Five Weeknight Dishes: Simple recipes that are short on budget, big on flavor

By Krysten Chambrot, The New York Times

Affordable meals don’t have to come at the expense of deliciousness. These five dishes feel rich, fresh and sustaining but won’t break the bank.

1. Shrimp Fried Rice

Inspired by the fire-kissed flavor of Japanese steakhouse and hibachi fare, especially at the Kani House restaurants in Georgia, this quick fried rice dish is a veritable comfort. Frying the shrimp first in oil, just until they’re cooked, and reserving them to add back at the end means they stay tender. Plus, you’re left with the most aromatic shrimp oil in which to fry the rice and vegetables. The shortcut of bagged frozen mixed vegetables comes in handy here, not least because they need only to be thawed by the skillet’s high heat. The yum yum sauce, a mayo-ketchup dipping sauce that is ordinarily reserved for grilled hibachi meats, tastes fabulous splattered over the finished rice — not unlike how artist Jackson Pollock flung paint on canvas.

By Eric Kim

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 30 minutes


  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, thawed if frozen
  • Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (any mix of carrots, peas, corn and green beans)
  • 6 cups cooked jasmine or other long-grain white rice, preferably cold and day-old
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • Yum Yum Sauce, for serving


1. Heat a very large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over high. Add the olive oil and shrimp and sprinkle with salt and the garlic powder. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp is no longer translucent and begins to turn golden at the edges, 2 to 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a plate and set aside.

2. Add the onion and mixed vegetables to the shrimpy oil and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the onion loses its raw edge but is still crunchy and the vegetables are mostly thawed, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the rice and soy sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, until well combined and the rice begins to crisp underneath where it meets the pan, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more soy sauce as needed.

3. Scooch the rice to one side of the pan, lower the heat to medium, and melt the butter on the empty side of the pan. Crack the eggs into the melted butter, break the yolks, and stir vigorously to scramble the eggs, cooking just until they have set but are still tender, about 1 minute. Stir the soft scrambled eggs into the rice, add the reserved shrimp and any accumulated juices, then remove the pan from the heat.

4. Let the fried rice sit for a few minutes so that it can continue to crisp in the pan’s residual heat. (If you haven’t already made the yum yum sauce, this is the perfect time to do it.)

5. Drizzle most of the yum yum sauce over the fried rice in the skillet, leaving some back, if desired, to serve in a small dish on the side for dipping the shrimp.

2. Basil-Butter Pasta

This pasta captures the essence of basil, without pesto’s garlic, nuts and salty cheese tussling for attention. It smells like a sun-warmed basil plant, one of summer’s greatest moments. To make it, simply blanch basil leaves to lock in their color, then blitz them with butter. As the bright-green basil butter melts onto hot pasta, it carries the sweet pepperiness (and the smell, too!) of the herb into every nook and cranny.

By Ali Slagle

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 40 minutes


  • Salt
  • 3 cups packed basil leaves (about 80 grams, from 2 large bunches)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced, at room temperature
  • 1 pound of any pasta, any type


1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Place the basil in a heatproof colander. Once the water is boiling, submerge the colander with the basil into the pot and use a spoon to push the leaves into the water. Blanch for 10 seconds, then immediately rinse the leaves under cold water to stop the cooking. Squeeze them dry with your hands. Reserve the boiling water.

2. Transfer the basil to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the butter and process, scraping the sides of the food processor as needed, until very smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use. (Basil butter will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for several months.)

3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until tender. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Return the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the pot, then add the basil butter and toss to coat. (Doesn’t it smell incredible?) If the pasta is dry instead of silky and glossy, add more pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt.

3. Kimchi Chicken Lettuce Wraps

For the fastest path to deliciousness, select ingredients that punch above their weight. This weeknight recipe leans on just five primary ingredients — ground chicken, lettuce and rice form the foundation; kimchi adds depth; and hoisin lends sweetness — for a fresh spread that cooks in just 15 minutes. Bracing and assertive, kimchi doesn’t slip into this dish; it dominates. Although each jar of kimchi is unique, its salty, spicy and tangy notes reign. You’ll cook off a portion of the chopped fermented cabbage with the chicken, taming its taste and texture, then use the remainder as a garnish. To offset kimchi’s assertiveness, the chicken is glazed with hoisin sauce, which adds sweetness, color and glossiness. Set the chicken mixture, kimchi, lettuce and rice in separate bowls for tableside assembly — less work for the cook; more fun for the guests.

