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Simple, light dinner recipes to make things easy

There are some people who collapse on the couch after Thanksgiving or a roast dinner and don’t get up for hours or even days. And then there are the people who treat the whole weekend as a cooking and baking marathon, using up leftovers and pivoting right into cookie baking.

We’ve got recipes for both camps below: utterly simple and light dinners to make things easy, as well as a leftovers recipe that’s a little more complex than putting it all in the microwave, for the enthusiastic cooks. We’ve got a festive Hanukkah moment, too.

One-pan feta pasta with cherry tomatoes

In 2018, Finnish blogger Jenni Hayrinen posted a recipe for baked feta pasta. The dish became a full-on TikTok sensation, popular to the point that supermarkets were selling out of feta. This version streamlines her recipe. Instead of cooking the pasta separately, it’s added to the casserole dish with the baked feta and tomatoes, turning it into a cozy one-pan meal (also note that you’ll need an electric kettle to boil the water. So maybe it’s more like a one-and-a-half-pan meal.) Don’t think of this as a pasta dish in an Italian, al dente sense. It’s more like a creamy casserole along the lines of mac and cheese. In any case, it’s comforting and supremely easy.

Recipe from: Jenni Hayrinen

Adapted by: Melissa Clark

Serves: 4 servings

Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

550g cherry tomatoes

5 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

5 thyme sprigs

2 rosemary sprigs

1½ tsp salt

120ml (½ cup) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

225g (8oz) feta

½ tsp black pepper, plus more for serving

Pinch of red-pepper flakes

340g (12oz) short pasta, such as farfalle, campanelle, rotini or cavatappi

700ml (3 cups) boiling water

Handful torn basil leaves

Flaky sea salt, for serving

Method:

1. Heat oven to 200C. In a shallow 1.9L casserole or gratin dish, or an 27cm-by-17cm baking dish, combine tomatoes, garlic, thyme, rosemary and ¾ teaspoon salt. Toss with ½ the olive oil to coat. Place the feta in the middle of the dish, and top with the remaining ½ of olive oil. Sprinkle the black pepper and red-pepper flakes over everything. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the garlic has softened and the tomatoes have burst their skins.

2. Add the pasta to the pan in an even layer and sprinkle with remaining ¾ teaspoon salt. Pour the boiling water on top. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, carefully submerge pasta. Cover tightly with foil and bake until pasta is al dente, 17 to 19 minutes. Remove from oven and let the pasta stand, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes to absorb the excess liquid.

3. Stir in basil until everything is well incorporated, and the tomatoes and cheese create a creamy sauce. When serving, top with more black pepper, oil and flaky sea salt.

Ginger-dill salmon

This dish has a refreshing mix of juicy, crunchy, creamy, spicy and sweet

Salmon, gently roasted to a buttery medium-rare, stars in this make-ahead-friendly dish. Fruity citrus and dill join spicy radishes and ginger, and the result is a refreshing, jostling mix of juicy, crunchy, creamy, spicy and sweet. Both the salad and the salmon can be made two days ahead, and everything is good at room temperature or cold. To embellish further, consider baby greens, thinly sliced cucumbers or fennel, roasted beets, soba, tostadas, furikake or chilli oil.

By: Ali Slagle

Serves: 4 servings

Total time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 680g (1½lb) salmon fillet, skin-on or skinless

Salt and black pepper

6 tbsp finely chopped dill

1 5cm (2in) piece ginger, scrubbed and finely grated (no need to peel)

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 grapefruit

2 oranges

6 small radishes, cut into thin wedges

1 avocado

Flaky sea salt, for finishing (optional)

Method:

1. Heat oven to 160C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Pat the salmon dry, then place on the tray skin-side down (if there is skin) and season with salt and pepper.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the dill, ginger and olive oil until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Spread half of the dill-ginger mixture over the top of the salmon (reserve the remaining dill-ginger mixture). Bake until cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes (you’ll know the salmon is done when the fish flakes or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part is 50C).

3. As the salmon cooks, cut off the top and bottom of the grapefruit and set the grapefruit down on one of the cut sides. Follow the curve of the fruit to cut away the peel and pith. Squeeze the peels into the remaining dill-ginger mixture to get out any juice. Cut the fruit in half from top to bottom, then slice into 0.5cm-thick half-moons and remove the seeds. If your pieces are especially large, halve them again. Transfer the fruit and any juice on the cutting board to the bowl. Repeat with the oranges. Add the radishes, season generously with salt, and stir gently to combine.

4. Break the salmon into large pieces and divide across plates with the citrus salad. Peel and pit the avocado, then quarter lengthwise and add to plates. Season with salt. Spoon the juices from the bowl over top and season with black pepper, another drizzle of olive oil and flaky sea salt, if using.

Tofu and bok choy with ginger-tahini sauce

Showcasing the uniquely silky texture of soft tofu

This simple dish showcases the uniquely silky texture of soft tofu. The tofu is steamed on top of a layer of bok choy, eliminating the need for a formal steamer and making this meal a cinch to prepare (napa or savoy cabbage leaves would also make a nice bed for the tofu). Once steamed, the warm, mild tofu soaks in all of the bright flavours of a tangy and creamy tahini sauce that’s spiked with aromatic ginger and fragrant herbs. For a heftier meal, either double the tofu or serve with a side of rice.

By: Kay Chun

Serves: 4 Servings

Total time: 20 Minutes

Ingredients:

450g baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise through the core

Salt and black pepper

1 400-450g (14-16oz) package soft (not silken) tofu, drained and cut into 4 equal squares

6 tbsp tahini

60ml (¼ cup) low-sodium soy sauce

3 tbsp distilled white vinegar

1 tsp minced ginger

¼ tsp minced garlic

Small handful *¼ cup) chopped spring onions (from about 1 spring onions), plus more for garnish

Small handful (¼ cup) chopped coriander, plus more for garnish

Toasted white sesame seeds, for garnish

Method:

1. In a large frying pan with a lid, arrange bok choy in an even layer to cover the bottom of the pan and season with salt and pepper. Nestle the tofu pieces on top of or in between the bok choy, depending on the depth of your pan. Add 120ml (½ cup) of water to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover securely to prevent steam from escaping, reduce heat to medium and steam until bok choy is tender and tofu is warm throughout, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine tahini, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic, spring onions, coriander and 1 tablespoon of water. Whisk until well blended and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Using a spatula or large slotted spoon, transfer bok choy and tofu to 4 serving plates (discard any remaining water in the pan). Spoon some of the sauce over the tofu and garnish with spring onions, coriander and sesame seeds. Serve warm.

Pure potato latkes

Perfect for Hanukkah... or any time of year

Perfect for Hanukkah or any time of year, these latkes bring out the pure flavour of potato, because that is basically the only ingredient in them. Making latkes can be a last-minute nightmare, with overeager cooks putting too many patties in hot oil, thus taking longer to fry and resulting in a greasy mess. But these can be prepared in advance. This recipe, adapted from chef Nathaniel Wade, starts with parbaked potatoes, which are cooled, grated, seasoned with just salt and pepper, pressed into patties and refrigerated, then fried just before serving. You can either serve them with crème fraîche or sour cream, smoked salmon and tiny flecks of chives, or traditional brisket and homemade applesauce.

Recipe from: Nathaniel Wade

Adapted by: Joan Nathan

Makes: 8 latkes

Total time: 1¼ hours, plus cooling and chilling

Ingredients:

4 large russet potatoes, washed and dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Canola oil, for frying

225g (8oz) sliced smoked salmon (optional)

Crème fraîche or sour cream, for serving (optional)

Chopped fresh chives, for serving (optional)

Method:

1. Adjust the rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 180C. Bake the potatoes directly on the rack for 30 minutes, then flip and bake for another 15 minutes until they are hot throughout but still raw in the middle. Remove and let cool for about 30 minutes.

2. Slice the potatoes in half widthwise. Holding the curved peel side with one hand, grate the flat, flesh side of each piece using the large holes of a box grater. The grating process should open them up like a jacket, leaving you with potato skins perfect for frying later, if you’d like (you could also use a food processor with a grating blade instead; just peel your potatoes beforehand). Sprinkle the grated potatoes with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

3. Take about 70g (½ cup) grated potato in your hands and gently squeeze between your palms to form a patty. Press the patty until about 1.5cm thick and carefully set the latke on a plate. Repeat with the remaining grated potatoes to make about 8 latkes. Cover and refrigerate a few hours or overnight.

4. Just before serving, heat a large, heavy frying pan with about 0.5cm of canola oil over medium-high. When it is hot, a shred of potato dropped into the oil should sizzle. Working in two batches, gently fry four latkes until crisp and deep golden, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels or a paper bag to drain, and repeat with remaining latkes.

5. Serve hot, topped with a slice of smoked salmon, a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream and a few sprinkles of chives, if you like.

Turkey pho

A play of Vietnamese chicken noodle soup

A play on the Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, this clear broth, paired with rice noodles and flavoured with charred onions and ginger, star anise, brown sugar and fish sauce, comes served with a platter of fresh garnishes. But this is more than your basic noodle soup: a spritz of lime at the end adds some tang, and mung beans and Thai basil a crunchy bite.

By: Samin Nosrat

Serves: 6

Total time: About 1 hour

Ingredients:

2 medium yellow onions, halved and peeled

10cm (4in) piece of fresh ginger (do not peel)

2.8L (12 cups) turkey or chicken stock, preferably homemade

60ml (¼ cup) fish sauce, plus more to taste

1 star anise

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 (450) package dried rice vermicelli

340g (12oz) mung bean sprouts (about 3 cups)

1 small bunch Thai basil sprigs

3 jalapeños, stemmed and thinly sliced

2 to 3 limes, quartered, to taste

450g (1lb/4 cups) shredded cooked turkey

Salt, to taste

Large handful coarsely chopped coriander leaves and tender stems (about 1 large bunch)

Large handful thinly sliced spring onions (about 1 bunch)

Method:

1. Cook onions and ginger directly over open flame of a gas burner for about 5 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they are charred on all sides (if you don’t have a gas stove, heat broiler and set onions and ginger on a foil-lined baking tray. Broil, turning occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes until charred on all sides.) Allow charred ginger to cool, then slice it into 1.5cm coins.

2. In a large casserole dish or similar pot, combine onions, sliced ginger, stock, fish sauce, star anise and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

3. In the meantime, cook rice noodles according to the instructions on the package. Drain and set aside.

4. Arrange mung bean sprouts, sprigs of Thai basil, jalapeños and limes on a platter and set on the table.

5. Remove onions, ginger and star anise from the pot. Add shredded turkey to the pot and return it to a simmer. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning with additional fish sauce and/or salt, if needed.

6. Divide rice noodles, coriander and spring onions evenly among large soup bowls, then ladle hot stock over the top, making sure each bowl gets a healthy serving of turkey. Serve immediately, accompanied by platter of garnishes.

7. Cover and refrigerate leftovers, keeping noodles separate, for up to 3 days.

© The New York Times