Five quick dinner ideas so you can enjoy the longer evenings

The one constant recently: the meals have to come together quickly. The longer days of spring are lovely, but the later-setting sun makes me lose track of time. Even if I had hoped to roast a whole chicken or bake a lasagna, I find myself glancing at the clock and gasping. I thought I still had plenty of time to cook! How did it get so late?

Having lost the minutes intended for heating up the oven, I opt for recipes that come together in the time it takes to make rice or cook pasta, and feel like a whole meal alongside stir-fried vegetables or a simple salad. Speedy recipes don’t come at the expense of taste. They may not develop the deep caramelisation of slowly roasted anything, but quick-cooking on the stovetop or grill often delivers the kind of freshness we crave this time of year.

And, because these dishes are so fast, they leave plenty of time to enjoy the meal as the sun sets and to dream of even longer nights ahead.

Mushroom chicharron tacos

By: Jocelyn Ramirez

This simple recipe calls for pan-searing meaty oyster mushrooms so they become as perfectly crispy and golden as chicharrón. Paired with fresh pico de gallo, these mushrooms feel satisfying with their natural umami savouriness. This quick dish tastes like juicy carniceria tacos that balance the richness of fried meat with the acidic punch of salsa.

Serves: 4 servings

total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

For the pico de gallo:

1 large beefsteak tomato, cored and cut into ½cm dice

1 large ripe Hass avocado, pitted, peeled and cut into ½cm dice

2 jalapeños, stemmed and finely chopped (seeded if desired)

Handful coriander leaves, finely chopped

3 tbsp fresh lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes)

Absolute

For the mushroom tacos:

500g oyster mushrooms (from 2 to 3 medium clusters)

80ml neutral oil, such as canola

¼ tsp ground cumin

1½ tsp coarse salt

black pepper

12 corn tortillas

method:

1. Make the pico de gallo: combine the tomato, avocado, jalapeños, coriander and lime juice in a bowl and season with salt. Gently folded together. Set aside to allow flavors to marry while the mushrooms cook.

2. Make the tacos: tear the oyster mushrooms into bite-size pieces, leaving some mushroom tops whole. To make sure the mushrooms become crisp, cook in two batches: heat a large cast iron or other heavy frying pan over medium-high and coat with half of the oil. Once the oil is hot, add half of the mushrooms in a single layer without crowding the pan. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until deep golden brown and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate, then repeat with the remaining oil and mushrooms. Return the first batch to the pan, and add the cumin and salt, and season with pepper. Stir well, then remove from the heat.

3. While the mushrooms are cooking, warm the tortillas on a comal or heavy pan over medium-high heat until soft and pliable. Wrap them in a dish towel to keep them warm until ready to serve. Divide the mushrooms and pico de gallo among the warm tortillas. Serve immediately.

Hara masala murgh (green masala chicken)

This version of hara masala murgh has some time-saving hacks

(Getty/iStock)

By: Zainab Shah

As is the case with every South Asian dish, variations of hara masala murgh abound. In the south of India, fresh desiccated coconut is used in place of yoghurt, which is a common ingredient in the northern parts of Pakistan and India. The stalwarts of the dish across regions are copious amounts of fresh coriander and mint – hence its name hara masala, which means green masala. In Lahore, it is commonly found on restaurant menus, and its peppery herbaceousness is a welcome reprieve from the tomato-onion gravies typical in Punjabi cooking. This version uses thinly sliced ​​chicken breast. It also skips over the tedium of grinding almonds in favor of using almond butter. These two shortcuts mean a quicker cooking time and a creamy texture.

Serves: 2 to 4

total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

3 tbsp ghee or neutral oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

12 whole black peppercorns

1 tsp cumin seeds

450g chicken breasts, thinly sliced ​​(about ½cm thick)

1 tsp freshly graded ginger or ginger paste

1 tsp freshly grated garlic or garlic paste

½ tsp kashmiri red chilli powder or other red chilli powder

¾ tsp fine sea salt

Large handful finely chopped coriander leaves and tender stems

Large handful finely chopped fresh mint leaves

4 Thai green chillies, chopped

60g full-fat Greek yogurt or coconut milk

2 tbsp almond butter or other nut butter, stirred to combine

2 to 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from about ½ lemon)

½ tsp garam masala (optional)

method:

1. Heat ghee or oil in a medium pot or wok for about 30 seconds over medium. Add the onion, peppercorns and cumin seeds. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken, ginger and garlic, and cook on medium-high, stirring frequently until the chicken is no longer pink or fleshy and the onions have softened, about 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the chilli powder and salt. Continue cooking for about 30 seconds. Add most of the coriander and the mint, reserving a handful to serve, and the Thai green chillies, and stir until all the ingredients are incorporated.

3. Stir in the yoghurt and almond butter. Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining coriander and mint. Sprinkle with lemon juice and garam masala, if you like.

Prawn and tomato cake

Prawns andf spaghetti are tossed with juicy tomatoes, which are simmered until they burst and turn saucy

(Getty)

By: Naz Deravian

Frozen prawns are a freezer staple that can be counted on to save dinner any night – simply thaw to use them whenever needed. Here, prawns and spaghetti are tossed with juicy cherry tomatoes, which are gently simmered until they burst and turn saucy. This dish is best with ripe, in-season cherry tomatoes, but the aromatic fennel seeds and garlic infused in the oil will coax maximum flavor out of less enthusiastic tomatoes while adding depth to the sauce.

