Weeknight Cooking

7 Really Easy Dinners for Not-So-Easy Days

July 13, 2018

We all have those days. The ones where we’re feeling blue or anxious or angry—emotions that aren’t pleasant to sit with. My sister likes to remind me that we need the lows to appreciate the highs, that it’s all just a part of the human experience. And she’s not wrong. But those days still suck.

Cooking doesn’t cure a bad day, but I use it as a way to cope. There’s something so peaceful in the repetitive tasks of stirring and slicing and shredding. I can lean on a recipe to tell me what to do, allowing it to take me out of my mood and into the moment.

Sometimes, I’m up for the challenge of a new or arduous recipe. But on the really not-so-easy days, I need a simple, straightforward dish to nourish me. Here, I’ve gathered seven of my favorite ways to be kind to myself. Hopefully, they’ll bring you some peace, too.

A comforting, creamy quinoa-lentil risotto that comes together with minimal stove-hovering. Top with just-barely-cooked asparagus and peas, and a generous sprinkle of Parmesan, and you’ve got self-care in a bowl.

What’s great about this slaw is that it uses Julia Turshen’s cabbage-massaging technique, which is the food-equivalent to a stress ball. And then you get to eat it.

Save this low-maintenance wrap for the nights where you just can’t cook. It’s filled with vegetables that are already hanging in your crisper drawer—bagged spinach, cucumbers, and carrots. To bulk it up, add chilled tofu, buttery avocado slices, and any nutty dressing your heart desires.

If you’re looking for something cooling, creamy, and a little spicy (who isn’t?), then pull out your leftover rice. Yes, that leftover rice that you thought you were going to throw away. See, second chances do happen!

A pasta to remind you there’s good in the world. Boil dry pasta in a mixture of milk and broth and it releases its starches as the liquids reduce and concentrate. You end up with a creamy, flavorful coating, and only one pot to clean.

Treat yourself and unwrap a package of buttery, lemony scallops (although you can use this technique for anything that swims). What’s even better? It cooks in less than 10 minutes.

This dish checks all the boxes: simple, cozy, soothing. And if you have any extra, add an egg and it’s the perfect brunch.


A Tomato-y Meditation

What's a dish that helps you turn around a bad day? Share in the comments below.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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3 Comments

Melanie July 22, 2018
There are lots of us with Asian roots who don't consider these as "specialty" ingredients. Rather they form the scents and flavors of our childhoods. I was thrilled to have these flavors included in an 'easy dinners' article. And for those who find these 'exotic', Great! Consider them as simple introductions to new cuisines!
 
Maria July 13, 2018
I don't feel like many of these recipes would be considered "easy". I loved reading about Padma Lakshmi's yogurt rice, but it requires a ton of specialty ingredients. Same with Nori seaweed and many others. I understand you need to add some new recipes to a list, but this just seems lazy, unfortunately.
 
Author Comment
Katie M. July 13, 2018
Hi Maria, I'm sorry you feel that way! I focused on recipes that don't take a lot of time (both nori rolls and yogurt rice come together in less than 15 minutes) but also feel like a little bit of indulgent self-care. Most of these involve two pots or less—which is a win in my book! I hope you have your own go-tos to cook when you're feeling down, but here's a list of pantry-friendly meals in case you need: https://food52.com/blog/18862-35-recipes-to-make-using-mostly-what-s-already-in-your-pantry