 8, 2022

I loathe cooking and eat a ton of frozen meals (Trader Joes are the best ones) heated up in the microwave. When I'm up for something I consider cooking (but that most of my friends make fun of--I don't care), I buy most of my veggies pre-chopped from the Whole Foods produce section or similar. I dump them in a crockpot or an air fryer in various combinations, with or without added protein (fish, tofu, beans, etc.) and some sauce from a bottle (teriyaki marinade, salad dressing, etc.). I eat them on a bed of greens or a bed of rice, hot or cold. I eat that about 5 times a week.
posted by decathecting at 11:11 AM on August 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's a similar white bean salad, also from the Kitchn
posted by j810c at 11:26 AM on August 8, 2022

This recent thread had a lot of great salad recipes like this. I make the Jennifer Aniston salad mentioned in this comment regularly now and it's divine and keeps well. I just pour the olive oil and squeeze lemons onto it and don't make a proper separate dressing and it doesn't matter at all. Oh and this Balela is so good and fits your specifications too.
posted by twelve cent archie at 12:23 PM on August 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you have a slow cooker, I made this recipe for the first time yesterday and it was surprisingly good. The only change I made was adding some sliced bell peppers on top so I'd have some more veggies in there. It took me about 5 minutes to make and throw in the crockpot.
posted by GoldenEel at 12:39 PM on August 8, 2022

For protein:
- canned chicken
- ask husband to cut tofu in cubes and store in a container with sauce (teriyaki sauce is good, Soy Vey sauces offer some different flavor profiles)
posted by metahawk at 1:52 PM on August 8, 2022

Instead of begging/hoping for your husband to cook tuna, find a canned version you like. Drain and continue as before. Very Italian.
posted by tmdonahue at 3:03 PM on August 8, 2022

Best answer: Do you like chickpeas? We made this smashed chickpea salad (Smitten Kitchen) as open faced sandwiches for dinner one day last week and I ate it for lunch for two more days. There is onion in the recipe but you could easily leave it out. It held up really well in the fridge and I think it took him ten minutes to make.
posted by hetobeto at 3:53 PM on August 8, 2022

Salmon filets topped with seasoned salt and cooked in a foil-lined air fryer will give you a different protein for practically zero effort.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:02 PM on August 8, 2022

How do you feel about scrambled eggs?

1. Put a comically huge handful of bagged baby spinach on a cutting board, gently kind of scrunch it and chop through it a few times. This is just to make the final spinach pieces small enough that you don’t get a stringy one stuck in your mouth.

2. Heat a dab of oil in a pan, then toss in the spinach leaves and about a tablespoon of water for some steam. Let them wilt down super fast, like a minute. If you like tomatoes, a chopped tomato is good here too. Dump the lightly cooked veggies out onto the plate you’re using.

3. More oil or butter. Scramble a couple eggs.

4. Dump the veggies back into the eggs, and add a huge amount of bagged grated cheese or ricotta from a tub. As soon as the cheese starts to melt, put it all back on the plate. (Trying to avoid cheese burning onto the pan - the residual heat from the veggies will continue to melt the cheese). If you used ricotta, you may want to add some salt, too.

You can eat it as-is, or top with some kind of sauce - ketchup, hot sauce, or a bit of mayo are all great.
A sliced avocado is also good on the side.

This can also be eaten on buttery toast or rolled into a tortilla with avocado.

posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:34 PM on August 8, 2022

You don't want to think about food. Would you be willing to think about it once? If so, here's what you do. Using the ingredients you tend to keep in stock, make a bunch of index cards....

Nevermind, I made a choose-your-own-adventure recipe. You can just close your eyes and click on any of the options, not much considering required. If it doesn't work for you, that's fine! But I hope it helps.

Here's a list I abandoned because I thought writing a choose your own adventure recipe would be more fun:

1. Can of chickpeas. Bag of frozen riced cauliflower. Can of tomatoes. Handful of chopped walnuts. Cumin. Optionally crushed garlic. Salt to taste.
2. White beans. Chopped brocolli. Lemon juice. Ginger. Sunflower seeds. Salt.
3. Black beans. Bell peppers. Olives. Garlic.
4. Lentils with kimchi and avocado.
posted by aniola at 5:45 PM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OK, so this is a recipe from Smitten Kitchen that we are going to use for inspiration and then we are going to make a 5 minute version of it.

The original recipe is lovely and if it appeals, you should absolutely make it (minus the onions), but here’s a very simple dish/salad that follows the same idea.

It will be a warm lentil salad the first night with leftovers that are great to eat cold. You could also just put everything together without warming the lentils.

