Let’s be clear: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with picking up a pizza, ordering takeout, or even doing the drive-through window periodically on a crazy weeknight. That’s life; life is short on time.
But if you’re anything like us, there’s a certain satisfaction in feeding yourself or your family without breaking a sweat on a random Tuesday. These are the weeknight dinner recipes our test kitchen cooks, editors and writers dream about when it’s 3pm and they’re getting peckish. Here’s what makes each one so wonderful.
Five ingredients plus salt and pepper? Sign us up! The key to making this easy-clean sheet-pan meal such a snap is pre-heating the pans themselves. Chicken thighs cook in a flash when you place them skin-side down on a hot pan. (Bonus: That crisps up the skin!) The only thing “fancy” about this dish is a fast cranberry sauce you can simmer stovetop while doing the 12 other things on your list tonight.
Stir-fries, for those who have them in their repertoire, are a lifesaver. You put on a pot of rice on the stove, in the rice cooker, or in the Instant Pot right when you walk in the door. You do the things you have to do in your life. Then you start slicing things small and thin, throw them all in a hot pan, and dinner is done almost before you have the table set. Nice enough to serve for those you love, this gingery stir-fry is spectacular in the winter, when crisp bok choy takes its turn in the spotlight.
Pasta: A classic for a reason. Here, whole wheat pasta meets garlicky sautéed greens for a one-skillet dinner. Cooking a ton of greens together, then keeping them on hand to dole out with entrées over the course of a few days, makes a ton of sense. This recipe serves four, but you could just as easily make half the pasta, set half the yummy greens aside, and serve them as sides with roast chicken, steak, or seared tofu. Making more veggies that you need tonight is a key way to eat more of them.
There are plenty of great recipes out there in which you sear the meat stovetop, then pop a skillet or Dutch oven into your stove. Many of them are wonderful. But for this one, all the work is done stovetop. It’s a blessing for anyone with a bad back or those who are tired of bowing to corporate overlords all day at work. Braised chicken with potatoes and carrots are gluten-free. You make them all in one pan. Schmaltz (chicken fat for the uninitiated) does most of the heavy flavor lifting work. Fresh thyme does the rest. It’s divine.
Pasta. Stir-Fries. Frozen pizza. Yawn. You’ve heard it all before; they’re all part of your repertoire.
But are mussels? Talk about the secret weapon of weeknight dining in. These make everyone feel like they’re at a restaurant. They’re cheap as chips. You can cook them in a heartbeat. Grab a loaf of bread and dress some greens in oil and vinegar. Done and done; you’re at a Parisian café. Be a traditionalist with garlic and white wine, or go rosy and elegant with saffron and fennel. Both will make your home smell like a dream.
Lemon, capers, white wine, chicken. What is it about the flavors of chicken piccata? Old people like it; young people like it. Really young people who shouldn’t like it (hello, white wine!) like it. It’s the Tom Petty of dinners. Best of all, you can just throw the family’s favorite vegetable in there—roast cauliflower; sliced artichoke hearts; sautéed mushrooms—and they fit in perfectly. No muss, no fuss, and ready in half an hour.
Move over, pasta. Stir-fries are probably the #1 hero of weeknight dinners. High heat and foods minced small means you can essentially walk through your kitchen and throw whatever looks good into your wok or skillet. We’re partial to this vegan recipe, but it is mightily flexible. Use it as a base and clean out your produce drawers, adding your protein of choice. Skip the sambal oelek in favor of black bean sauce, gochujang, or whatever Asian chile sauce you have.
No one will judge if you chop up that one last cooked chicken breast from last night and add it in; that’s exactly how stir-fries are designed to work.