Serves: 4 to 6

total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

8 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

450g peeled and deveined frozen shrimp (16/20-count), thawed and cut into thirds

Absolute

3 large garlic cloves, gently smashed with the flat side of a knife

1 tsp fennel seeds

¼ tsp red-pepper flakes, or to taste

900g cherry tomatoes, larger ones halved, small ones kept whole

450g spaghetti

Handful of basil leaves, torn

black pepper

method:

1. In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium. Add the prawns, season with 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer the prawns to a dish and set aside. Discard any excess liquid in the pan.

2. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons of oil and the garlic cloves to the same pan and cook over medium-low, turning the garlic a couple of times until light gold and fragrant, taking care not to burn them, about 4 minutes. Add the fennel seeds and red-pepper flakes, stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium and add the cherry tomatoes and 1½ teaspoons salt.

3. Cook the tomatoes, stirring occasionally, until they release their juices and get saucy, 25 to 30 minutes. While the tomatoes cook, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil for the cake. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.

4. Transfer the prawns with any juices to the tomatoes to reheat for a couple of minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning.

5. Set the cake pot next to the saucepan and use tongs to transfer the spaghetti to the tomatoes and prawns. The starchy water clinging to the spaghetti will make for a tasty and silky sauce. (You can drain the spaghetti, if you prefer. If you do, reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water to add as needed for a silky sauce.) Remove the pan from the heat, add the basil and toss well. Season with black pepper to taste and serve.

Tofu and bok choy with ginger-tahini sauce

By: Kay Chun

This simple dish showcases the uniquely silky texture of soft tofu. The tofu is steamed on top of a layer of bok choy, eliminating the need for a formal steamer and making this meal a cinch to prepare (napa or savoy cabbage leaves would also make a nice bed for the tofu). Once steamed, the warm, mild tofu soaks in all of the bright flavors of a tangy and creamy tahini sauce that’s spiked with aromatic ginger and fragrant herbs. For a heftier meal, either double the tofu or serve with a side of rice.

Serves: 4 Servings

total time: 20 Minutes

Ingredients:

450g baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise through the core

Salt and black pepper

1 (400-450g) package soft (not silken) tofu, drained and cut into 4 equal squares

6 tbsp tahini

¼ cup (60ml) low-sodium soy sauce

3 tbsp distilled white vinegar

1 tsp minced ginger

¼ tsp minced garlic

1 spring onion, chopped, plus more for garnish

Handful chopped coriander, plus more for garnish

Toasted white sesame seeds, for garnish

method:

1. In a large frying pan with a lid, arrange bok choy in an even layer to cover the bottom of the pan, and season with salt and pepper. Nestle the tofu pieces on top of or in between the bok choy, depending on the depth of your pan. Add ½ cup of water to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover securely to prevent steam from escaping, reduce heat to medium and steam until bok choy is tender and tofu is warm throughout, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine tahini, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic, spring onions, coriander and 1 tablespoon of water. Whisk until well blended, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Using a spatula or large slotted spoon, transfer bok choy and tofu to 4 serving plates (discard any remaining water in the pan). Spoon some of the sauce over the tofu and garnish with spring onions, coriander and sesame seeds. Serve warm.

Fish skewers with herbs and lime

This recipe is simple and speedy

(Getty/iStock)

By: Melissa Clark

In this simple, speedy recipe, meaty cubes of fish are marinated with fish sauce and red-pepper flakes, then lined up on skewers and grilled until seared at their corners, but still juicy and tender inside. Topped with herbs and lime juice, it’s a minimalist take that lets the flavors of good, fresh fish shine through. If you have a fish basket and would rather line up the cubes inside that, go right ahead. Just watch it carefully and adjust the cooking time if needed. If you’re looking to add a sauce, this is lovely served with some garlic-spiked yoghurt on the side.

served: 4

total time: 20 minutes, plus grill heating

Ingredients:

2 garlic cloves, finely grated, pressed or minced

1 tbsp fish sauce

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

450g thick, dense fish steaks, such as tuna or swordfish, cut into 4cm pieces

Lime wedges, for serving

2 spring onions, white and green parts, trimmed and thinly sliced

Handful chopped dill, mint, parsley, coriander or a combination

method:

1. Heat the grill to high. In a mixing bowl, combine garlic, fish sauce and red-pepper flakes. Whiskey in oil. Add fish cubes and gently toss to evenly coat. Let marinate while the grill heats up.

2. Thread marinated fish onto metal or pre-soaked bamboo skewers (see tip), pushing them up so they touch. This keeps them from overcooking.

3. When the grill is hot, lightly brush the grates with oil and add the skewers. Cook until slightly charred in places, about 2 to 4 minutes, rotating them carefully halfway through.

4. Transfer to a serving platter, and immediately squeeze 2 or 3 lime wedges on top of the fish while still hot. Garnish fish with spring onions and herbs, and serve with more lime wedges on the side.

Medicine: Using traditional flat metal skewers is best, but not necessary. If using bamboo skewers, they must be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes before grilling to prevent flare-ups. Place bamboo skewers flat on a rimmed sheet pan and add enough water to cover.

© The New York Times

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