How to Win the Weeknight Dinner

Cookbook author Yasmin Fahr shares her pantry staples, time-saving tips, and a week's worth of easy, feel-good weeknight meals
January 16, 2020 Updated: February 5, 2020
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Is one of your New Year’s resolutions this year to cook more at home? Or to eat healthier, or add more vegetables to your diet?

If you find yourself already stuck in a cooking rut, not to worry—food writer Yasmin Fahr has got you covered.

In her forthcoming cookbook, “Keeping It Simple,” Fahr offers busy home cooks plenty of weeknight-friendly dinner inspiration. In chapters with names like “Faster Than Delivery” and “Look More Impressive Than They Are,” the book features over 60 recipes for one-pot and one-pan meals, most of which come together in 30 minutes or less. They’re full of fresh vegetables and bright, punchy flavors—and time-saving techniques to help make you a better, faster cook.

Here, Fahr dishes on ingredients that do the work for you, why she can’t live without her Microplane zester, and being more efficient and confident in the kitchen.

You’ll also find five quick and easy recipes from her book, to set you up for a week (or more, if you’re smart with your leftovers) of simple but delicious dinners. Get cooking!

Yasmin Fahr kitchen 1_photo credit Andrew Sisk
Yasmin Fahr. (Andrew Sisk)

The Epoch Times: How would you describe your weeknight cooking philosophy?

Yasmin Fahr: I go for feel-good recipes that are vegetable-heavy and easy to make—pretty much the approach of the book.

The Epoch Times: Where do you get your food and cooking inspiration?

Ms. Fahr: Everywhere, really. Sometimes it’s eating at restaurants locally or abroad that makes me think of how to approach a dish differently. I’ll think, “that was delicious, but if I made it at home, I would change this and that.”

I also find that traveling and exploring different cuisines is really helpful to get me out of my cooking habits, which I think we all have—I was recently in Indonesia and came back with a ton of recipe ideas for my next book—and also reading other cookbooks, magazines, etc. For example, I’ll see an ingredient that I haven’t thought about for a while, and that inspires me to create a dish around that.

Even going to friends’ houses for dinner can inspire me, as it exposes me to how other home cooks cook, and I hear their complaints about recipes or life, which is helpful as I’m creating these recipes to make their lives easier.

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Prosciutto-wrapped cod with garlicky spinach. (Patricia Niven)

The Epoch Times: What ingredients are always in your pantry? How about your fridge?

Ms. Fahr: Thank you for asking! It’s been a minor dream of mine for someone to ask me, which is strange, I know.

In the fridge, I always have Bulgarian feta, a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and lots of condiments, like sambal oelek, sriracha, soy sauce, fish sauce, Dijon mustard, Thai curry pastes, and miso. They add depth and flavor to dishes quickly, basically doing the work for you, which I am all about on weeknights.

I really love making dressings out of miso and mustard, so I go through those pretty quickly. I usually have cilantro as well, or another fresh herb, so that I can use it to finish off a dish and add something green. Outside of the fridge, I always have lemons, onions, and garlic handy.

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Weeknight curry. (Patricia Niven)

The Epoch Times: What spice or condiment do you most often reach for, and how do you like to use it?

Ms. Fahr: I use cumin on pretty much everything. I love adding it to guacamole, eggs, and kale, and I sprinkle it on most roasted vegetables, whether sweet potatoes or broccoli, and sometimes even in my tomato sauce. My other go-tos are dried red chili flakes, turmeric, cayenne, and curry powder.

The Epoch Times: What kitchen tool can’t you live without, and why?

Ms. Fahr: My Microplane! It’s such a handy tool for the obvious uses, like zesting lemon or grating cheese, but I love it for grating garlic and call for that a lot in my book. It also works well for ginger and for finishing off desserts or wintery cocktails with chocolate.

The Epoch Times: How does a meal usually come together for you?

Ms. Fahr: I’m not a big planner, which is probably also my approach to life. I usually stick with what’s in season, whether I’m cooking for friends or myself.

For just me, I go with what I’m in the mood for, so I’ll usually pick up ingredients that day or the day before and use them to make a few different meals, maybe by picking up one new thing [for each one]. For example, I might make the Baked Ricotta Chicken Meatballs in the book, and then use leftovers in a soup in the next day by buying some kale or chard to add to it, or putting it on top of rice mixed with spinach so that I can make it a “new-ish” meal.

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Baked ricotta and chicken meatballs. (Patricia Niven)

The Epoch Times: What are some of your favorite game-changing, time-saving weeknight cooking tips?

Ms. Fahr: I think using ingredients like curry pastes, curry powders, fish sauce, and so on helps to add a ton of flavor without a lot of time, which is definitely the focus of the book, especially the “Faster Than Delivery” chapter.

Also, I find it helpful to be efficient in the kitchen. I don’t mean this in a stressful, hurrying way, but more in the “being smart with your time and actions” way. Most recipes in the book include what I call “Efficiency Moves,” and these are tips on how to approach the recipe, like what to start with and what to do during downtime, to minimize time spent in the kitchen and get dinner on the table quickly and easily on busy weeknights.

The Epoch Times: What are some of your best tricks, swaps, or additions to make a dish healthier, without sacrificing flavor?

Ms. Fahr: Spices and herbs are a fantastic way to add interesting flavor profiles without adding extra fat or salt. Curry powder, for example, can be a mix of up to 20 different spices. And using an acid like lemon, lime, or vinegar always helps to lift a dish and can be that essential balancing element that a lot of foods are missing.

It may sound obvious, but using fresh, high-quality, and seasonal ingredients always help. I tend to find that sometimes things out of season are lacking in flavor, and then you need to add a lot of fat and salt to make it taste like something.

The Epoch Times: What makes a dish a winner for you? What weeknight recipes do you find yourself going back to time and time again?

Ms. Fahr: I love recipes that are easy to make, are easy to clean up after, and make me feel good, because they are on the healthy side or simply because I made dinner rather than ordering in. This translates into one-pot meals, sheet-pan dinners, and recipes that are full of vegetables and flavorful ingredients—and often look beautiful, too, because, well, that’s also part of the fun.

There’s a Baked Feta With Greens recipe that I make a lot and change up depending on my mood, sometimes adding broccoli, mushrooms, or lemon rounds. The Fancy Weeknight Mushroom Pasta and the Garlicky Charred Greens With Whole-Wheat Penne are ones I make all the time, too. These are all simple dishes full of good ingredients, and that’s what I crave on weeknights.

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Garlicky charred greens with penne. (Patricia Niven)

The Epoch Times: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Ms. Fahr: With the book, my goal is really to encourage people to get in the kitchen more and take the stress and worry out of it. Cooking can be and is fun, which is why I have little essays on things like “Don’t Let Whole Fish Scare You,” to hopefully empower people to try something new and realize that they can totally do it.

Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

RECIPE: Baked Feta With Greens and Lemon-Tahini Dressing

RECIPE: Weeknight Curry

RECIPE: Garlicky Charred Greens With Whole Wheat Penne

RECIPE: Baked Chicken and Ricotta Meatballs

RECIPE: Prosciutto-Wrapped Cod With Garlicky Spinach

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‘Keeping It Simple: Easy Weeknight One-Pot Recipes” by Yasmin Fahr (Hardie Grant Books, $24.99).