Those of you who know me well can attest to this: I put a great deal of thought into my meals. This isn’t restricted to dinner, when most people are comfortably at home and can whip something up on the stovetop. It’s also true of lunch, traditionally a grab-and-go meal where speed matters more than taste. Even on my busiest days, when most people would grab for a Clif bar and call it a day, I make sure to pack something healthy and hearty.
My commitment to lunch started back when I worked in a middle school in Boston. Lunch was a short period that lasted about 10-15 minutes, if I was lucky. There was no time to go out and grab a sandwich (nor were there any places to go), so I got in the habit of packing something from home. And, since it was my one break for the day, I decided to make it count.
For me, this often meant one pot meals. The recipe here was one of my best, mixing together quinoa, kale, chickpeas, and feta. A batch lasted for about 2-3 servings, making it a great dish to prepare on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The trick here is to add the kale when you’re cooking the quinoa. This makes the preparation faster and easier, and you can avoid blanching and sautéing the kale separately. Don’t skip toasting the quinoa, which adds a nice nutty flavor to the dish.
Whether you spend your time standing in front of a classroom or sitting at a desk in the office, this meal will keep you energized and satisfied until the end of the day.
Quinoa Salad with Kale, Chickpeas, and Feta Recipe (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)
- olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1/4 tsp coriander
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- 3/4 cup chickpeas, drained
- 6-8 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
- 2 tbsp golden raisins
- 2 tbsp slivered almonds
- zest and juice from half a lemon
- 2 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
- Heat olive oil in a medium sized pot over medium heat. once hot, add onions and carrots and sauté for 5 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
- Add garlic, coriander, and red pepper flakes and stir for 30 seconds.
- Add quinoa and let cook for 3 minutes, stirring to make sure that the quinoa doesn’t burn.
- Slowly pour in the broth. Add the chickpeas and golden raisins, and top with the chopped kale. Bring broth to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid (quinoa should not be crunchy at this point).
- Remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients (almonds, zest and lemon juice, and feta cheese). Salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Dish can be served warm or cold and will stay fresh in the fridge for a few days.
People often ask me how I have time to cook during the week. The days are so busy, they tell me, that the last thing they want to do is spend their evening hovered over a recipe in the kitchen.
My answer to their question is simple: Have a set of go-to dishes that you can make in 30 minutes (or less) without a recipe. These dishes don’t have to be radically different from one another, or use fancy ingredients that you probably don’t have stocked in the pantry. Instead, these dishes can be variations on a theme, each with a slightly different flavor profile and set of ingredients. The key is to have a flexible base recipe, one that allows you to recreate the dish 2-3 times a week without it feeling repetitive.
This dish meets all of those requirements. The concept is very simple, combining pasta, vegetables, and protein. The recipe itself is infinitely adaptable, making it a great dinner option for every season.
During the winter, I try to stick with vegetables that are easily available. This recipe features cherry tomatoes and kale, although root vegetables also work well. My preferred protein is sausage, which adds a hint of spice without a huge investment of time. Just remember to cook the sausage before the vegetables, since the cooking oil from the sausage adds great flavor to the sautéed kale.
During the week, I rarely dig up that complex recipe from Bon Appetit that I’ve been waiting to try. Instead, I save that recipe for the weekend, whipping up something similar to the recipe below.
Sausage and Winter Vegetable Pasta Recipe
- 2 cups penne pasta, uncooked
- olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 spicy Italian-style sausage (I’ve used both turkey and chicken sausages here)
- 8-10 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
- 2 tbsp Romano or Parmesan, or a mixture of the two cheeses
- red pepper flakes
- dried thyme
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and follow directions on package for correct cooking time. Before draining, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water for later.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, coat with olive oil, and spread on a foil-lined baking pan. Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until tomatoes are wrinkled and slightly brown on the bottom.
- Remove sausage from casing and break into small pieces. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add sausage and stir occasionally, until the sausage is browned and fully cooked.
- Remove sausage but leave as much oil in the skillet as possible. Add onion to the same skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, kale, red pepper flake, and thyme and sauté for another 4-6 minutes, until kale has broken down slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add sausage and tomatoes to the kale filled skillet. Toss in the pasta and stir, adding pasta water as necessary for additional moisture. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.
Makes 2 servings.
Lately, temperatures in the teens and single digits have encouraged me to spend more time in the kitchen. With plenty of ingredients on hand and time to spare, I’ve had the chance to try a handful of recipes that take longer than I’m usually willing to spend over the stove.
This winter stew is one of my latest creations. It’s a combination of some of my favorite winter vegetables, including kale, squash, root vegetables, and beans. The end result is both colorful and hearty; the perfect thing to eat when the temperature drops below freezing.
The key here is to roast the squash and carrots in the oven before adding them to the stew with the rest of the ingredients. The roasting process allows the vegetables to caramelize while cooking, bringing out their natural sweetness. I also went for a broth that was tomato-based rather than broth-based, making the stew thicker and more flavorful than similar recipes.
Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Stew Recipe
- 1 small butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 3 carrots, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 cups whole tomatoes, with juice (from a 28 oz. can)
- 1 bunch lacinato kale (about 8 leaves)
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp basil
- salt, to taste
- olive oil
- 32 oz. vegetable broth
- Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss butternut squash and carrots lightly in olive oil and spread on a sheet pan lined with foil. Roast 25-30 minutes, or until squash is tender when poked with a fork.
- Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
- Chop whole tomatoes and add them to the saucepan. Add thyme and basil and let simmer.
- after 5-10 minutes, remove half of the tomato liquid. Place it in a blender and puree for 30 seconds.
- Add tomato mixture back to the saucepan. Pour in vegetable broth and bring back to a simmer. Add in kale and cook for 30 minutes at a gentle simmer.
- Add white beans, squash, and carrots. Cook until heated through and serve.
- Makes 6-8 servings.
This is a great example of a dish that can be prepared on a weeknight without taking over the whole evening. The ingredients are very simple, and many of them are winter staples that you probably have sitting around in your pantry or fridge.
The recipe uses both the oven and the stovetop, significantly cutting down preparation time and making things easier for those of us that cook in close quarters.
In addition, delicata squash makes a great choice here. It can be roasted and eaten without peeling, significantly cutting down preparation time. Once the squash is in the oven, the whole meal comes together in 30 minutes or less.
After a busy thanksgiving, this dish is a welcome vacation from long hours in the kitchen.
Pasta with Winter Squash and Kale Recipe
- 6 0z. penne pasta
- 1 delicata squash, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/3 inch slices
- 1/2 an onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 8-10 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
- splash of white wine
- 4 oz. ricotta cheese
- pecorino cheese, to taste
- Cook pasta according to the directions on the package.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Toss delicata squash with 1 tbsp of olive oil and place on a lined (or greased) baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until squash can be easily pierced with a fork.
- In the meantime, heat remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute more.
- Add chopped kale to the skillet. stir until kale begins to wilt, about 5 minutes. If desired, add a splash of wine during the last minute of cooking.
- Add the cooked squash and pasta to the skillet. Stir in ricotta and pecorino cheese and serve.
Makes 3 servings.