When we come home from work in the evening we are both tired and hungry. Many people choose to have a sandwich, order take out or fast food or eat some cold leftovers from the day before. However, good nutrition is incredibly important if we want to stay healthy and feel great so making an effort to enjoy a good home cooked meal despite feeling exhausted is in our best interest. While it’s true we would rather do anything else than spend time in the kitchen in the evening, we don’t actually have to waste hours cooking and washing dishes in order to enjoy a healthy cooked meal.
There are recipes that don’t require a lot of preparing or much effort overall, but are nutritious, satiating and give us the satisfaction of having eaten a healthy meal. Any meal we don’t prepare ourselves is very likely to contain more calories and fats than we are led to believe, potential allergens or unhealthy food dyes or preservatives we shouldn’t be consuming. Not to mention it is far more costly to dine out than to eat at home.
Even if we just throw some meat and vegetables in the oven for half an hour, we still stand a better chance to make a delicious and healthy meal. The hardest part is for us to get used to the idea of cooking our own meals in the evening, rather than doing the actual cooking. This being said, I would like to tell you about some of my favorite things to eat in the evening and their no-brainer recipes, and maybe inspire you to go for home cooked dinners instead of eating out or out of a box.
1) Chicken thighs and carrots. Since I cook for two, I usually defrost 6 chicken legs with skin and let them simmer in a stone-coated non-stick frying pan with about half a liter of water. I wash, peel and slice about 1 kg of carrots and boil them in a separate non-stick pan. I may or may not add extra water, depending on whether or not the chicken and carrots are cooked when the existing water fully evaporates. Once the water evaporates, I season the chicken thighs with fine pink salt and let them gather a bit more flavor by roasting in their own fat.
I season the carrots with vegetables seasoning and pink salt, add 2 tablespoons of extravirgin olive oil and cook them for 10-15 minutes with the lid on, but careful not to burn them. And that’s all to this simple, two-ingredient dinner. The stone-coated pan and the natural flavors of the ingredients are the secret to this savory recipe.
2) Rice with ground beef and tomato sauce. I add about 250 g of ground lean meat (beef and pork in equal amounts) in a non-stick frying pan and two fingers tall worth of water and boil for 10-15 minutes. In a separate pan, I boil 250 g of white rice. Halfway through the boiling process, I season with salt and a generous cup of tomato sauce (quality is crucial). Once the meat is boiled, I season with dried thyme and add about two tablespoons of extravirgin olive oil. I let the meat fry for 5-10 minutes. Once ready, I add the meat to the rice and tomatoes, mix well and season some more if necessary. Simple and satiating.
3) Rice and chickpeas. In a non-stick frying pan, I boil about 250 g of white rice. Once the rice is ready (it should look firm and fluffy, but not sticky), I add about 300-350 g of drained, canned chickpeas and season with salt and about two or three tablespoons of extravirgin olive oil. I cook it just enough for the chickpeas to become warm and the rice to absorb the flavor of the oil, which shouldn’t take more than 5-8 minutes. Since we don’t all have the same pans or cooking stoves, some adjustments may be necessary.
4) Potato, zucchini and carrot creamy soup. I first tried making this when a family member of mine had a horrific toothache and couldn’t chew anything. I bring a large pot of water to the boiling point. In the meantime, I peel about 1,5 kg of white potatoes and cut them into chunks, then throw them in the pot. I proceed to peel and slice about 800 g of regular carrots and add them to the pot as well. I wash and remove the endings of two large zucchinis (about 1 kg), slice and add them towards the end, when the carrots and potatoes have about 15 minutes left. I strain the vegetables, season with pink salt and extravirgin olive oil and blend them together. They make a great meal on their own, but can also be paired with other foods of your liking.
5) Polenta and mushrooms. I add about 400 g of sliced mushrooms to a non-stick frying pan and enough water to let them boil until fully cooked. Separately, I bring a larger pot of water to the boil (1 liter or so), season it with salt and add about 200 g of corn flour (cornmeal or maize flour) gradually and keep mixing with a wooden spoon until it gets thicker and thicker. It will take about 30 minutes for the polenta to cook and you need to keep mixing so it doesn’t get lumpy or stick to the pot. Once ready, I quickly fry the mushrooms in two tablespoons of extravirgin olive oil for more flavor and season with salt and pepper. Polenta is also great with hard cheeses if you want to add more protein to your meal.
6) Oven mix. I line a large oven tray with parchment paper. I lay out sliced carrots and white potato chunks as well as 4-6 chicken thighs on which I drizzle a little extravirgin olive oil. I season with salt and pepper and place one large green onion, 4-5 garlic cloves and a lemon cut in quarters over the meat. I put the oven to medium heat and let everything cook while I take a shower or something else. Towards the end, I also like to add 2-3 whole tomatoes. The best part is the food cooks itself and you get to enjoy a delicious, healthy dinner with only one tray and a couple of plates to wash.
If peeling and cutting carrots and potatoes seems difficult, you can always put the meat in the oven for 20 minutes, then add frozen cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, several whole garlic cloves, a sliced lemon and season with salt, pepper and extravirgin olive oil. It can’t get any easier than throwing stuff onto an oven tray.
7) Baked potatoes and poached eggs. I wash about 1 kg of white potatoes and score them a little so they cook faster, put parchment paper on an oven tray and bake them. Separately, I bring a small pot of water to a boil and crack one egg at a time in the water. Adding some vinegar can help, but too much can alter the taste of the egg, so it might be best to do without. I check so the egg white is firm, but not runny before taking it out of the water. It usually takes up to two minutes or so. I transfer the eggs on a plate, cut the freshly baked potatoes in half and crumble some matured goat cheese on top, then add pickled green olives. The potatoes go great with sour cream, a little butter or mayonnaise.
While my tastes are quite particular, hopefully, some of these recipes and combinations can inspire you when you are feeling at a loss for dinner ideas. The fact that you only use one or two pans or an oven tray at most, as well as the fact that the resulting meals are substantial, savory and different from what you might normally go for can constitute an advantage.
Again, you might want to adjust the ingredient amounts to the number of people you are planning to cook for and, why not, substitute some ingredients with others you might like better. For instance, celeriac can substitute potatoes in the creamy vegetable soup or lentils chickpeas. These are some of the things I enjoy eating for dinner at night, but I would love to hear about your favorite, original dinner recipe ideas.