Smart staples can speed up dinner prep without compromising nutrition or flavour.
Star ingredient: Legumes
Beans, chickpeas and lentils are delicious and inexpensive kitchen stars.
Quick Mediterranean bean salad
In a pan, warm canned borlotti or other beans. Remove from heat and add chopped fresh parsley, rocket, tomatoes, capsicum and lemon zest and juice. Stir through drained, canned tuna and a few capers. Drizzle with a little olive oil.
In a bowl, combine mashed canned lentils, egg, fresh breadcrumbs, chopped onion and fresh parsley and thyme, then form to make burger patties. Bake or pan-fry until cooked through. Serve in grainy burger buns with lots of slaw and spicy relish. (V)
Chicken and lentil salad
Bake chicken breasts in the oven for 15 minutes (bash to make thinner before cooking if they’re very big). Meanwhile, steam or microwave asparagus and peas until just tender, then cool. Combine veges with drained canned lentils, chopped fresh herbs (basil and parsley are nice) and a dressing made from lemon juice and olive oil. Top with chicken. Season with black pepper.
Speedy dhal bowl
Spray a pan with oil and set over a medium heat. Cook chopped spring onions, garlic and ginger for 1-2 minutes, or until aromatic. Add drained canned lentils and canned chopped tomatoes with a little curry powder. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add plenty of baby spinach and stir through. Serve with heated microwavable brown rice and garnish with coriander and chilli. (V)
Lamb with white bean mash
In a saucepan, combine cannellini beans and a little reduced-salt stock. Bring to a simmer, then mash or purée with a stick blender. Barbecue or pan-fry lamb cutlets or steaks. Serve with a big salad of spinach, capsicum, tomato, cucumber and olives, dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Star ingredient: Eggs
Eggs are versatile and quick-cooking and make an easy meal base, offering protein, vitamins and minerals
Warm egg and asparagus salad
Spray a pan with oil and set over a medium-high heat. Add chopped spring onions, sliced mushrooms, trimmed green beans and asparagus spears. Stir-fry until tender. In a separate pan, poach or fry eggs. Toast grainy bread and tear into pieces to make croutons. In a small bowl, combine 1 part olive oil to 2 parts lemon juice and a dash of Dijon mustard. Drizzle veges with dressing and serve topped with eggs and croutons. (V)
Tip: Stir in a can of rinsed and drained cannellini beans after the veges are done, and warm through.
In a frying pan, place chopped spring onion and garlic. Add cumin, smoked paprika, a can of tomatoes and a can of lentils. Simmer for 5 minutes, then make space in the pan and break eggs carefully into the mixture. Cover pan and cook another 5-10 minutes. Garnish with yoghurt and fresh herbs and serve with a green leaf salad. (V).
Heat a frying pan over medium. Cook chopped spring onions, garlic, ginger and celery for 1 minute. Add broccoli, baby spinach, curry powder and microwavable brown rice and quinoa. Stir to combine and add a little water. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until water is absorbed. Meanwhile, boil eggs to medium-hard, about 7 minutes. Shred smoked fish into rice mix and gently combine. Serve topped with egg quarters, fresh parsley and black pepper.
Star ingredient: Grains
Roast summer veges with quinoa
Heat the oven to 200°C. On a lined baking tray, place sliced courgettes, capsicums and red onions. Spray with oil and roast for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare quinoa following packet instructions. Toss veges through quinoa and sprinkle with fresh herbs and a little crumbled feta. (V)
Chicken schnitzel with brown rice and chia
Spray a pan with oil and set over a high heat. Add chicken schnitzels and cook for 2 minutes each side, or until just cooked through. Remove from heat and add a squeeze of lemon and a dash of soy sauce to the pan and toss to sizzle. Set aside and keep warm. In the same pan, add a little sesame oil and stir-fry broccolini, asparagus and green beans. Prepare microwavable brown rice and chia following packet instructions. Serve chicken with rice and veges, sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Quick fish curry
Prepare grains of your choice – microwavable brown rice or quinoa, couscous or buckwheat – following packet instructions. Spray a pan with oil and set over a medium heat. Stir-fry chopped spring onion, garlic and ginger for 2 minutes. Add curry paste (Thai red, green or Massaman), a little light coconut milk and canned tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add chunks of firm white fish, such as hoki, and lots of baby spinach or rocket. Simmer for 2 minutes, or until fish is cooked through. Serve with grains and garnish with fresh coriander.
Mexican rice salad with salmon
Heat oven to 200°C. On a lined baking tray, place salmon fillets and bake for 10 minutes, or until just cooked through. Meanwhile, chop capsicum, courgette, cucumber, carrot and coriander into small pieces and place into a bowl with microwavable brown rice and quinoa, or use cooked and cooled buckwheat or bulgar wheat. In a small bowl, combine 1 part oil to 2 parts lemon or lime juice with a little smoked paprika, and stir through salad. Serve salad topped with salmon and a dollop of yoghurt, if desired.
