An insane amount of my brain’s real estate is devoted to food. My internal food-chatter is relentless — while I’m walking my dog, watching a not-very-engaging TV show, or at 3 a.m. trying to fall back asleep. Should I turn my fresh kale into maple-sesame chips, or use it to make Meera Sodha’s luscious Tuscan kale saag? What should I make for the dinner party I’m throwing three weeks from now? Do I have enough dark chocolate chips to make another mousse? Yes, I’ve tried meditation and yogic breathing. Neither works. I’ve come to accept who I am: A woman who loves thinking about, discovering, and cooking creatively flavored plant-based suppers. There are worse habits.

And yet. Sometimes I don’t feel like cooking. This happened last Monday, when we arrived home after a four-day trip to NYC just in time for an hourlong 4 pm Zoom meeting, and the only fresh food in the house was a single onion and a bulb of garlic. After eating way too much in the Big Apple (the number of plant-based restaurants is dizzying), I craved simple, clean food. What to do?

Raid the pantry! Dig through the freezer!

The key to creating a nutritious, quick, or dare I say, even no-recipe meal is this: Be Prepared.

5 Keys to Simple Suppers When You’re Too Tired to Cook

  1. Keep your pantry well-stocked with a few key staples. Always have any or all of these ingredients on hand.
    • Can of coconut milk (regular or light)
    • Can of tomatoes (I prefer diced fire-roasted, but crushed will work, too)
    • Canned beans: Chickpeas or black beans
    • Rice or any grain. (I’m partial to Israeli couscous because of its chewy texture. And it cooks more quickly than rice).
    • Pasta and/or shelf-stable gnocchi.
  2. Keep at least one onion and a garlic bulb on hand. Ditto for spices, depending on your taste. Powdered onion, ginger and garlic can be used in a pinch if you don’t have fresh.
  3. Always store at least one bag of frozen spinach, kale, or broccoli in your freezer. Dark greens can’t be beat on nutrition, and they are versatile when it comes to throwing together a quick, impromptu meal. Trader Joe’s Frozen Artichokes are a good choice, too.
  4. Freeze a package of your favorite tortillas.
  5. When you make a sauce you love — in my case, pesto — double the recipe and store half in the freezer. Ditto for a beautiful loaf of freshly baked bread. Cut it in half the day you buy it, and store half in the freezer. (Or buy two loaves, one for now and one for when you want fresh bread and don’t feel like going out to get it. Don’t be like my grandmother and wait until it’s stale to shove it in the freezer).

These are my favorite nutrition-packed suppers I can make in 20-minutes or less, with no fresh vegetables in my crisper.

No Fresh Veggies Easy Chickpea Curry

Chickpea Curry

Recipe by: A Couple Cooks

The only fresh food required is an onion and a clove or two of garlic. Use fresh ginger if you have it, but if you don’t, substitute a dash of powdered ginger. Or skip it. It won’t be missed. Everything else in this recipe comes from your spice drawer, pantry, and freezer. Frozen spinach or kale both work beautifully. The result is a flavorful, protein-packed curry you can throw together in 20-minutes. Serve it atop any grain, or skip the grain, and scoop it up with warmed bread. Bonus: It will taste even better as leftovers.

Black Beans Any Way

tacos with beans and salad on them on a table

Recipe by Beantown Kitchen

With a can of black beans in your pantry and the right spices in your cabinet, you’ll never say, “I have no idea what to cook for dinner” again. My chef friend Diana has created a gorgeous recipe for Black Bean Tortillas with Cabbage Slaw and Cashew Crema. Follow it if you have the time, and want an impressive meal. But if it’s one of those I-don’t-feel-like-cooking nights, and you don’t happen to have cabbage, limes, cashews, and/or avocados hanging around your kitchen, skip all of it, and simply make the 15-minute black bean filling. Then use it with whatever you have on hand. Spoon the black bean mixture onto a tortilla, into a taco shell, or on a baked sweet potato. Create a bowl with lettuce, and/or salsa, a grain, tomatoes, and of course if you have one … avocado.

You get the idea. Step 1: Diana’s simple 15-minute black beans. Step 2: As a base for anything you have on hand.

Pasta with Any Sauce or Vegetable

peas and vegetables with pasta

This dish is so easy it doesn’t need a recipe. If using pasta, boil and drain it. At the same time, in a separate pan, sauté for 30-secs, 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic in olive oil (a few tablespoons to 1/4 cup, depending on how many you’re cooking for), then add fresh or frozen spinach, kale, artichokes, any or all will work. To get fancy, toss in a chopped fresh tomato or two (a good way to use any that are perilously close to being thrown away). You decide the ratio of pasta to veggies; I tend to go with mostly veggies with just a bit of pasta, but to each their own.

After the veggies are cooked, toss the rinsed, cooked pasta into the pan with the veggies. Viola! A comforting, veggie-packed meal, in as long as it takes to boil pasta.

Using gnocchi? You can boil that too, and follow the same procedure. To save clean up time, pan-fry the gnocchi in olive oil to crisp it up, then add the veggies in the same pan.

This non-recipe is so robust it’s impossible to mess up. Too dry? Add more olive oil. Don’t forget to add generous amounts of salt and black pepper.

Have pesto in the freezer? Boil pasta. Toss fresh or frozen veggies (sturdy ones like green beans and broccoli work best) into the pasta water about a minute or two before the noodles are finished cooking. Drain and dump everything into a large bowl. Mix it all with pesto. This is by far my favorite meal in the universe.

Find more fast recipes like bowls, pasta and risotto in the Good News Veg Recipe Database!