A Primer For No-Hassle Dinners At Home

Easy dinners depend on three things: a few fresh ingredients, a well-stocked pantry, and a weekly dinner plan. Buy fresh vegetables once a week; tomatoes, greens, or carrots add flavor and eye appeal. You will need to purchase pantry items less frequently (every six months or so). Ingredients from the pantry mingle well with fresh vegetables, beans, and grains. For example, raspberry vinegar, a touch of mustard blended with agave nectar, or the perfect herb or spice blend can make dinner a breeze. Before you start, make a list of a variety of shelf-stable goods. Then, fill your pantry with staples.


  • Depend on everyday beans, such as black, red, pinto, or garbanzo beans, and count on quick-cooking grains, like quinoa, millet, and couscous. These are great foundations for easy dinners.

    When purchasing, don't buy more grains than you can eat in six months, and don't purchase more dry beans than you can eat in one year. (Adults who eat beans frequently can consume approximately a pound and a half of dried beans a month.) After a year on the shelf, beans become brittle and difficult to digest. Slow cook dried beans for a long time or pressure cook for better digestibility.

    Store beans and whole grains in tightly closed glass containers. For longer storage, keep grains in the freezer.

  • Purchase a variety of vinegars, such as raspberry, balsamic, rice, and apple cider. Also, get a few sauces, such as enchilada and pasta, and a variety of canned tomatoes (sauce, paste, diced, and whole).
  • Stock up on nut butters, which can become the basis for sauces, spreads, and salad dressings or additions to soups.
  • When you have some extra time, chop onions, shallots, and peppers. Then, label and freeze them for later use.


  • Make a list of possible dinners for one week. Consider using leftover dishes or ingredients from one dinner for another the next night. Cook additional beans or grains, or cut more vegetables to save time another night. Peruse this sample list for one week:
    • Baked or simmered beans with caramelized onions and a raw vegetable salad
    • Beans and steamed vegetables in a tortilla wrap
    • Quick-cooking grains with sautéed vegetables
    • Whole grain-and-canned bean salad with a green salad or steamed cabbage
    • 'Pizza Fridays,' a gathering of vegetables and beans for topping individual pizzas
    • Chili, cornbread, and a kale salad
    • Baked chili potatoes, steamed carrots, and a kale salad
  • Think variety.
    • Try theme nights, like 'Taco Tuesdays,' when everyone adds their own toppings or fillings.
    • If you have beans one night, try sandwiches or Asian noodles the next. Just remember to save food from one night to the next.
    • Remember to use leftovers promptly. The longer food is stored in the refrigerator, the less likely it will be used.
  • Learn to master cooking with just a few herbs and spices - oregano, basil, and a curry blend, for example. Who really needs more than the basics at home? I keep 10 of the most commonly used herbs and spices and buy these on a yearly basis since they lose strength and flavor over time.


  • Pair just a few good-quality ingredients together. For instance, try lightly sautéed kale and crispy shallots with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, or simmer black-eyed peas and caramelized onions in enchilada sauce.
  • Don't think about adding herbs and spices to everything. Often, just a squeeze of lemon and some freshly ground pepper is all a dish needs.


(Serves 6)

*Pictured on the cover. This recipe was inspired by Molly Wizenberg's food memoir, A Homemade Life. Butternut squash tends to be large in size. If you have any squash left over, enjoy it as a side dish later in the week or use it for pumpkin bread.

  • 1 small butternut squash (approximately 2 cups cooked)
  • 1 sweet-tart apple of your choice
  • ¾ cup apple cider
  • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 Tablespoons almond or hazelnut butter
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Homemade croutons or freshly grated vegan dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds, and bake for 45 minutes or until soft. When the squash is tender, remove from oven and allow to cool.

While the squash cools, core and roughly chop the apple. Place the apples, cider, broth, bay leaf, and vanilla in a medium-sized saucepan. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the apples are very tender. Remove bay leaf.

Remove skin from squash. Purée the squash, apple mixture, and nut butter together. Add the mixture, water, salt, and pepper to a saucepan, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Top with homemade croutons, or try this soup with grated vegan dark chocolate as a garnish.

