These streamlined, smart recipes are perfect for a weeknight

A few key ingredients and clever twists deliver maximum flavour in minimum time, says Emily Weinstein

Thursday 17 March 2022 14:54
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<p>Spicy peanut and pumpkin soup: a promise of warmth on those cool autumn nights </p>

Spicy peanut and pumpkin soup: a promise of warmth on those cool autumn nights

There is good weeknight cooking, and then there is great weeknight cooking: streamlined and smart, leveraging a few magic ingredients and a great technique to produce maximal flavour in minimal time.

We have Kay Chun’s hand rolls, for which she takes inspiration from the sweet sauce that is typically used to glaze eel in Japanese cooking, and makes her own version to glaze salmon. There is also Yewande Komolafe’s quick peanut and pumpkin soup, inspired by the long-simmered stews found in cuisines across west Africa. I could go on.

Braised chicken with tomatoes, cumin and feta

Add chicken and cumin for a twist on shakshuka

By: Yasmin Fahr

Pleasantly reminiscent of shakshuka, this one-pot dinner has a similar spiced tomato sauce, but uses crispy skinned, cumin-laced chicken thighs instead of eggs. The harissa-spiked sauce is best spooned over an herbed rice or enjoyed with crusty bread to scoop up the melty feta. Roasted vegetables like kale or broccolini would round out the meal nicely. Harissa tends to differ in heat level from brand to brand, so adjust the heat accordingly.

Serves: 4

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

1kg bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 6 thighs)

Salt and black pepper

2 tsp plus 1 tbsp ground cumin

3 tbsp olive oil

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (about 550g)

3 large garlic cloves, minced or grated

1 to 2 tbsp harissa paste

1 (790g) can crushed tomatoes

75g crumbled feta

Roughly chopped coriander or flat-leaf parsley leaves and fine stems

Crusty bread or herbed rice, for serving

Method:

1. Pat the chicken dry, trim away excess fat, then season well all over with salt, pepper and 2 teaspoons cumin.

2. Heat the oil in a large casserole dish or heavy 30cm frying pan over medium until shimmering. Add the chicken thighs, skin-side down. (It’s OK if they are a little snug; they will shrink as they cook.) Cook without moving until the skin is crispy and easily releases from the pan, about 8 to 10 minutes. Use tongs to turn over and cook until the bottom is lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes more, then transfer to a plate.

3. Add the onions to the rendered chicken fat in the pan, season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon cumin and the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the harissa and let cook for about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, and season with salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over high, then adjust the temperature to maintain an active simmer. Cook until it becomes a deeper red colour, about 5 minutes more.

4. Add any juices that collected on the plate, stir to mix, then nestle in the chicken thighs, skin-side up, so that the skin is above the sauce. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, then partly cover and cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through, 15 to 18 minutes. (If you’d like crispier skin, pop the chicken under the broiler for a minute or two.)

5. Garnish with the feta and coriander and serve with bread or herbed rice.

Soy-glazed salmon hand rolls

A simple sauce is enhanced in this recipe

By: Kay Chun

Unagi sauce is a sweet, thickened soy sauce traditionally used on grilled eel. Here, the simple sauce of soy sauce, sugar and mirin is enhanced with the addition of aromatic garlic and ginger, transforming it into a savoury glaze for buttery salmon. Once the salmon is roasted and lacquered in the sauce, it becomes the perfect filling for customisable hand rolls. A perfect roll is assembled with the flaked salmon and some creamy avocado and crisp cucumbers for bites that are rich, fresh and crunchy all at once. Including cooked short-grain rice in the filling is traditional, but these rolls would be a great place to use other leftover grains like farro or quinoa.

Serves: 4

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

3 tbsp neutral oil, such as safflower or canola

½ tsp minced garlic

80ml low-sodium soy sauce

80ml mirin

3 tbsp granulated sugar

¼ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp salt, plus more for seasoning

½ tsp peeled grated ginger

1 (600g) skinless salmon fillet (preferably centre-cut)

Toasted seaweed sheets, quartered

Cooked short-grain rice and wasabi paste (optional), for serving

3 Persian cucumbers, halved crosswise and cut lengthwise into thin spears

1 to 2 avocados, pitted and thinly sliced

Method:

1. Heat oven to 220C. In a small saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium. Stir in garlic until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add soy sauce, mirin, sugar, black pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced by about a third and has thickened slightly, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in ginger and remove from heat. You should have about ½ cup sauce; reserve half of the sauce in a small bowl for serving and set aside.

2. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil. Place salmon on the prepared tray, rub with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt. Coat the salmon on both sides with the other half of the sauce.

3. Roast salmon for 5 minutes, then baste with the sauce that’s dripped onto the baking tray. Continue to roast until salmon is just cooked to medium, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer salmon to a large plate.

4. Flake salmon into bite-size pieces and drizzle with the reserved sauce. To build hand rolls, top seaweed with some rice (if using), cucumbers, avocado and salmon. Wrap and enjoy. Serve with optional wasabi on the side, and dab a little onto the salmon for a spicy hit.

Penne with roasted cherry tomatoes

An easy recipe that calls for just five ingredients

Recipe from: Paola di Mauro

Adapted by: Amanda Hesser

This exquisitely simple recipe came from article about Paola di Mauro, an Italian winemaker in Marina, a small town southeast of Rome. She was one of a band of cooks who helped distinguish “cucina casalinga”, roughly translated as “housewives' cooking”. From her humble kitchen, Di Mauro mentored some of the best Italian chefs and restaurateurs in the United States, including Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, Piero Selvaggio and Tony May. Her recipe is easy and calls for just five ingredients – cherry tomatoes, olive oil, pecorino romano and penne pasta – but get your hands on the best ingredients you can afford. Di Mauro intended this to serve four as a first course, but if you’re making this for dinner, double the recipe.

Serves: 2 to 4

Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

450g small cherry tomatoes, halved

80ml extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 to 3 tbsp for tossing

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

20g freshly grated pecorino romano, more for serving

30g breadcrumbs

450g penne

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 220C. Line bottom of casserole dish with cherry tomatoes in a single layer, halved side up. Pour oil on top, season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle cheese and breadcrumbs on top. Bake until tomatoes have wilted, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with enough sea salt so that water tastes mildly of salt. When tomatoes are just about done, add penne to water and cook until al dente (it should be pliable, but still firm in centre). Scoop out about a cup of pasta water and reserve. Drain pasta and add to casserole. Fold tomatoes and pasta together, adding another 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning. If it is dry, add a little reserved pasta water. Serve, passing more grated cheese at the table.

Spicy peanut and pumpkin soup

This soup is an adaptation of a long-simmered stew from west Africa

By: Yewande Komolafe

This recipe is a promise of warmth on those cool autumn nights. Habanero chillies and peanuts both feature heavily in Nigerian cuisine, and this soup is an adaptation of a long-simmered stew common to much of west Africa. Don’t be afraid of a chilli with seeds: the fragrant oils from these peppers are worth every bite. The peanut butter and coconut milk mellow the warmth of the chilli to a gentle, lingering heat, but you can also take the chilli out before the soup is pureed. An optional spoon of honey to the soup will round out the flavours, and a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt will further temper the heat. Serve with a baguette or sourdough bread for dipping.

Serves: 4

Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and diced (about 30g)

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 (3cm) piece ginger, peeled and chopped

½ habanero or bird’s eye chilli

1 (400g) can pumpkin puree

700ml water or chicken or vegetable stock

1 (370g) tin coconut milk

1 tbsp agave or honey (optional)

60g unsweetened natural peanut butter

Salt

2 tbsp sliced fresh chives

60g creme fraiche or yogurt (optional)

Method:

1. In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring frequently until softened and just beginning to brown around the edges, about 4 minutes. Stir in the chilli and pumpkin puree, and whisk in the water or stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer on low, giving an occasional stir, for 20 minutes or until slightly reduced and thickened. Remove the chilli after the soup simmers if you don’t care for much spice.

2. Add coconut milk, agave or honey (if using), and peanut butter to the pot. Using an immersion blender or working in batches in a standing blender, puree the soup until smooth. Season with salt and keep warm over low heat. Do not bring soup up to a simmer or boil at this point. (This reduces the risk of the oils in the peanut butter separating and breaking the soup's smooth texture.)

3. Divide soup between bowls, sprinkle with the chives and a dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt, or a drizzle of olive oil to make it vegan. Serve with a warm crusty baguette or chunks of warm sourdough for dipping.

© The New York Times

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