Weeknight Cooking

Two Weeks' Worth of Genius 5ish-Ingredient Dinner Ideas

March 22, 2017

In January, I handed over Victoria Granof's Pasta con Ceci, my most prized new five-ingredient, near-instant dinner. And in return, I asked for yours.

It seemed to strike a chord, because dozens of thoughtful responses flooded the comments—many of you even tapped out what amounted to complete recipes. I immediately felt better-equipped, so I wanted to resurface these clever dinner ideas to all of you because, as it turns out, we all need them.

Below is an edited-down batch of two weeks' worth of dinners from those comments to give us all some much-needed inspiration.


Migas! Sauté diced onion, jalapeño, and tomato until soft. Add a handful of slightly crushed tortilla chips, shredded cheddar cheese, and a couple of beaten eggs. Scramble and serve. —Kelly AM

Tuna & Beans & Greens

My easy, easy, lazy favorite meal: tuna and beans. A can of tuna, a can of cannellini beans, dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and whatever herbs I have around. Serve with salad greens and a nice piece of bread. —Anna D

Japanese-Style Rice With Egg

A million variations on tamago kake gohan. Usually I just heat up old takeout rice, throw in the appropriate number of raw eggs and soy sauce (and actually a splash of black vinegar even though it's not geographically appropriate), and top off with furikake and whatever texture/flavor enhancers I have on hand at the time (leftover pickled ginger, sesame seeds, scallions, whatever).—kittykatofdoom

Any Roasted Roots + Greens + Herby Yogurt Sauce

Dice beets, potatoes, onions, parsnips, radishes, turnips, or any root/root-ish vegetable. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, bake at 450°F for 30 to 45 minutes (while doing something else, of course). Serve on a bed of greens (spinach and arugula are great). Optional: Pulverize parsley or cilantro with olive oil, lemon, cayenne, capers, red pepper flakes, spoonful of yogurt. Drizzle on top. —Liam O’Brien

Orecchiette with Sausage & Broccoli Rabe

While bringing a pot of salted water to a boil, cook one pound of Italian sausage (out of the the casing) in a skillet. Cook the orecchiette, adding the broccoli rabe during the last couple of minutes. Drain and combine with the sausage. Add a little olive oil, red pepper flakes, and Parmesan cheese. —Ashley Mackey

Tortellini Soup à la Mrs. Lieto

Sauté a minced clove or two of garlic in olive oil in a large saucepan. Add a quart or two of chicken stock (or vegetable stock, if you prefer). Bring to a low boil and add a 9-ounce package of fresh cheese tortellini. (I buy these in the refrigerated section of the grocery store and stick them in my freezer for my lazy-dinner moments.) Add a couple handfuls of chopped greens (escarole, kale, spinach) and, if you like, a drained can of beans. Sometimes I add an undrained can of chopped tomatoes. The tortellini only take about 3 minutes to cook through and then dinner is ready. Serve with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano and, if you have it on hand, crusty bread. —Rhonda35

Salmon with Peach Salsa

Take four pieces of salmon, two lemons, three ripe peaches (cut into small cubes), two to three tablespoons chopped cilantro, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste, but it should have at least a little bite). Mix the juice of one lemon, cubed peaches, cilantro, and cayenne pepper in bowl and chill. Squeeze juice of second lemon over salmon pieces and let sit for 10 minutes. Cook in oven to desired doneness. Serve with chilled peach salsa on top. —Verne Wegner

Sheet Pan-Roasted Potatoes & Sausage  

Toss mini potatoes on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and thyme and roast at 375°F for 20 minutes. Flip, shake, or stir, add a pack of chicken sausage to the pan (also drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper), then back in oven for 20 to 25 more minutes. —Yvonne Spencer

10-Minute Tofu Bowl

Seared firm tofu + peanut butter/rice wine vinegar/soy sauce/sesame oil whisked together + whatever soft greens are around. Bowl + greens + hot tofu + sauce = 10-minute dinner. —Ttrockwood

Umbrian Lentils (Kind Of)

Sauté a minced onion, and add minced carrot and garlic. Stir in some tomato paste until it is browned and fragrant. Add in dried lentils and broth or water. Stir off and on until cooked through and creamy(ish). Serve topped with arugula and grated Parmesan. Optionally, top with a fried egg. —amandainmd

Pasta with Lots of Butter & Cream

Prepare fettuccine according to package directions, adding ample kosher salt. When pasta is al dente, transfer to a sauté pan or skillet large enough to hold all of the pasta. Add 3/4 cup butter cut into pieces, 1/2 cup cream, adding them in 1/3 at a time. Gently toss, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Add 2/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano slowly while gently tossing. Generously add freshly ground pepper. Place in serving dish and generously sprinkle additional Parmigiano on top. A nice salad with a vinaigrette goes well with this dish, as does roast chicken. —Diane (DeAnna) Johnson    

Coconut Curry Anything

Vegetables, chickpeas, chicken, shrimp, or a combination all work—great way to use extra raw veggies in small quantities. Sauté onion and curry powder in butter or oil. Pour in a can of coconut milk and stir well. Add raw veggies cut small, and any other ingredients (shrimp goes in right at the end, however). Serve over rice. —margaret sandercock

Lazy-Fancy Savory Pancakes

When I'm feeling lazy-fancy, I like to grate a pound of root veggies (usually carrots, sometimes sweet potatoes, or celery root), add 1/4 cup flour (usually chickpea) and 1 to 2 eggs, and salt and pepper. Scoop half of it into a medium hot pan with a little oil, and fry for a couple of minutes per side. Then I top with some dressed arugula, Trader Joe's canned sardines in harissa, and yogurt. —Edna

Pappardelle with Herby Ricotta

Just chop up whatever fresh herbs you have on hand (parsley, chives, basil, oregano, and marjoram are all great here, as well as fennel frond or scallions; maybe add a little chopped arugula if you have it), stir into ricotta along with some salt and olive oil, then toss with hot pasta and some of its cooking water. —Bogre

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For dozens more speedy dinner ideas, read through the comments here.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps a genius dessert? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

1 Comment

Joy B. March 23, 2017
Love this. My go to 5 ingredient dinner these days is: a little butter in a pan, some kimchi chopped with a splash of the kimchi juice, a teaspoon or so of soy sauce or gochujang, and al dente udon noodles. I just stir fry it until it's heated through. On fancy days, I'll sprinkle it with scallion or some thinly sliced nori. BAM. so good.