Total calories per serving: 93 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 16 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 52 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram



  • Beans (any four varieties)
  • Quick-cooking grains
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Pizza crusts
  • Tortillas, taco shells
  • Peanut and other nut butters (optional)


  • Corn
  • Onions/shallots
  • Garlic


  • Agar (for gelling)
  • Kombu (for tenderizing dried beans)


  • Lemons


  • Flour, such as unbleached, whole wheat pastry, and whole wheat
  • Or gluten-free flours, such as rice, buckwheat, and millet
  • Yeast
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Sea salt
  • Cornstarch or arrowroot
  • Vanilla
  • Dark chocolate
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Molasses
  • Vegan sugar


  • Vegan mayonnaise
  • Ketchup
  • Salsa
  • Pickles
  • Olives
  • Tamari
  • Vinegar


  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Commonly used herbs and
    spices, such as garlic, basil,
    oregano, sage, curry blends, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, chili powder, cumin,
    and cayenne


(Serves 6)

I came up with this intriguing kale and- avocado salad idea after eating a similar one in a natural foods store deli. I liked it so much that I created my own version.

Here, the avocado complements the sweet pears while taming the kale's somewhat bitter tones. The lemon keeps the avocadoes and pears from turning dark. It is best to get organic lemons because the zest (the outer peel) is used in this recipe.

Make sure to soak the avocadoes and the pears in the dressing before adding them to the kale. If you don't have a pear, try an apple, which works just as well.

Leftovers of this salad can be used in a wrap or added to grain salads like Warm Quinoa and Corn Salad.

  • 2 organic lemons, juice and zest
  • 2-3 teaspoons agave nectar
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, pressed
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large avocado, peeled and diced
  • 1 Bosc pear, stem and seeds removed and flesh diced
  • 1 bunch kale, rinsed, tough stems removed, and sliced into ribbons

Zest and juice the lemons. Strain the seeds.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, blend juice with 1 Tablespoon zest, agave nectar, garlic, cayenne, and sea salt. Whisk in olive oil. Add avocadoes and pears. Stir gently.

Place the kale in a large serving bowl. Gently blend in avocado-pear mixture.

Note: This salad is better if you allow it to marinate for an hour before serving.

Total calories per serving: 155 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 56 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams


(Serves 5)

This filling, one-dish salad is quick and easy to make. High in protein and complex carbohydrates, quinoa makes this salad a substantial meal by itself.

If you want this salad to feed more people, drain a can of red beans, rinse them thoroughly, and then add them on top of the quinoa during the last 5 minutes of cooking. When the quinoa is done, mix in the beans.

I like to combine this recipe with roasted vegetables and stuff it into prepared taco shells. Then, I top it with shredded lettuce and tomatoes.


  • 1¾ cups water
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • One 15-ounce can corn, drained and rinsed

Bring water to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat, add the quinoa and corn, bring to a second boil, and then reduce heat again. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes or until grains have absorbed all of the water. While the quinoa and corn cook, prepare the dressing.


  • 4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • ¼-½ teaspoon cayenne (optional)

In a small bowl, combine vinegar, oil, and garlic. Add cayenne, if desired.


  • ¼ cup sliced scallions
  • ½ cup finely chopped curly parsley or peppercress
  • ¼ cup lightly toasted walnuts (optional)

When quinoa is done, transfer to a medium-sized serving bowl. Blend the dressing, scallions, and parsley into the quinoa. Top each serving with some walnuts. Serve with a steamed vegetable side dish.

Total calories per serving: 260 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 43 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 197 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

  • Wheat bread
  • Buns, rolls
  • English muffins
  • Sourdough


  • Hummus
  • Black bean spread
  • Cold tofu slices


  • Mustard or vinegar
  • Pickles or relish
  • Salsa or hot sauce
  • Vegan mayonnaise
  • Sliced beets
  • Sliced turnips
  • Sliced rutabagas
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce, sprouts
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini


(Makes 8-12 tacos)

For these tacos, I add lettuce, tomatoes, and other salad ingredients so the entire dinner is in the taco shell.

This recipe calls for Warm Quinoa and Corn Salad (above). If you don't have any on hand, cook ½ cup quinoa with ½ cup frozen corn in ¾ cup water for 15 minutes.

  • 1 large sweet potato or yam, washed and diced
  • 1 medium potato, washed and diced
  • 1 onion, peeled, outer skin removed, and diced
  • 1 ½ cups sliced carrots (½-inch slices)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups Warm Quinoa and Corn Salad
  • 1 ½ cups shredded lettuce
  • 1 or 2 chopped medium-sized tomatoes
  • Salsa
  • 1 package prepared vegan taco shells

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place potatoes, onions, and carrots in a large baking dish. Drizzle olive oil over vegetables and place in the oven. Roast vegetables, stirring occasionally, for approximately 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

While the vegetables roast, assemble the remaining ingredients. Microwave the Quinoa and Corn Salad for a few minutes or until warmed. Layer the quinoa and corn, roasted vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa in taco shells.

Total calories per taco: 189 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 31 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 313 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams


(Serves 4)

As the beans in this recipe cook, they absorb the flavors of the sauce. (Canned beans don't absorb flavors as well.) Slow cooking the beans gives the best results for this recipe.

