Easy Dinner Recipes for Those With No Time

No time to cook? It’s such a mantra, it should be a pop song refrain. We’re used to getting home tired, late and hungry from Monday to Friday to find nothing in the house that’s edible except the family pet. But now it’s happening to our precious weekends. Saturday and Sunday, the traditional “windows of opportunity” for home cooking, are getting crunched as well.

What with the shopping, cleaning, gardening, sport, family and friends – not to mention the remote possibility of sleeping in – our playtime cooking could turn from being a therapeutic pleasure, a form of relaxation in itself, to something that is more of a necessary evil and a bit of a chore.

no time to cook

I love long, lazy meals of slow-cooked food when I’m in a long, slow-cooked frame of mind – probably whenever there’s a decent bottle of red around. But now there are weekends when I’m just too busy or too pooped to care what I eat, as long as it tastes good, looks good and is on the table in the time it takes to drink a Campari and soda. So here are a few of my fastest no-time-to-cook recipes, those that have beaten the clock in their time trials to become personal favorites.

Try one this weekend. Do what you want to do all day, then walk into the kitchen, and put the timer on for 15 minutes. By the time it goes off, you should be putting food on the table.

It helps to have a few basic things on hand, but that’s not the real trick. The secret is in being able to do two things at once. You do one thing, while the rest of your food does another. In the recipes shown here, you have time to dress a rocket salad while spicy chorizo sausages and sweet red peppers are sizzling in the pan for a golden, open-faced omelette. You can pan-fry tuna steaks while you’re mixing pesto with mayo to dress it with, or chop cucumber and celery for an Asian stir-fry while the noodles are soaking.

multi-tasking cook

In the most extreme example, you can let brown sugar, yoghurt and cream slowly caramelize overnight while you dream of sleeping in.

A lot of people react to the no-time-to-cook dilemma by taking a shortcut to the nearest freezer or microwave. Wrong. Shortcuts deliver only shortcut flavor and shortcut satisfaction.

We have to be able to feed ourselves with good food, properly sourced and appropriately cooked, that just happens to be quick. The point is not that it takes less time to cook good food than it does to shop, or wait for home delivery.

Those 15 minutes spent getting dinner ready are better spent in cooking for yourself than in reheating food that some stranger has cooked in a factory.

When you cook for yourself, you know exactly what you’re eating, how fresh it is, and what goes into it. It’s yours. You may have even added a new ingredient, or an idea, to your repertoire of recipes. You’ve done something good for yourself. That’s why those who cook, cook, and those who don’t, don’t.

Besides, the less time we spend cooking, the more time we can spend at the table eating it and talking about it, which surely is one of the joys of a good weekend.

Smoked Trout with Preserved Lemon

Feeds 6-8 as a starter. Takes 15 minutes.

A touch of the Middle East turns smoked trout into something quite irresistible. Harissa, a paste made from dried red chiles, can be really hot so add a little and taste before adding any more, or substitute half a teaspoon each of dried chili powder and sweet paprika.

-1 large or 2 small smoked trout or 650g trout fillets
-2 preserved lemon quarters
-2 tbsp lemon juice
-1 tsp harissa paste
-Freshly ground black pepper
-4t bsp whipping cream
-Sea salt
-4 chicory

Remove skin, head and tail from the trout and discard. Carefully peel the fillets from the bone, and discard bones. Flake the fish gently with a fork until fluffy, removing any very fine bones.

smoked trout

Rinse the preserved lemon, and discard the pulp. Finely chop the rind. Combine trout, rind, lemon juice, harissa, cream, and a generous amount of pepper in the food processor and blend until creamy. Taste for sea salt, remembering the preserved lemon is quite salty. (If making ahead of time, chill until required.)

Cut off and discard the chicory roots. Separate the leaves, wash and dry. Serve the trout pate with chicory leaves to use as edible scoops.

Tuna with Tomato and Pesto

Feeds 4. Takes 15 minutes.

The fastest pan-seared tuna known to man.

-4 tuna steaks
-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
-Half cup dry white wine
-Sea salt
-Freshly ground black pepper
-4 vine-ripened tomatoes
-2 tbsp pesto
-4 tbsp whole egg mayonnaise
-1 tbsp lemon juice

Trim the tuna steaks, discarding any skin or black flesh, and marinate in olive oil, white wine, sea salt and pepper for five minutes. Cut each tomato crosswise into three fat slices, discarding top and bottom, and season with salt and pepper. Beat pesto into mayonnaise, and set aside.

tuna with tomator and pesto

Heat a non-stick frying pan and sear the tuna steaks on one side for two minutes, then turn and do the other side for around two minutes, leaving them pink in the center. Heat a second pan, add a little extra oil and sear the tomatoes over medium heat on both sides until golden brown.

To serve, place a tuna steak on a warm dinner plate, sprinkle with lemon juice, arrange seared tomatoes on top, finish with pesto mayonnaise, and serve.

Stir-fried Chicken with Noodles

Feeds 4. Takes 15 minutes.

When stir-frying, keep the heat high, and keep flipping the food up and over, rather than stirring. Use this marinade for chicken whenever you do a stir-fry and it will be good and tender.

-1 chicken breast, skinless
-1 tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
-1 tsp cornflour
-350g fresh egg noodles
-2 tbsp peanut oil
-1 garlic clove, squashed
-1 slice fresh ginger
-200g mangetout, finely sliced
-2 celery stalks, finely sliced
-2 tbsp soy sauce
-2 tbsp oyster sauce
-2 spring onions, finely chopped

Marinade:

-1 tbsp soy sauce
-1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
-1 tsp cornflour

Cut chicken against the grain into thin slices, and cut each slice in two. Make the marinade: mix soy, rice wine and cornflour in a bowl, and toss chicken to coat. Mix remaining rice wine and cornflour and set aside.
Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water for one minute. Drain well and set aside.

stir-fried chicken with noodles

Heat wok until hot and add oil. When hot, add garlic and ginger and toss for one minute to flavor the oil, then discard garlic and ginger. Add the chicken and stir-fry for two minutes until lightly colored. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, add a little extra oil if necessary, and when hot, add mangetout and celery and stir-fry for two minutes. Add the noodles, chicken, soy sauce and oyster sauce, and stir-fry for two minutes until hot. Add the cornflour mixture and bring to the boil, tossing. Add spring onions, toss well and serve.

Chorizo and Red Pepper Omelettes

Feeds 4. Takes 15 minutes.

Serve each individual omelette flat, topped with a rocket salad, or fold it once, incorporating the rocket leaves, which will soften and wilt on the way to the table.

-1 sweet red pepper
-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
-2 fresh chorizo or merguez sausages
-1 tbsp red wine vinegar
-Sea salt
-Freshly ground black pepper
-200g baby rocket leaves
-8 large eggs
-1 tsp paprika

Cut red pepper into long strips, discarding seeds and ribs. Cut the strips into small dice.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan, and add the red pepper. Cut the chorizo sausages in half lengthwise, and pinch out small knobs of the meat into the fry pan, discarding the skin. Fry for five minutes until cooked, then pour off any excess oil.

chorizo and red pepper omelette

Mix the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and dress the rocket leaves.

Crack two eggs into a small bowl, add a little of the salt, pepper and paprika, and beat well. Stir in one-quarter of the fried sausage and red pepper mixture. Heat a little extra olive oil in a non-stick frying pan, tip the omelette mixture in and swirl it to cover the base. Fry for two minutes, until golden beneath and almost cooked on top. Slide onto a warm plate, and keep warm as you cook the remaining omelettes. Top each one with a handful of rocket leaves and serve hot.

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