Total time:25 minutes
I grew up with a mom who always cooked, always showed me a cookbook, and always put up with my “experiments” in the kitchen, but it wasn’t until I went to college in Berkeley, California that I was. t Just Cooking for fun, but also for eating.
Berkeley is a culinary mecca with farmers markets, plentiful produce in supermarkets, and great restaurants, yet my cooking has been hampered by limitations of time, knowledge, budget, tools, and energy.
Even now, after almost a decade of working as recipe developers, there are limitations to the game – after all, lives happen to us. From the many lessons I learned in college, here are a few principles that still guide me in the kitchen and have helped me cook 150 dinners with less than 10 ingredients and 45 minutes for my first cookbook, I Dream of Dinner (so you don’t have to.)”
Build a fridge with pantry. My frugality and class schedule in college meant I couldn’t cook meals at the farmers market according to the best seasons like the food writers tell you. Instead, I was dependent on a few ingredients that lasted a while and were delicious year-round. That meant canned foods and grains, yes, but also fresh ingredients like kale, collards, celery, green onions, ginger, cucumbers, lemons, and limes. If you limit yourself to a few ingredients, you will get to know them well, understand their properties and feel more comfortable using them – even without a prescription.
Cook like you’re the dishwasher (because you are). Many recipes include prep instructions in the ingredient list, such as “1 bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped.” Cooking videos show these ingredients in many small bowls. But why should I wash all those bowls when I just… couldn’t? Besides, who has so many little bowls? I didn’t go to college and I still don’t.
Instead, I chopped ingredients as I needed them because that’s how I saw my mom make dinner. This subtle switch makes the most of your time and counter space. For example, in Cumin Beans With Tomatillo and Chips, you’re instructed to cut the tomatillos and then place them on a serving platter, their final destination. On the now-empty cutting board, slice the red onion. Then season the red onion with salt right on the cutting board. In a cooking video, those two moves might have required two extra bowls. No need.
The secret to super crispy chicken wings? Salt them and roast them – no roasting required.
Only buy essential tools. There was no room for those multi-piece cooking sets that are said to fill up a kitchen. Instead, I bought tools that I needed and didn’t have a hack for. My egg frying pan, for example, was being used several times a week until a few months ago, when my boyfriend (kindly) told me what I already knew: it was time for a new one. I didn’t have a rice cooker and steaming rice on the stove never came out right, but I had a big pot and could I cook rice like pasta (see next point)?
Realize that limits of knowledge are okay. You can never know everything about cooking; Instead of worrying about what you don’t know, focus on what you like and are comfortable with. I was afraid of harming myself and roommates with raw chicken, so I embraced proteins that didn’t need to be cooked to a specific temperature, like tempeh, tofu, beans, and cured meats like salami. The orange glazed tempeh from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks played on repetition, as did pita pockets with hummus and crunchy veggies.
Broccoli chicken burgers with sticky cheddar pockets make a juicy sandwich with moxie
Rice tested me: No matter what rice to water ratio I tried, it never came out right on the stovetop. But I really wanted rice, so I tried boiling it in a large pot of salted water and then draining it, just like pasta. It works out! There is an entire section of the book devoted to this method of cooking grain; This gives you individual, non-lumpy grains that are great for salads and stir-fries. (If you want a fluffy rice, after draining, return it to the pot, cover, and let it steam for a few minutes.)
Cook what fills you up, tasty and fast. The goal of college cooking was to quickly feed itself and everyone who hung around. It didn’t have to be beautiful, it didn’t have to be impressive. It was food that felt good to cook and eat. That’s what I did then and I still do today.
Cumin beans with tomatillo and chips
This vegetarian entree is like a seven-layer dip redesigned in the produce department. The first layer is raw tomatillos, which are tart like a green apple and juicy like a tomato (you can also swap in sliced tomatoes, cucumber, iceberg lettuce, or cabbage). Then comes seasoned black beans, dollops of tangy sour cream, red onions, a tangy lime dressing, and heaps of crumbled tortilla chips. Add cilantro, scallions, avocado, crumbled bacon, pickled jalapeños, cotija, and/or fritos for more layers.
Storage Notes: Refrigerate for up to 3 days without the chips.
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- 8 ounces tomatillos (about 5), peel removed, halved and cut into thin wedges
- Fine sea salt
- 1 small red onion (5 ounces), halved and thinly sliced
- Finely ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large lime, finely peeled and juiced (about 2 tablespoons of juice)
- 1 teaspoon green hot sauce, plus more for serving
- One (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 cup sour cream, plus more as needed
- One (3-ounce) bag of tortilla chips, plus more as needed
Arrange the tomatillos on a medium serving platter and sprinkle lightly with salt. In a medium bowl, sprinkle the onions with a pinch of salt and pepper and toss with your hands until the slices wilt, 1 to 2 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, the zest and juice of the lime, and the hot sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper, taste and add more hot sauce, salt and/or pepper to taste. Pour a quarter of the dressing over the tomatillos.
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering. Add the beans and cumin and cook, stirring, until beans are warm and fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the stove.
Spoon the beans over the tomatillos, followed by about a dozen teaspoon-sized dollops of sour cream. Cover with the red onion, then spoon the rest of the dressing over it. Crumble a few handfuls of tortilla chips on top and add more to taste. If you like it spicy, add more hot sauce.
Serve family style, with extra chips on the side if needed.
Calories: 429; total fat: 29 g; Saturated fat: 5 g; cholesterol: 8 mg; Sodium: 424 mg; carbohydrates: 37 g; dietary fiber: 9 g; sugar: 5 g; Protein: 9 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a nutritionist or nutritionist.
Adapted from “I’m Dreaming About Dinner (So You Don’t Have To)” by Ali Slagle (Clarkson Potter, 2022).
Tested by Alexis Sargent; email questions firstname.lastname@example.org.
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