Can you cook dinner with 5 ingredients or less?

© K Martinko -- Stirfry made with noodles, tofu, red pepper, broccoli, and soy sauce

Called the 'white box challenge', this is a useful technique for cleaning out one's fridge and pantry, reducing waste. It also means less time spent in the kitchen!

The first time I heard about a white box challenge was in “The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook” by Cinda Chavich (the white box being the refrigerator). The idea is to prepare simple meals using five ingredients or less, with the purpose of using up items that are neglected, forgotten, or simply overlooked.

The idea intrigued me because I often open the fridge and think, “There’s nothing to eat!” when, in fact, there is, if I take the time to look more closely and think creatively. The challenge is a good way to break out of culinary ruts and to try new combinations. It helps to minimize waste, giving life to nearly-expired vegetables, particularly if you aim for once or twice a week as a sort of kitchen clean-out. (It’s really helpful on the day before you go shopping.)

The beauty of such short, simple recipes is that they’re easy and quick, which means a prompt dinner and more time to relax. Five ingredients may not sound like much, but you’ll be surprised at what’s possible.

Please note: When I do the white box challenge, I don’t count staples such as oil, salt, pepper, spices and other seasonings – just the main ingredients.

Spanakopita: Onion, spinach, fresh dill, feta, phyllo pastry (+ lots of olive oil)

Chana Masala: Onion, garlic, ginger, chickpeas, diced tomatoes (+ curry paste)

Pizza: Pre-made dough, pesto sauce, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, olives

Leek-Potato Soup: Butter, leeks, potatoes, stock, cream

Burritos: Onion, green peppers, beans, tortillas, cheese (+ cumin or taco seasonings)

Pasta Alfredo: Butter, cream, Parmesan, sautéed zucchini, pasta

Bean Chili: Onion, kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, diced tomatoes (+ chili powder)

Huevos Rancheros: Onion, tomatoes, eggs, cheese, toast (+ cumin or chili powder)

Noodles: Egg or rice noodles, tofu, bok choy, mushrooms, spicy black bean sauce

Dal: Lentils, onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro (+ curry spices or paste)

Mushroom Risotto: Arborio rice, stock, mushrooms, Parmesan, white wine

Pesto Pasta: Fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts (or sunflower seeds), Parmesan, pasta

Quesadillas: Black beans, cheese, salsa, tortillas, avocado

Fried Rice: Leftover rice, onion, garlic, peas, soy sauce (+ sesame oil)

Bean Soup: Onion, stock, navy beans, carrots, celery (+ bay leaf, thyme)

Eggplant Parmesan: Eggplant, mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, tomato sauce, fresh basil

Vegetable Curry: Puréed tomatoes, diced potato, green beans, spinach, coconut milk (+ curry paste)

Omelet: Eggs, milk, cheese, sautéed mushrooms, chives

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