3 ways to get dinner on the table quickly and easily

kitchen pots over gas flame
CC BY 2.0 David Singleton

Use basic cooking techniques instead of a cookbook to put food on the table with minimal effort.

Recipes are wonderful things, but they can make life complicated, especially if you’re trying to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible and you have a few ravenous children nipping at your heels. I’ve found that the fastest way to prepare food is to ditch the cookbook and revert to basic cooking techniques that don’t require any further thought than what’s in the fridge. As long as there are vegetables, you’ll be able to pull together dinner quickly and easily.

1. Start preheating the oven

Oven-roasting isn’t exactly fast, but it requires very little work. After prepping the food, you can leave it and forget about it for 20 to 40 minutes while the oven works its magic, freeing up time for whatever else you need to do.

Almost any vegetable can go into the oven. Beets, carrots, onions, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, potatoes, and bell peppers are all delicious. Cut into chunks (smaller cooks faster), toss with olive oil and salt, and spread on a parchment paper-lined baking pan.

Add a whole head of garlic if you want; you can mash it with olive oil and vinegar to make a flavorful dressing for a roasted vegetable salad afterwards. Alternatively, serve the veggies as a side dish, main dish, or with hot pasta.

Roast some meat alongside in order to have the whole dinner ready at (more or less) the same time. Sausages, chicken (whole or in pieces), pork tenderloin, and fish are delicious to roast with little more than salt and pepper sprinkled over top. You can also do a quick spice rub or mix up some Dijon mustard with honey to rub on the pork.

2. Heat up the sauté pan

It all starts with vegetables again – onions, carrots, broccoli, celery, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. Keep it really basic with just some olive oil or butter, salt, and veggie of choice. Make it slightly fancier by choosing a theme of sorts: Go Italian with a quick tomato pan sauce or sautéed zucchini with garlic, or make an Asian-style stir fry with whatever condiments you’ve got in the fridge (hoisin, oyster, chili, soy sauces). Cook rice or pasta on the side to go with whatever you’re making.

A sauté pan is perfect for anything egg-based, too – an omelet, frittata, or just plain fried eggs to go over soba or rice noodles with sautéed vegetables.

Add protein in the form of tofu, tempeh, paneer, cubed chicken breasts, or a tin of smoked fish. The sky’s the limit.

3. Put on a pot of water to boil

Blanching vegetables is a very quick way to cook them; just make sure you don’t overdo it or they’ll be limp and bland. Drop the washed, trimmed vegetables into boiling water and take them out a minute or two later.

Blanching is my favorite way to prepare rapini (a bitter-tasting and iron-rich vegetable that I love), and it works well for anything similar, such as collards, Chinese broccoli, bok choy, and spinach. You can boil potatoes (sweet or regular), corn, peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

Toss with butter or olive oil, salt and pepper to season, or add cream or milk to mash. You can make it more flavorful with minced fresh or sautéed garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, or chopped herbs. Serve hot as a side dish or cool as a salad with basic vinaigrette.

Please share any tips or tricks you have for making a quick dinner in the comments below.

Tags: Cooking

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