We are all busy, busy, busy. Believe me, I get it. Between work, school, family, kids, and other responsibilities, we don’t all have time or energy to stand in the kitchen for hours making dinner. Even when the weekend comes, we may want to spend our free time having fun or catching up on other things rather than spend it at the stove. It might feel easier to defrost a frozen dinner or get take-out than think about making a homemade meal. Or maybe it’s not about time. Maybe you just aren’t into cooking or don’t think you’re very good at it. Maybe you don’t think you have what it takes to make a delicious meal and you don’t want to spend hours proving that to yourself.Whatever your reasons, I’m here to tell you that making a savory, satisfying and scrumptious homemade dinner does not have to take a lot of time. No matter how busy you are, no matter whether you are an experienced cook or not, you and your family can sit down (yes, even on a weeknight) to an amazing dinner that doesn’t require slaving away in the kitchen.
Here are some quick meal ideas that only taste like you spend all day cooking them.
Pasta is one of the quickest types of dishes you can make but don’t think I’m talking about opening a jar of sauce to toss on the noodles. The trick to making a fast, homemade pasta dish is to choreograph the process. It takes about ten minutes for the water to come to a boil and then the pasta takes about twelve to sixteen minutes to cook. That means you have about half an hour to make the other parts of the meal and have it all come together at the end. Read How to Make a Real Food Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less and make my Spicy Alfredo with Greens and Sauteed Broccoli – all in about 30 minutes. That’s faster than any food delivery and much less expensive. You don’t even have to tip me.
To become a pasta expert, check out Pasta: How to Avoid 8 Common Cooking Mistakes and Try These 10 Ways to Cook Pasta with International Flair.
Stir-fries are not only filled with lots of healthy vegetables and tasty ingredients but they are really fast to make too. Get the rice cooking first. White rice takes 18 minutes to cook but brown rice takes almost 45 minutes. A good time saver is to make brown rice in advance and either refrigerate or freeze it so you only have to warm it up at dinnertime. While the rice is cooking, do your mise en place. When you cook, it is best to get all your ingredients ready before you actually start cooking. In Chinese cooking, this is especially necessary because stir-frying goes fast. If you start cooking one vegetable and then start to chop another, the food will end up soft and soggy. Chop up your aromatics, your vegetables and lastly, make the sauce. Heat the oil and start stir-frying. By the time you’re done, the rice will be finished and it’s time to eat.
Get more stir-frying tips in Secrets to Sautéing and Stir-Frying Chinese Style and then try these quick and amazing recipes: Asparagus and Carrot Indian-Style Stir-Fry, Kale and Roasted Corn Stir-Fry, Indian- Chinese Broccoli Manchurian Stir-Fry, Spicy Mushroom Stir Fry with Garlic, Black Pepper, and Chives and Stir-Fried Crunchy Bengali Bok Choy.
When I want dinner fast and I’m not sure what to make, I often decide on a tofu scramble. It’s a fast dinner choice and it’s a one-pot meal. Scrambles are versatile – you can make them as light or as hearty as you want, they can be simple or complex, and they can be seasoned to give them different ethnic flavor profiles. If you think you can’t make a tofu dish quickly because it takes time to press the tofu, I’ve got a secret for you – I rarely press tofu for a scramble. Extra-firm tofu has less water in it than softer types. Just pressing the block gently between your palms will squeeze out the water. If you feel you need to press it, do it while you’re chopping and cooking the other ingredients for your scramble. Start sautéing the onions, garlic, bell peppers, broccoli and any other veggies you are putting into your dinner scramble. Once they are almost tender, crumble the tofu into the pan, add your seasoning (having your spice blend pre-mixed saves even more time) and cook until the tofu is as done as you like. Add greens by chopping them and adding them at the last minute to gently wilt. The whole thing should be done in about 20 minutes. Read Tips for Making Killer Tofu Scrambles for more of my tricks and lots of recipes.
