Food 14 No-Recipe Recipes for Easy Weeknight Meals

by Jenny Rosenstrach | April 15, 2020

There are a lot of things about raising kids I haven’t figured out yet.

But there’s one thing I feel like I’ve pretty much nailed: What to cook for family dinner that they actually love to eat.

I’m a cookbook author and food writer, so you might be thinking: Well of course this is the case — you have a never-ending supply of creative recipes in your arsenal, so things are always exciting in your kitchen.

While this is true to some extent, for the most part it’s completely false. The family meals I have the most success with are without question the simplest ones, and probably look a lot like the ones you’re making for your own kids — pizzas, pastas, soups, burgers, tacos and golden-fried anything. And yes, while there is riffing involved within each of those main “food groups,” these are the dinners that get us through the week.

So consider the following no-recipe recipes. I’ve field-tested and honed them over the years into reliable go-tos. I hope they help you get through the week, too.

6 easy ways to mix-and-match 10 meatless staples

Like many families these days, we are also working a lot of vegetarian recipes into our dinner rotation. I find if I pick up 10 grocery items — chard, pasta, parmesan cheese, shallots, mushrooms, garlic, tortillas, eggs, broccoli and avocados — the so-simple-they-don't-need-a-recipe vegetarian dinner possibilities are endless. (A baguette is a handy eleventh item.)

For example, those 10 versatile ingredients can quickly become these six meat-free dishes:

  1. Pasta with shallots, parmesan and egg (think: bacon-less carbonara)
  2. Pasta with caramelized onions and parmesan
  3. Soft tacos with sautéed onions, mushroom and chard
  4. Pasta with roast broccoli, garlic and parmesan
  5. Scrambled egg tortilla with onion and chard hash
  6. Chard-mushroom-onion-parmesan omelet

As you can see, no fancy cookbook-author stuff going on here — just good, simple, crowd-pleasing family dinners. And not a recipe in sight.

The so-simple-they-don't-need-a-recipe vegetarian dinner possibilities are endless.
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8 truly simple dinner ideas that pass the ‘Texting Test’

When I say simple, I mean simple. On weeknights, I rely on dishes that would pass what I think of as the Texting Test. As in, I could text my friend the gist of the food prep without actually giving them a proper recipe.

The Texting Test ensures that the dish is straightforward, easy-to-make and can be pulled together in a pinch. Basically, the criteria for getting dinner on the table every weeknight. Here are eight examples:

Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

1. Sheet pan dinner

Heat oven to 450°. Mash some butter, mustard and thyme leaves together; spread the mixture on chicken thighs; and then coat chicken evenly with panko breadcrumbs. In a baking dish, toss carrots with olive oil and salt and pepper and nestle chicken in the middle of the baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes.

2. Salad pizza

Heat oven to 450°. While it heats, spread a store-bought pizza dough on a baking sheet, brush with a little olive oil and spread about one cup of tomato puree on top, leaving a perimeter. Bake for 15 minutes until crust is golden. While it bakes, toss together Bibb lettuce, tomatoes, red onion and an oregano-spiked vinaigrette dressing. Top the pizza with the salad and some freshly grated Parm.

Baked potato with cheddar, broccoli, and red quinoa

3. Loaded baked potatoes

Heat oven to 350°. Bake a bunch of potatoes for roughly 45 minutes. Then crack potatoes open and top with broccoli, cheese, bacon — whatever else you’ve got — and broil another few minutes until the cheese melts. Serve with a green salad.

4. Curried chickpeas and greens

Cook onions, garlic and ginger in a skillet until wilted. Stir in a heavy dose of curry powder, salt and pepper. Add two cans of chickpeas, one can diced tomatoes and one can vegetable or chicken broth. Cook to concentrate flavors then stir in kale and a few tablespoons of coconut milk. Serve with naan bread or rice.

traditional japanese food buckwheat soba curry and vegetable salad with greens

5. Soba noodles with tofu and greens

Fry some cubed pre-baked tofu in coconut oil with a little onion and garlic. Throw in kale, cook until it wilts, then remove and toss the whole thing with soba noodles, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, avocados and a dash of hot sauce.

6. Tortilla soup

Saute some garlic and onion in a soup pot with salt, pepper and a little tomato paste, then add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Ladle soup into bowls and top with shredded cooked chicken, avocado, cheddar, sour cream and a generous squeeze of lime.

Seafood Pasta spaghetti with shrimp and parsley on gray stone background

7. Shrimp Scampi-ish

Cook garlic, olive oil and a large can of diced tomatoes in a deep skillet. Once warm, add about a pound of shrimp (thawed frozen is fine) and cook until shrimp has lost its gray color. Top generously with feta and bake at 425° for about five minutes, until the cheese is melty. Top with a fresh lemon squeeze and parsley.

8. Fried tofu tacos

Dredge extra firm batons of tofu in flour, egg, and finally breadcrumbs seasoned with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Then, fry in olive oil and stuff into tacos with all your favorite toppings: shredded lettuce, avocado, salsa fresca, sour cream.

Benefits of a rotation of no-recipe recipes

Once you have a solid rotation of recipes that you can make without bobbing back and forth between cookbook and stovetop, you’ll notice two things happen.

One is that you’ll tend to like cooking more, and two is that you’ll see that your shopping list is more targeted and, as a result, you’ll be more likely to stay within an expected budget each week. Plus, there’s enough flexibility within each of them to accommodate dietary restrictions and picky eaters. What we might call: win-win.

Jenny Rosenstrach

is the New York Times bestselling author of Dinner: A Love Story, which is also the name of her blog. You can find her @dinneralovestory.