I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions, but I have one this year: Take more shortcuts in the kitchen. I’m not just talking about weeknight timesavers like buying pre-cut squash and rotisserie chickens, but also the simplest, smallest tweaks in prep or technique that can make the path to weeknight dinner faster, easier, and more rewarding.
I don't recall the exact weeknight or scene in my house the first time I made it, just that my husband was traveling, I was flying solo with the kids, and I didn’t have a dinner plan. After scanning my pantry and fridge (and seeing a half-used jar of Thai red curry paste and some forgotten kale in the crisper), I decided on a sweet potato-coconut curry with black-eyed peas and kale, a variation on similar curries I’ve made before.
I wasn’t striving for an authentic Thai curry—just a simple, nourishing, hands-off kind of dinner. Out of curiosity (and laziness!), I put my ingredients in a braising pan, slid it into a 400℉ oven, and walked away. I reasoned the “set it and forget it” ease of sheet pan and Instant Pot dinners could surely extend to my curry.
Another Speedy Dinner
The oven trick worked like a charm—the curry was fragrant, creamy, and so boldly flavored that my kids and I polished off nearly the entire pan. I’ve been making curries this way ever since.
Curries benefit from the oven’s steady, even distribution of heat, just like oven-braised and roasted meats, stews, tomato sauces, and even one-pot pastas. This is especially true for curry made with coconut milk, which is persnickety about heat. Coconut milk can curdle or separate if it comes to a boil (which can easily happen on the stovetop if you turn your back!), so an oven-braised curry is your golden ticket for nights when you’re multitasking or don’t want to hover over the stove. Plus, the bits of sweet potato and greens that peek up through the sauce get a little browned and caramelized, a delightful textural contrast that you just can’t get on the stovetop.
Over the last few months, I’ve found additional ways to streamline my meal prep. For the greens, I like using collards because their sturdy leaves can be tossed in at the beginning without wilting; plus, collards and black-eyed peas, traditionally eaten together on New Year’s Day in the American South to bring good fortune, is a winning combination any time of year. Also, I found by bringing the curry to a quick simmer on the stovetop, then transferring it to the oven, I could further reduce the cook time without losing its hands-off ease.
But my favorite discovery of all? I can skip sautéing and add finely grated ginger, shallots, and lime zest right along with the other ingredients—they meld so well with the sauce. Admittedly, bypassing the sautéing of aromatics, which I’ve always regarded as the foundation of a good curry, felt a little wrong, at first. But don't think any depth of flavor is lost by taking this shortcut. Easier still, grate the aromatics directly into the pan (versus on a cutting board) to minimize mess and waste. If you don’t have a Microplane or rasp grater, here’s a list of additional reasons why you should treat yourself to one in the new year!
The simplest, smallest tweaks in prep or technique can make the path to weeknight dinner faster, easier, and more rewarding.
For serving, I love the pop of color, flavor, and texture from toasted black sesame seeds, but it’s absolutely fine to skip if you don’t have any. Same for fresh herbs like cilantro or mint. And in the spirit of streamlining dinner, you can and should make substitutions based on what’s at hand. For example, swap out thinly sliced butternut squash for sweet potatoes, chickpeas for black-eyed peas, or other sturdy greens like kale or mustard greens for the collards.
Whichever way you go, your oven does virtually all of the work for you. And because everything comes together in one pan, clean-up is a breeze. On weeknights when you’re tired or pressed for time, even small shortcuts that simplify dinner can feel a little life-changing.
What's your best kitchen shortcut? Share all your tips in the comments section below!
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).