Lentils are an extremely versatile food that only takes 20 minutes to cook. If you cook your lentils in advance, it takes just minutes to make an incredible dinner with them. Roll them into balls with seasoning to make Lentil Meatballs or patties to make Red Lentil Burgers with Kale Pesto. Toss them into a pot with spices and coconut milk to make dal like this Simple Lentil Dal. Mix them up with veggies to make a Spicy Lentil Salad. Brown them in a pan to make Lentil Tacos. My favorite way to use lentils is to brown them in a pan and add onions, peppers, tomato paste and vegan Worcestershire sauce to make Vegan Bolognese. It tastes great over pasta or make it thicker for a Sloppy Joe. For more recipe ideas, see 10 Delicious Ways to Eat Lentils.
5. Dinner Bowls
I love eating dinner out a bowl. I think I actually use bowls more than I do plates. Dinner bowls are another way of making your meal as easy or as complex as you want. A bowl usually has some type of grain (rice, quinoa, barley, or millet), some type of protein (beans, legumes, tofu, or tempeh), vegetables and dark, leafy greens. The simplest dinner bowl I love to make has quinoa, shitake mushrooms and baby bok choy. To make my Baby Bok Choy and Mushroom Quinoa Bowl: put 1 cup of rinsed quinoa into a small saucepan and add 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Set aside. In a deep saute pan, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 Tbs. fresh ginger, and a pinch of red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add in 3 sliced scallions and stir. Add in 8 oz. chopped shitake mushrooms and cook until browned, about 4-5 minutes. Chop up the baby bok choy stems and reserve the leaves. Add the stems to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in 2 Tbs. tamari to coat the vegetables. Add the cooked quinoa to the saute pan and mix it with the vegetables. Wilt in the reserved bok choy leaves. Remove from the heat. Garnish with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and scallion greens. Serve hot.
For a heartier bowl, try my Soy Maple Tempeh Bowl which has rice, veggies, marinated and pan-fried tempeh and greens. Other recipes to try include this Roasted Buddha Bowl, Maca Cheez Bowl, Tempeh Bacon Bowl, and Tamale-Inspired Bowls with Beans.
Have I ever mentioned that my goal in life is to be the vegan Rachael Ray? I’m a big fan of hers since before I became vegan and I owe much of what I learned about cooking to her. One of the first dishes of hers that I ever made before I was vegan was stoup. It’s also one of the first dishes I veganized. According to Rachael, a stoup is “thicker than a soup and thinner than a stew.” It’s also a fast way to have a hearty, delicious meal and you can make it differently every single time. Stoup is a great “clean out the fridge” kind of dish, very similar to chili. Sometimes I use tofu. tempeh or soy curls, sometimes it’s all vegetables. It’s always delicious. I wonder if I keep calling myself “the vegan Rachael Ray” it will catch on?
To make my Yum-O Stoup with Chorizo: heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Heat 1 Tbs. oil and add 12 oz. of vegan chorizo to the pot. Break it up and cook until browned, 5 minutes. Add 1 chopped onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add 4 small diced red potatoes, 1 chopped bell pepper and 1 cup green beans to the pot. Mix the veggies with the chorizo. Cook for another 3 minutes until the veggies are softened. Add 3 cloves minced garlic and 1 seed and diced green chile. Add 1 Tbs. chile powder, 1 Tbs. ground cumin, and kosher salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything well and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in 2 cups diced tomatoes and 2 cups cooked red kidney beans. Add 2-4 cups vegetable broth, depending how thick you want it. Bring the stoup to a boil. When it starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Ladle the stoup into shallow bowls and top each bowl with a generous handful of vegan pepper Jack cheese. Garnish with scallions, cilantro, and vegan sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips, if desired. For other similar fare, see How to Make Simple Veg Stews to Keep You Warm This Winter.
These are just a few ideas of how to make warm-your-heart and fill-your-tummy meals that are homemade but don’t take a ton of time. The next time you think you just don’t have time to make a real meal, try any of these recipes. You may never call for delivery again.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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