~ 3 Cups Precooked French lentils - read notes below.
1/2 Cup pesto - option below if you don’t like pesto
2 tsp dijon mustard (just omit if you don’t like mustard)
1 lemon
1 tomato or a handful of cherry tomatoes
Protein (tuna, mozz, burrata, chicken)
[optional: handful of fresh spinach leaves as the base when you eat it]

Dump the lentils into a pot and warm over low heat. If they don’t have much liquid in them, add 1/2 C of water to the pan.

Put the pesto in the bottom of your mixing bowl. Add the mustard and stir together.

Get out your cutting board and chop up the tomato, then throw it in the bowl. Stir well.

Your lentils should be about warm. Drain *most* of the liquid from the lentils, then pour them into the bowl. (You want a couple of tablespoons of lentil liquid to thin out the pesto.) Mix together gently. Taste it and add a drizzle of olive oil if you want along with a squeeze of lemon.

Place a handful of spinach on the bottom of your plate, top with the lentils. Squeeze some more lemon over the salad, and top with your protein of choice.

French lentils are firmer than regular lentils ie: won’t be as mushy. Usually the varieties in vacuum bags are higher quality than canned. If you can’t find precooked, you can absolutely cook them yourself in 20mins or so. They can just be boiled in plain water.

If you don’t like pesto, you can sub little cubes of frozen basil instead. Be generous - the basil is a major ingredient.

Squeezing the lemon over the top will give you pops of flavor - some bites will be more lemony, so less so. It’s a good trick to make stuff taste more interesting as the flavor changes from bite to bite.
posted by jenquat at 5:46 PM on August 8, 2022

My “can’t think” meal. These are all staples I pretty much always have on hand, except mozzarella. But I usually have a tub of crumbled feta as it lasts a long time.
-couple of Persian cucumbers cut up. You can use regular cucumber but with the Persian ones there’s nothing left over to have to put back in the fridge.
-handful of cherry tomatoes. Sometimes I cut them, sometimes not.
-mozzarella cheese if I have it, otherwise feta crumbles. Toss them in there.
-microwave some frozen falafel. If no falafel, open a can of chickpeas or white beans and dump some in
-olive oil, balsamic, season. Lately I’ve been using zaatar and it really perks things up, but at work I just have salt and pepper and that’s totally fine.

Something that has really helped me feel less UGH COOKING has been cutting the above up with my kitchen shears! I don’t need to deal with washing a knife and cutting board, just snip away at my veg and then give the shears a quick rinse.
posted by assenav at 8:25 PM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's another chickpea salad that's one of my reliable go-tos. I usually add some diced bell or sweet mini peppers as well. It's great with a fried egg on top, and fish or chicken would also work well for more protein. The leftovers are excellent for several days.
posted by karayel at 9:08 PM on August 8, 2022

Sausage Scramble:

1 lb. bulk sausage (Maple is good.)
Chapped celery (Maybe four ribs?)
Chapped apple (Maybe two?)

Put all in a frying pan. Cook until sausage is browned.

That's it!
posted by NotLost at 9:33 PM on August 8, 2022

I'm here to second aniola's suggestion of different spice mixes. For a while I ate the same thing for dinner almost every day (steamed fish with vegetables, both dumped into the pan straight out of the freezer, no thawing required) and I switched up the spices/sauce/dressing that I put on it for variety. Sometimes I'd switch up the type of fish or frozen vegetable mix, mostly because the supermarket was out of my preferred selection.

You could just make the same salad & add different vinegars, switch the fish, & change up the legume.

(The irony is that I actually like cooking & I'm pretty adventurous with food, just not when I've just gotten home from work & I'm hungry & tired.)
posted by (bra) at 9:37 PM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

I make almost exactly this but it's sorta-chili. In a big pot, dump a package worth of your desired protein. I've done it with ground beef, ground turkey, faux-meat crumble and canned re-fried beans. All great! You can dump a packet of taco seasoning on there, but I prefer dumping my own cumin and chili powder. You can do red pepper flakes, too, if you like it spicier.

Once the meat is browned and cooked, add a can (or frozen bag) of corn, can of rinsed black beans, and at least one but up to three cans of any other kinds of beans you like (I like to use one pinto and one black-eyed peas). Then add one BIG can of diced tomatoes and one regular size can of diced tomatoes with chiles/jalapeños. (You can do both plain or both spicy, too.) Depending on how watery your tomatoes are and what kinds of beans you've used, you might want to pour in a can or half-can of water to add more liquid. Cook til piping hot, add avocado, sour cream, tortilla chips, cheese, whatever. I love it cold, too, and it's also really good the next day with a fried egg on top.
posted by Charity Garfein at 10:17 PM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Nevermind, I made a choose-your-own-adventure recipe.

This is absolutely delightful even though what I learned from it is that I probably just want to make the bean salad I already have
posted by babelfish at 7:07 AM on August 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

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