Easy, Fast, Healthy: Simple Recipes for Busy People

Coconut Dal, comfort in a cup in under 10 minutes of prep time!

Simple food is highly underrated in today’s instagram-inspired home menu rotations. When you have no time to cook and little energy to think up inspiring recipes, it’s time to put away your stacks of cookbooks, close your zillions of recipe tabs and return to simple comfort foods. But comfort food needn’t be unhealthy or highly processed, and simple recipes don’t translate to boring! In my books, for something to warrant the label of a “simple recipe”, it has to hit a few basic criteria:

  • It has to take less than 10 minutes of prep time.
  • It has to have fewer than 5 ingredients (salt and pepper excluded.)
  • No fancy equipment, skills, or ingredients required.
  • It has to be satisfying on its own or with equally simple accompaniment, i.e. some bread, plain grains, or noodles.
  • Recipes that mostly come out of the pantry get bonus points.

What do I mean by “satisfying” here? Well, it has to be filling enough to be a whole meal, and varied enough to offer some variety of macronutrients, textures and flavours so that you aren’t snacking again an hour after dinner. While freezer French fries and instant ramen are warm and comforting, they don’t satisfy on their own, and they can’t take the place of an actual meal on a regular basis. (Popcorn with nutritional yeast, olive oil and Frank’s hot sauce, however, is a complete meal and that isn’t up for debate. Exceptions to every rule, as they say.)

This Dal has 8 ingredients on a good day, but most days I literally just put cumin, lentils and salt in a pot and cook for 20 minutes before running out the door. Yes, it’s still delicious!

There are a few simple comfort foods I have relied on to keep myself adequately nourished when I had neither the time, inclination, or budget for anything beyond the most basic of recipes. Most of them I made up myself out of necessity and a bunch of trial and error. When I became vegan over 10 years ago, the options for convenience foods were dismal. One of the tricky things about being vegan is you can’t rely on your childhood standbys when it comes to quick meals! No more Campbell’s chunky soup, Chef Boyardee, Lipton’s soup, or even cans of tuna purchased on sale and stashed in the back of the cupboard for emergencies. This may seem like a major loss at first, and many vegan alternatives are now available in stores to take their place. But in trying out these alternatives I quickly realized that the originals were far more delicious in retrospect than reality, and they never felt satisfying enough to be regular additions to my menu. Too little veg, too little protein, not enough fiber, way too much sodium- living out of cans is great when that’s what you have access to. But given a choice, there are alternatives that take just a couple minutes more to prepare, and that often are way cheaper that pre-made foods.

As the school year starts and Summer fades into Autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere, it is wise to keep some ingredients on hand for preparing simple comfort foods. Mid-week walks to the grocery store are less appealing when it’s raining, and smoothies are a less viable option when fresh fruits are scarce. Over the next little while, between my usual fare I am going to be sharing some of my favourite simple vegan recipes. These are intended for everyday meals and busy times, although many of them are totally good enough to serve to a friend on Netflix-and-(actually)-Chill Sunday afternoons. Some of them are so simple as to barely warrant a recipe! But I have refined my techniques over the years to be as easy as possible, so I hope that some of my hard-earned wisdom will help you on your way to being well-nourished even when you’re depressed, sick, stressed and overwhelmed like I often am.

Kimchi might be the backbone of most of my easy meals, but there is good reason for that! Healthy veggies, good for your gut, and perfectly balanced spice, salt and sour- it pulls a lot of weight for just one ingredient that requires no prep at all.

To give you an idea of the kinds of recipes I am talking about, here is a preview of what is to come:

  • Coconut Dal- The simplest dinner, the perfect snack, the cheapest of cheap proteins and a great source of iron, too!
  • Tasty Tofu Snacks- Microwave (or broil) some cubed tofu with a couple choice ingredients and you’re good to go.
  • Jackie Pasta Salad, Jess Style- technically Jackie’s recipe as the name suggests, this one is the outcome of an intense need for something 1) delicious 2) high-calorie, and 3) made entirely out of what you already have in the fridge. Bonus, it only uses one pot and really there’s no need to transfer it to a bowl unless you feel like washing more dishes.
  • Lazy Noods- Single-serving noodles, no pot required. All you need is a kettle, 4 ingredients, and 5 minutes for this savoury meal in a bowl.
  • Pureed Veg Soup- Put your Magic Bullet blender to good use during the cold months and make up some Bok Choy Miso Soup, Lemongrass Carrot Coconut Soup, or some soothing Cauliflower Sweet Potato Soup.
  • Pumpkin Overnight Oats- Start getting your veggies in early in the day, and avoid the hassle of making breakfast in the morning. You can enjoy these cold out of the fridge or warm them up for those cold Autumn mornings. Bonus, you can make enough for up to 5 days in one batch!
  • Kimchi Fried Rice- There are a zillion recipes for this, many of which are long, complicated, and involve 16 ingredients. But really, you only need this one. Pared down to its barest form, fried rice returns to it’s weeknight quick-meal roots, so you can enjoy it more often with less effort.
  • Mexi-Fried Rice- Yes I know, it sounds like a fast-food ready-meal that comes in a pouch, but actually it is the best way to use leftover taco fillings out there.
  • One-Bowl Miso Soup- Because washing dishes is literally the worst, this miso soup is made right in the bowl you eat out of, and it’s perfect for when you’re feeling under the weather.
  • Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos- Yep, filling and delicious tacos in under ten minutes and less than a dollar per serving (three tacos is one serving obvs.)

I am looking forward to writing about the food I actually eat most often, something very few food bloggers do these days with the constant pressure to produce new content every week. Do you have favourite simple recipes that you save for the busiest of days? I am always looking for new ones, so link me to yours if you do!

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