What to cook when you have no food in the house: 5 easy recipes
Whether you haven’t been to the grocery store in ages, or you can’t leave the house because you are quarantined during coronavirus, sometimes you find yourself wondering what to cook for dinner when you have no food in the house. Being without food can be a scary thought, unless you get a little creative with a few pantry staples and your spice cabinet.
What to cook for dinner when you have no food
The good news is that even if you think you don’t have any food in your house, you are probably not without some basics that can easily be turned into deliciousness if you just have a few ideas.
And we aren’t talking about casseroles! These are real, yummy dinners that you would order in a restaurant… with 5 ingredients or less!
Below I outline five simple recipe ideas for putting your empty fridge and pantry to work when you think you don’t have any food – so you can put dinner on the table. I roughly discuss how to make these simple dishes, but of course you may need to improvise based on the ingredients you have.
1. Show Me Your Dumplings
What you need: Flour, filling (meat, veggies, leftovers…anything).
Optional: Soy Sauce mixed with peanut butter for dipping
Dumplings: they sound difficult to make, don’t they? But inside, dumplings are really just a pile of whatever-you-have-in-the-fridge, cooked inside a very easy to make, very forgiving dough. Dumplings are the perfect dinner to cook when you have no food in the house, are unwilling to make the trek to the store, and you are hungry.
You only need flour and water to make dumpling wrappers. This simple dumpling wrapper recipe make a lot of wrappers, make a bunch and freeze what you don’t use so you are ready for next time. Or buy pre-made wrappers in the grocery store (usually you will find it refrigerated, near the tofu).
To fill your dumplings, take a look in the back of your fridge and freezer. Just about anything can be made into a Dumpling filling. Here are some traditional ideas. But you could grind up cooked sausages or hot dogs, or mash up leftovers, mix it with some spices, and fill your dumplings. dumplings can also be vegetarian: fill them with sauerkraut or kimchi, os simply mashed potato. If you are looking to get technical, here is a video about how to make dumpling filling. The only rule is you don’t want it to be too watery, or your wrappers will have a had time holding the filling.
2. [BLANK] and cheese
What you need: Flour, fat-of-choice, milk-of-choice, cheese-of-choice, veggies or pasta.
Optional: Bread crumbs
Mac and cheese is a comfort food staple. But did you know that just bout anything can be made into [fill in the blank] and cheese? It’s true. ll you do is cook up whatever you have: Pasta, vegetables, even throw in some meat if you want , then mix it with a super simple cheesy béchamel sauce and bake in a casserole dish. Bonus point if you sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and finish with 5 minutes in the broiler so they get crispy.
This type of “Mac and Cheese” also tends to be healthier – but just as delicious – if you substitute carbs for veggies, and don’t overdo the cheese! My favorite is this recipe for quick and easy Cauliflower Mac & Cheese. All of the flavor and a fraction of the calories. Plus, it’s ready in about 30 minutes and you don’t need a whole lot to make it: Flour, milk-of-choice, fat-of-choice, cheese-of-choice, and cauliflower (or whatever you want!). A very easy and delicious recipe to whip up when you have no food in the house.
3. Whatever-you-have Chili
What you need: Chili powder, canned or dried beans, can of tomato-something, garlic and onion (powdered or fresh).
Optional: meat or veggies.
Who doesn’t love a heaping bowl of steaming chili? To make a “chili” all you need is some chili powder – some may argue that beans are also not optional. Cook up whatever you have to throw in – ground meat, canned beans, tomatoes, frozen, canned or fresh veggies – add a healthy dose of chili powder (and maybe some other spices such as garlic powder, cumin, cilantro, chipotle, onion powder…), plus some water or broth. Simmer for a bit, and you have some very yummy chili.
While in coronavirus quarantine,I made what I called “Cowboy Chili” – no frills, but insanely delicious. I used a can of diced tomatoes, a can of kidney beans, and a pound of ground beef. Normally I would add veggies to my chili, but my fridge was pretty bare and we weren’t about to run out to the grocery store for ingredients. I also used dried guajillo chilis, chili powder, chipotle powder, cumin, garlic and onions.
My secret to insanely good chili is to use my blender to make a slurry of spices, and simmer the meat/veggies in this mixture, before adding the broth or water. Of course, if you don’t have these things in your pantry you can substitute or skip! Just don’t skip the chili powder.