By Alexa Weibel

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 25 minutes


  • 1 1/2 tightly packed cups store-bought or homemade kimchi (about 10 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground chicken (preferably dark meat)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce, plus more for serving
  • Lettuce leaves (preferably 2 heads bibb lettuce or 1 large head red-leaf lettuce)
  • 3 to 4 cups warm cooked short-grain rice


1. Finely chop the kimchi (or pulse in a food processor); transfer about two-thirds to a small serving bowl, reserving the remainder for the chicken.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook, crumbling it occasionally with a spoon, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the hoisin sauce and then the reserved kimchi, and stir occasionally until chicken is glossy and cooked through, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Add the chicken mixture, lettuce leaves and rice to separate serving bowls. Assemble lettuce wraps by first adding a spoonful of rice, then chicken mixture and then kimchi; devour swiftly. Serve with more hoisin, if desired, for extra sweetness.

4. Roasted Broccoli and Potato Tacos

These weeknight tacos are packed with nutrient-dense broccoli and comforting potatoes for a satisfying meal that comes together in just 45 minutes. The secret to its flavor lies in roasting the vegetables over high heat without stirring, which allows their edges to become smoked and crisp. Creamy egg yolks and deep, smoky paprika meld here to create a rich sauce. If you’re short on time, you can roast the vegetables ahead of time and rewarm them, or even serve them at room temperature. Corn tortillas are used here, but flour tortillas can also be used. And feel free to customize them as you like, using all the suggested toppings or just some.

By Kay Chun

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 45 minutes


  • 1 pound large broccoli florets (about 8 cups)
  • 1 pound fingerling or baby white potatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick (about 4 cups)
  • 1 bunch scallions (8 ounces), cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 avocados, cut into wedges
  • Salsa, sour cream, cilantro sprigs and lime wedges, for serving


1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, combine broccoli, potatoes, scallions and garlic with the paprika and 6 tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper, toss to coat, then spread in an even layer. Roast, undisturbed, until tender and charred in spots, 30 minutes.

2. Stack tortillas and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Five minutes before the vegetables are done, transfer foil-wrapped tortillas to the oven to warm up.

3. Just before serving, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a 12-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillet. Crack in four eggs and fry until whites are set and yolks are still runny, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. Repeat with remaining oil and eggs.

4. Divide vegetable filling and avocado among the tortillas and top each with an egg. Spoon over some salsa and sour cream and garnish with cilantro sprigs. Fold over tortillas to form tacos or enjoy with forks and knives. Serve with lime wedges.

5. Eggplant Dal

This hearty meal takes flavor inspiration from Indian masoor dal, spiced and creamy red lentils. Here, eggplant pairs with the fragrant spices of dal and brings a silky texture to the final dish. Cumin seeds, coriander, garlic, ginger and fresh chiles are bloomed in ghee to release their fragrant aromas as they toast before they’re simmered with lentils and eggplant to form a rich, perfumed stew.

By Kay Chun

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 40 minutes


  • 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as safflower or canola
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 large eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 red or green serrano chile, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 medium tomato, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • Chopped cilantro and basmati rice or naan, for serving


1. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium. Add onion and eggplant, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is softened and starting to break down, about 8 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons water and stir up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Cook until all of the water is absorbed, then transfer eggplant mixture to a bowl.

2. Melt ghee in the pot over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, chile, cumin seeds and coriander, and stir constantly until fragrant (be careful not to burn), about 30 seconds. Add tomato and cook, stirring occasionally, until completely broken down and lightly caramelized, about 8 minutes. Stir in eggplant mixture.

3. Add lentils and 3 cups water to the pot, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until lentils are tender and mixture is thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Divide dal among bowls and garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice or naan.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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