It’s only the first week of December, yet it already feels like the season of Big Eating is in full swing. Latke nights and cookie swaps and holiday parties — it’s the best but also… a lot! Which is why on nights when we’re home and cooking for ourselves, I do my best to keep things simple. Here’s what’s on the line-up this week:
Spicy Tofu with Cabbage and the Most Delicious Sauce
This dinner takes advantage of two store-bought saviors: pre-baked tofu, which cooks quickly and which you can find in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets (Trader Joe’s sells two: sesame-ginger and Sriracha); and Mama O’s Kimchili Sauce, a funky, not-too-sweet garlicky hot sauce that I would drink by the gallon if I could. This combo began as an on-the-fly lunch, but I kept upgrading it, and now it’s the meal my daughter Abby requests most often when she comes home from college.
The recipe: Add half an onion (sliced), an inch of fresh ginger (minced) and a clove of garlic (minced) to natural oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. After they soften a bit, add a small head of cabbage, shredded (I used half a head of red and half a green cabbage here but you can use whatever combination you want). Cook down the cabbage until it gets caramelized and wilted (about 10 minutes), then move to the perimeter of the pan to expose the middle surface. Add a little more oil, then pan-fry sliced tofu (one 7-ounce package is enough to serve two people in my house) for about 2 minutes a side until golden. Toss everything together with a drizzle of soy sauce, a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Serve with: toasted sesame seeds and Kimchilli sauce (or sriracha or your favorite hot sauce).
Salmon is my hall-of-fame quick-dinner fish because it’s so flavorful, meaning cooks hardly have to run any interference to make it taste good. To easily upgrade a simply pan-fried filet, I serve with a spicy mayo.
The recipe: Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to a large heavy-bottomed skillet (I like cast iron) set over medium-high heat. Add skin-on salmon fillets (1/3-pound filet per person) flesh-side down and fry until the line of cooked flesh comes about a third of the way up the side of the fillet. Flip the filet and cook another 2-3 minutes (it will splatter a lot because the skin is fatty), until the top of the flesh feels firm to the touch but not rock hard. Remove to a cutting board. Sprinkle with fresh chives and serve with spicy mayo (mayo to sriracha ratio, 3:1) on the side. Serve with: crusty bread and an arugula salad tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and topped with sliced avocado.
One-Pot Veggie Chili
The main ingredients (beans, tomatoes, chili powder) come from a can or are always-have-on-hand staples (onions, garlic), which means this is ready to go any night of the week. You can find exact ingredient amounts in my go-to recipe, if you’d like, but you can also just riff.
The recipe: Heat neutral oil in a medium pot set over medium-low heat. Add 1 small chopped onion, 1 garlic clove, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring every now and then, until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in a scoop of tomato paste and cook another minute, until the tomato paste darkens slightly. Add 3 cans of beans (any combination of white, pinto, black) and 4 tablespoons of chili powder, turn the heat to medium-high, and cook until the spices get sizzly, about 3 more minutes. Add a can of diced tomatoes, a hunk of dark chocolate (optional), a dash of cinnamon (my husband’s “secret”), and some healthy shakes of oregano, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors have a chance to deepen and meld together, about 30 minutes. Serve with: plantain chips, sour cream and avocado chunks.
What are you cooking these days?
P.S. Five ways to turn rotisserie chicken into dinner and cabbage: a love story.
(Chili photo by Christine Han.)