In a blender, blend up:
- 1-2 dried mild chilis, like New Mexico chilis or Guajillo chilis
- 1-2 spicy chilis like chili arbol (or use 1/2 tsp cayenne)
- 3 cloves garlic, or 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- half an onion (chop the other half to cook with your meat or veggies in the chili) or 1 tsp onion powder
- 2-3 Tbsp chili powder
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 2 Tbsp Cilantro (fresh is best)
- 1/2 tsp chipotle powder or smoked paprika
- about 1 cup broth or water
- 1/4 C. diced tomatoes – add the rest of the canned diced tomatoes in the chili later
Heat oil in a large pot and add your meat or veggie to get a little brown color on them. Add this mixture, and simmer another 10 minutes. Adding more liquid if necessary. After 10 minutes add a can of beans and the rest of your can of diced tomatoes, and enough water or broth to make the chili the right consistency – not too watery! Simmer for another 15 minutes, or until your veggies and meats are fully cooked. That’s it! Quick and yummy chili,
4. Curry your everything
What you need: Lentils, curry powder, rice for serving.
Optional: Meat or veggies, coconut milk, peanut butter, more spices
Curry is a very forgiving dish. I’m going to let you in on a secret: When I had a CSA, I couldn’t cook all the veggies – there were always stragglers that I just didn’t know what to do with it! I simmered them (practically any veggies! But not lettuce..) until soft, added curry spices, and used my immersion blender to make a very healthy veggie curry! This is also a great way to sneak veggies into kids’ mouths. The veggies are completely unrecognizable – and delicious!
As for curry spices, there is the basic “curry powder” that we probably all have in the pantry. This is a good starting point, but I like to dress it up with some other ingredients to add some more depth. I add ginger, chili powder, garlic, onions, cilantro, coriander, cumin… and maybe a scoop of peanut butter, or a can of coconut milk! No need to get fancy, but any combination of these ingredients can really add some extra depth and yumminess.
Recently, I found myself without much in my pantry or fridge – including vegetables. But I did have a bag of frozen peas and a brick of frozen spinach. Plus a little cream cheese. I whipped up this Quarantine Curry recipe and #mindblown – it was SO good. I would be happy if I ordered this in a five-star restaurant.
For an even EASIER curry recipe – grab a bag of lentils. I always have lentils in my pantry, and they are an easy way to make curry when you have no food in your house. Red lentils especially turn to mush when you simmer then for 15 minutes – add a healthy dose of curry powder and a dash of salt and pepper, and optionally blend it up using an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor. Serve the curry over rice. You can also cook some meat or chopped veggies (such as sweet potato, eggplant, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, etc.) on the side and add it to the curry after you blend it to give it more substance. This is the perfect way to transform 3 ingredients into something that passes as “dinner”.
5. Vegetable Soup
What you need: Vegetables, lentils or beans, spices.
Optional: Pasta/rice/barley, and sausage or other meat
How boring right? It might sound boring, but it is always delicious. Vegetable soup can take two forms: Puréed soup, or chunky soup.
First, let’s talk about chunky veggie soup. I like to start with carrots, celery, maybe potato or sweet potato if I have them – plus a little minced garlic and onion. You can also add other veggies if you like. Simmer in a little oil until the onions are clear. Add a can or beans or dried lentils, and a can of diced, crushed tomatoes or tomato-paste-plus-water. Spice it with a little salt and pepper, thyme, oregano, and a bay leaf. If you don’t have these, substitute whatever you like. Add more broth or water to cover your soup – I also like to add some frozen chopped spinach at this point – and simmer until all the veggies are cooked through, usually about 30 minutes.
To make it heartier, you can also add some pasta, barley or rice, and some sausage (chopped or ground up). This soup is simply delicious.
Pureed Veggie Soup may be even easier. It’s as simple as adding whatever veggies you have to a pot and simmer until soft. Add spices and a dash of salt, or some grated cheese. Add liquid if necessary and purée in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender.
My favorite puréed soup is kale and parmesan soup. This is one of the things I like do with wilted kale that is past its prime. Simmer chopped kale in broth with a little salt and pepper and a dash of thyme. Add a little milk at the end and just heat through (don’t boil the milk) – then I add a little grated parmesan cheese, and purée with my immersion blender. Salt and pepper to taste, and you’ll think you are at a fancy restaurant… with only three ingredients: kale, milk, and cheese.
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