Help Teach a 21-Year-Old How to Cook

February  8, 2016

My "banned words" list is not short. See: "mind-blowing" (especially "mind-blowingly"); "meltingly tender"; "tipple (plz never do this) [sic]"; "quick & easy"; "dear reader."

Give me an article with any of these words, and I will lovingly delete them. Forgive me, fellow editors, because I'm about to break my own rule. Here is a hotline question that came in a few days ago, asked by Lesley Simpson:

Don't laugh. Looking to teach 21 year old how to make 3 super easy vegetarian dinners in an hour. Trying to teach someone with no interest in cooking.

Trying to show my son that cooking can be easy. Trying to find the no fail super fast easy vegetarian options for someone who does not like to cook. Looking for things that can be made in advance and will keep well in the fridge for 5 days. Is this a fantasy or is it possible? Beyond chili.

Dear, dear Lesley: Why would we ever laugh at you?

This is a noble cause. (It's worth mentioning, too, that it's not as easy of a task as it sounds—even when you remove the fact that Lesley is about to teach another human to cook. Fast, vegetarian, actually good meals can feel like a slim category at best.) And just think if someone in every household took this on. Just think! The world would be filled with simple, beautiful home cooking: Our parents would have new back-pocket meals, our sons and daughters would have specialties for their fifth dates (never cook on a first date—remember?), our cousins and friends and lovers would all know the joys of Marcella sauce—and they might not feel a need to ever make tomato sauce another way again.

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So, dear readers: Can we help a girl out? Lesley is looking for your best quick & easy meals. Bonus if meltingly tender; need not be mind-blowing. Give her your secrets over on the hotline, or add them to the comments of this post. I'll start:

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Carye Williams
    Carye Williams
  • Nancy
  • Heather | Delicious Not Gorgeous
    Heather | Delicious Not Gorgeous
  • El B
    El B
  • mrslarkin
Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


Carye W. July 9, 2019
Google “Francis Lam’s Summer Pasta”. Simple and delicious!
Nancy February 15, 2016
Ideas like the cabbage recipe on this page, and other things you can cook in batches (on Sunday, or whenever is your slow day) and sauce or top in a variety of ways. Polenta has already been suggested. Also grains (rice, wheat berries, barley, buckwheat - I know, it's a grass - but still). Then top with a basic sauce or some oil or butter (if not vegan). Keep in fridge or portion to freezer. Later add toppings or variations...beans, cheese, tempeh, eggs, roasted veg, your choice.
Heather |. February 10, 2016
the genius yogurt and onion pasta on this site! i also do a lot of scrambled/fried eggs and frozen veggies, or stovetop granola.
El B. February 9, 2016
taught my college aged girl to cook during breaks becuase she's broke and cheap food options at her university were not good. I just asked her what was most useful. She said:
mac and cheese
salad dressings
sauces (pesto/romesco)
egg salad
butternut squash/chard lasagne
chile rellenos
tamales ( parchment and string because husks look nice but take too long)
homemade granola ( she ate that for dinner pretty often)

I never taught her to make polenta but that's a great idea!
mrslarkin February 8, 2016
What a fun thread! I always get confused as to what exactly vegetarian is. No meat, but is fish/dairy/eggs ok?
tia February 8, 2016
Depends on the vegetarian. I've never met one that ate fish, but diary and eggs are kind of a crapshoot.
sexyLAMBCHOPx February 9, 2016
I'm with you mrslarkin. Tia - I've met so many eprople who identify themselves as vegetarians but eat dairy & eggs, some no gdairy and others no eggs. So confusing. Guess ya gotta ask. My favorite was, yes, i'm a vegaetrien but eat fish. Wouldnt that make her a pescaterieian?
Kate K. February 8, 2016
eggplant parm lasagna! it's so delish and keeps in a pyrex for a week. also, i make a frittata in a pyrex and eat it all week but cutting out squares. my favorite is a frittata with mushrooms and asparagus topped with parm. when im feeling feisty, I add hotsaarrccce.
Jessica February 8, 2016
I love this recipe: sweet potato and black bean tacos ( It requires relatively little cooking but is really filling and delicious.

Also, as a person who finally learned to cook in her 20's after waffles got old but who loves to cook now, my advice is this: put as little pressure on the situation as you can. My husband and i learned to cook together and made a lot of awful tasting food. Some of which was perfectly inedible. We kept a back-up frozen pizza on hand for when it didn't go well and didn't stress about getting it perfect everything. I have several friends who don't cook just because the kitchen makes them nervous!
Lizzie G. February 8, 2016
You should get him a rice cooker! All he has to do is put in rice and water and it will make it perfectly for him. He can add in chopped raw chicken and chopped veggies and the cooker will tell you when it's ready!
ladyearl February 8, 2016
This is my most recent obsession: I also think it still tastes great after being frozen!
tia February 8, 2016
You could use tofu in this recipe instead of chicken. It's delicious and super simple plus, right now anyway, it means I get to stand in front of a hot oven and warm up!
tia February 8, 2016
Oh, my other total go-to when I get home late and just want to be not hungry so I can go to bed is pasta or microwaved polenta (just like oatmeal!) with a couple of fried eggs on top with maybe some butter and Parmesan. With a side salad, it would totally count as a good vegetarian meal.
Victoria M. February 8, 2016
Yes! I do this when I get home too late to make a proper meal. Sauté some onions and garlic while the polenta is in the microwave. Top with an egg. Last week I topped the polenta with some jarred tomato sauce, half a can of tuna and olives warmed briefly on the stove.
Caroline L. February 8, 2016
polenta! polenta may sound fancy, but it's a snap to put together. serve it creamy and spooned into a bowl the first night (with tomato sauce! or sautéed greens!), then smooth any leftovers into a pan, refrigerate, and cut into squares or strips the next day. pan-fry in a little olive oil and top with an egg (or more sautéed greens), and cheese.