If you add a diced potato and/ or drained canned corn, this tasty main dish serves six to eight.

  • 1 ¼ cups dry red beans, pintos, or blackeyed peas, soaked overnight
  • One 16-ounce can enchilada sauce
  • 16 ounces water
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Water as necessary
  • ½ cup broken tortilla chips (optional)


Drain and rinse the soaked beans. Place them in a large pot and add the enchilada sauce and water. Allow to cook for 8 hours.

When the cooking is almost done, sauté the onions in oil over medium-high heat. Stir frequently until browned but not burned. If the onions begin to stick, add some water. Caramelizing takes approximately 15 minutes. Add the onions to the beans and stir to combine.


Drain and rinse the soaked beans. Place them in a large pot and add the enchilada sauce and water.

Sauté the onions in oil over medium-high heat. Stir frequently until browned but not burned. If the onions begin to stick, add some water. Caramelizing takes approximately 15 minutes.

Add the onions to the beans and simmer for approximately an hour until the beans are tender and the sauce is reduced.


Garnish beans with broken tortilla chips, if desired. Serve with mixed salad greens.

Total calories per serving: 296 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 47 grams Protein: 15 grams
Sodium: 301 milligrams Fiber: 10 grams


(Makes ¾ cup or six 2-Tablespoon servings)

Made with pantry staples, this sauce easily dresses up beans, grains, or Asian noodles. You can also use it in place of nut butters on bread or as a base for homemade hummus. Add a little fresh ginger for pizzazz.

  • ½ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1-2 Tablespoons low-salt soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
  • Cayenne to taste

In a small bowl, blend all of the ingredients together.

Note: This recipe keeps for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

Total calories per serving: 131 Fat: 11 grams
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 123 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams


(Serves 6)

As a kid, I liked Sloppy Joes so much that, one year, I requested them for my birthday dinner.

As I got older, I experimented with tempeh in my old favorite sandwich. One day, I tried pasta sauce instead of the usual chili flavor, and the result was amazing. Italian Sloppy Joes are now one of my favorite hot sandwiches.

  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces tempeh, crumbled
  • Water as necessary
  • One 15-ounce jar pasta or pizza sauce
  • 3 whole grain burger buns

Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, stir, and dry-fry until they lose their moisture. Continue stirring until mushrooms are browned.

Remove mushrooms from the pan, add olive oil, and then add the onions. Stir and sauté onions until they become translucent. Add garlic, pepper flakes, and tempeh. Stir and cook until the tempeh browns, adding a little water if necessary. Add sauce and mushrooms and cook until heated.

While the tempeh cooks, toast the buns in a lightly oiled nonstick skillet. Serve half buns with the hot Sloppy Joe mixture on top.

Total calories per serving: 229 Fat: 12 grams
Carbohydrates: 19 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 344 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams


(Serves 2)

Stuffed baked potatoes can make dinner fun! This tasty recipe calls for mushrooms and red peppers. However, the magic of stuffed baked potatoes is the countless ways you can personalize them. You can substitute other vegetables and sauces or salsas easily. Also, you can stop at a deli and pick up some interesting stuffing options, such as roasted garlic, hummus, or baked beans.

  • 2 Russet potatoes, scrubbed well
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 cup diced red peppers
  • 2 Lightlife Fakin' Bacon (tempeh strips), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ cup pizza sauce
  • 1-2 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Poke each potato with a fork and bake until tender, approximately 45 minutes.

While the potatoes bake, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add peppers, tempeh strips, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for 10-15 minutes or until the tempeh strips are browned and the peppers and the mushrooms are tender. Sprinkle with garlic powder and stir in sauce.

When the potatoes are tender, remove them from the oven. Cut down the middle of each potato, scoop out the flesh, and place the flesh in a mixing bowl. Mash the potato flesh with margarine. Then, gently blend the vegetables and tempeh strips into the flesh and place back into the potato skins. Return the potatoes to the oven for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Total calories per serving: 430 Fat: 22 grams
Carbohydrates: 53 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 471 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams


(Makes approximately 1/3 cup or 5 Tablespoons, enough for 4 cups vegetables)

This sauce combines the tang of mustard with sweet agave nectar to add zing to steamed vegetables like cabbage or carrots. Feel free to add other herbs and spices, depending on the dish you're serving.

  • 1 Tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Pinch dehydrated garlic (powder or flakes)

In a small bowl, blend all of the ingredients together.

Variations: Add 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, a pinch of tarragon or rosemary, or horseradish to taste.

Total calories per Tablespoon: 28 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 3 grams Protein: <1 gram
Sodium: 384 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram