How to Spend Less Time Washing Dishes

Public Domain. MaxPixel

The key lies in creating fewer dirty dishes...

Over the years I have lived in several houses with minuscule kitchens. With next to no counter space and puny single-basin sinks, I've become skilled at using as few pots, pans, and utensils as possible. This frees up room in the kitchen and reduces the number of dishes that need to be done.

Many of my habits have become second nature and I don't stop to think about them much; but after seeing Apartment Therapy's new summer series about a Chore-Free Summer, and, in particular, an article on how to do fewer dishes this summer, it got me thinking about some of the methods I use. These may seem redundant and simplistic to experienced home cooks, but you never know when you'll learn something new! What follows is a blend of Apartment Therapy's dish-minimizing wisdom and my own tips.

1. Use the same cutting board to cut everything.

The key to this is to start with the least messy items and progress to the messiest. Give the board and knife a quick wipe in between ingredients. For example, first I chop veggies that leave no residue (carrots, celery, potatoes, eggplant). Next come the aromatics that leave a strong flavor or slight stickiness, like garlic, onions, ginger, or scapes, followed by fresh herbs and nuts. Wet vegetables like tomatoes are near the end. If you eat meat, that's the very last thing, as the board and knife must be fully cleaned after cutting.

(The downside of this approach is that the ingredients need to be held in bowls until it's time to cook each one; this creates more dishes, but personally, I find it easier to wash bowls than a cutting board because the former goes in the dishwasher.)

2. Use a scale to weigh baking ingredients.

This discovery has made baking so much simpler for me. Buy a digital scale and discover the wonders of weighing ingredients directly into the bowl, taring the scale to zero between each addition; it saves you having to dirty measuring cups and spoons and gives more predictable results.

3. Use parchment paper on baking pans.

Parchment paper always makes cleaning pans easier, no matter what you're making. If you're making cookies or granola, you'll be able to shake the crumbs off the cooled paper and fold up for later use; the pan usually doesn't even need to be washed and can go right back in the cupboard. If you're roasting tomatoes or sweet potato fries, the paper will need to be discarded, but it still makes cleanup simpler.

4. Make single-pot meals.

Look for recipes that use as few dishes as possible. Bonus points if you chop the ingredients and put them directly in the cooking pot, rather than stashing in a prep bowl. Serve the food in the pot it's cooked in.

5. Buy a self-cleaning blender.

This style of blender has a fixed blade in the bottom, which means you can clean it easily by running it for a few seconds with some hot soapy water. There's no fiddling with separate pieces in order to get all those stubborn bits of pesto out of the cracks. Additionally, buy an immersion blender, which allows you to blend whatever you need right in its own pot.

6. Use a large Pyrex measuring cup for liquids.

Measure liquid ingredients directly into the cup and eliminate the need for individual measuring cups and a bowl. If you need to melt butter or coconut oil for a recipe, do it first before adding the milk, eggs, or whatever else you need. This works well when combining liquids for cake or muffins, granola, stir-fry sauces, etc.

7. Store food in containers that can be reheated directly.

In other words, glass or metal. Rather than transferring leftovers from a pot to a container for refrigeration at night, I often put the whole (cooled) pot in the fridge, which makes it easy to reheat the whole thing for a meal the following day. If you have smaller amounts of something like soup or dal, put it in Mason jars that, when you want to eat it, can go right into the microwave. Glass food storage containers work well, too.

8. Don't wash if you don't need to.

My cast iron frying pan rarely gets scrubbed with soap. Because I use it every day to cook the same few things over and over again (fried eggs, fried rice, sautéed veggies), I usually just give it a hot water rinse and a towel wipe, and it's good to go for the next meal. Same goes for my French press coffee maker -- a rinse is all it needs each day after breakfast. Maybe once a month I stick the glass carafe in the dishwasher.

Do you have any dish-reducing tricks to share in the comments below?