Here’s a puzzle: A home-cooked meal is often most beneficial on nights when you’re extremely hungry and just don’t feel like cooking.
I’ve had, um, experience with this conundrum. As a food writer and the author of I Dream of Dinner, I spend all day creating recipes, so I don’t always want to keep cooking once I’m off work. There’s a catalog of dishes, though, I know I can pull off no matter what. They’re not always brilliant, and they don’t always include a vegetable, and that’s okay: They get me to bed with warm food in my belly, which is something to be grateful for every single day. I think of these easy meals in three main categories:
— A fried egg on a potato bun, with a dribble of ketchup and/or hot sauce, is so essential that I sneaked a “recipe” for it into my cookbook.
— Other good eggs-plus-starch combos are egg tacos and fatoot samneh.
— Eggs scrambled in the pan with a fork, plus cured meat (salami, bacon, chorizo), a vegetable, or cheese if the cutting board’s already out.
— A bowl of jarred pasta sauce warmed in the microwave and topped with a fried egg scratches a similar itch to shakshuka.
— Leftovers with a fried egg on top. Somehow a fried egg turns hodgepodge into a meal; it’s not science, but it’s proven.
2. Toast and Friends
— My mom, the best cook I know, has her own arsenal of default meals. My favorite growing up was a big arugula salad, tossed with lemon juice and olive oil, plus blue cheese toasts: Slice crusty bread, top with blue cheese, broil until molten. In my cookbook, this idea morphed into a Buffalo salad with crunchy greens, celery, and a hot sauce dressing (above). The blue cheese toasts remain unaltered.
— A toastie with cheese and sauerkraut (or pickled condiments), kind of like an open-faced grilled cheese.
— Baked flatbreads with cheese and vegetables, made with store-bought flatbread, naan, or pocketless pita.
— A pita pocket, warmed in the toaster or microwave and filled with hummus and whatever crunchy or cooked vegetables are around.
3. Pantry Diving
— My boyfriend and I spent the last six months traveling around the country in an old converted van. Dinnertime challenges were exacerbated by logistics: where we’ll park and sleep that night, what ingredients we have on hand, will I be cooking in the rain/wind/snow. I came to rely on soup mixes; specifically, I’d make Lipton chicken noodle soup or Shin Ramyun with whatever brassica I had (broccoli, rabe, kale, brussels sprouts) and a beaten egg stirred in (like stracciatella or egg drop soup).
— My mom’s “emergency chickpeas” meal from college is more satisfying than you’d expect: drained chickpeas, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt.
— Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, also known as “Midnight Pasta” because it fulfills that late-night urge for starch, spice, and a slap of garlic.
— Snack dinner: Find one or two sources of protein and a vegetable and you made dinner. (Find more ideas here.)
Ali Slagle develops low-effort, high-reward recipes for The New York Times and The Washington Post. Her new cookbook is the wonderful I Dream of Dinner (So You Don’t Have To).
What do you make when you don’t feel like cooking?
P.S. 5 secrets to stress-free family dinners, and what do you eat when you’re home alone?
(Photos by Mark Weinberg.)