Tofu rice noodles with sesame dressing
Prepare rice noodles following packet instructions, run under cold water, to cool, and drain. Grate or julienne carrot, courgette and cucumber. In a small bowl, combine 3 parts sesame oil, tahini and lime or lemon juice with 1 part mirin and a dash of soy sauce to make dressing. Thin with hot water. Heat a dash of sesame oil in a pan over high and cook tofu. Remove from heat and add a little sweet chilli sauce, tossing to coat. Stir dressing through noodles and vegetables, along with lots of salad leaves. Top with tofu to serve, with lime and chopped chilli, if desired. (V)
Star ingredient Salad leaves
Bagged salad leaves are super convenient and versatile. Add them to these dishes for colour, flavour and texture.
Spring smoked fish salad
Boil small new potatoes until tender. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine thinly sliced fennel bulb and leaves with mixed salad leaves, thawed frozen peas and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Flake in smoked fish and add the cooked potatoes. Serve salad dolloped with ricotta, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with black pepper.
Mexi-chicken salad with avocado dressing
Heat oven to 200°C. On a lined baking dish, sprinkle chicken breast (halve these horizontally prior to cooking if they’re very thick) with ground cumin and smoked paprika. Spray with oil and bake for 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine salad greens, corn kernels, chopped red capsicum, edamame beans and chopped tomatoes. Add fresh chillies if desired. In a small bowl, combine avocado, low-fat plain yoghurt, fresh coriander and lemon or lime juice. Serve salad topped with sliced chicken and drizzled with dressing.
Curried tofu scramble
Heat a frying pan over high and stir-fry chopped spring onion, garlic, courgette, capsicum and tomatoes for 1 minute. Crumble tofu into pan and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin and crushed ginger. Add a little water and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and add salad greens. Serve tofu scramble on grainy toast. (V)
Chicken noodle salad with peanut dressing
Prepare soba noodles following packet instructions and cool by running under cold water. In a bowl, combine sliced spring onion, green beans and carrots with the salad greens. Add noodles and cold, cooked chicken. In a bowl, combine peanut butter, mirin, soy sauce and sriracha. Thin with hot water to a pourable consistency. Add to salad and toss gently to combine. Serve sprinkled with fresh chillies and sesame seeds, if desired.
Star ingredient Slaw
Save yourself the chopping and make use of ready-made slaw packs, they can be so much more than just a side salad.
Aromatic pork laab
In a large frying pan, heat sesame oil over high. Add pork mince, garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes. Add packet slaw and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add a dash of sweet chilli sauce and soy sauce. Serve laab with prepared microwavable brown rice or noodles. Garnish with lime or lemon juice and fresh coriander and basil.
- Quick crumbed chicken with barbecue mayoCook frozen crumbed chicken following packet instructions. When cooked, slice into 2cm pieces. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine 1 part barbecue sauce, 1 part mayonnaise and 2 parts low-fat plain yoghurt and set aside. Spray a frying pan with oil, set over a medium heat and cook chopped garlic, ginger and spring onion. Add packet slaw and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, until tender but still crunchy. Prepare microwavable brown rice following packet instructions. Serve chicken on rice with barbecue mayo over the top and veges on the side.
- Creamy chicken slaw
Poach or bake chicken breast for 15 minutes, or until cooked through (halve these horizontally prior to cooking if they’re very thick). Pull apart when rested. In a small bowl, combine 2 parts low-fat plain yoghurt with 1 part lemon juice, a dash of mustard and black pepper. In a bowl, toss chicken, baby spinach and toasted pumpkin seeds through slaw. Drizzle dressing over and serve with toasted sourdough bread.
5 easy hacks for quick cooking
- Cooking pasta, rice, quinoa or other grains? Use just-boiled water from the kettle for quicker cooking.
- Vegetables and meat will cook more quickly when in small pieces. Slice meat thinly and slice or chop veges finely, or use a peeler to get super thin ribbons.
- Use your oven to quickly roast salmon or chicken for use in other dishes. A salmon fillet or a small chicken breast will take 15 minutes or less to cook at 200°C. You can chop or shred for use in salads, wraps and other dishes.
- Cook extra veges when you’re roasting and store in the fridge for easy additions to salads, frittatas and omelettes. Do the same with boiled potatoes for potato salad.
- Avoid chopping onion or garlic by using spring onions or chives (taking seconds to chop) and garlic infused oil (adding garlic flavour without the faff).
10 ingredients to make meals in minutes
Keep these in your pantry, fridge and freezer for super-quick meals any time:
• canned beans, chickpeas and lentils (no-added-salt or spring water varieties)
• microwavable rice and grains
• ready-made slaw
• canned tomatoes (no-added-salt varieties)
• spring onions
• canned fish
• chicken tenderloins
• schnitzel-cut meat
• frozen peas, corn and edamame beans
(V) = Vegetarian
For all cans of tomatoes and legumes, use no-added-salt varieties. Also, use reduced-salt soy sauce and stocks.
Star ingredient Legumes