Dinner tends to be the most difficult meal of the day. It comes when we are at our most physically and mentally exhausted, which doesn’t make us the most creative or dedicated people when it comes to cooking. After 8pm, the temptation to order pizza or a hamburger, or to resort to processed foods to save time and energy, becomes more appealing. However, having a few simple ingredients handy - and resources like canned beans or the sautéing technique - can help us prepare wholesome, healthy and tasty meals in very little time.
“We end up spending more time ordering food and waiting for it to arrive than it takes to prepare a simple dinner with fresh products, which is cheaper, tastier and healthier, without needing to resort to processed foods, which are high in sugar, energy, unhealthy fats and salt, and therefore bad for our health. One of the most basic pieces of advice for healthy eating is to cook what you eat,” says nutrition expert Juan Revenga.
Here we look at seven meal options with seasonal ingredients: salads that can function as a main course with a creamy dressing, comforting quick soups with fish, Asian dishes that can include your favorite herbs or al dente veggies prepared in the microwave, along with their respective fruit-based desserts.
Microwaved potato, string beans, carrot, onion and egg
Unless you have a 50-liter industrial microwave, this recipe is easier for two people than for four. For two people, peel three medium-sized potatoes - 300 grams in total - and cut them into eight pieces. Put them into a silicone container or a microwave-safe bowl with a tablespoon (15ml) of water, cover with a plate or silicone top and heat for three minutes on high. Meanwhile, cut a peeled onion into eighths. Slice three carrots in half lengthwise, then quarter each portion and cut each stick into two or three pieces.
Add the onion and carrot to the container with the potato. Mix and heat for three more minutes. Then add 400 grams of string beans and heat for four more minutes. Everything should be ready to eat. Try it and decide if it needs more time (the exact time depends on the power of your microwave. Remember that it will continue cooking if we let it rest).
For the eggs, there are several cooking options: you can use an egg cooker, or you can crack them in a bowl coated with oil or wrap them in plastic wrap and cook from 40 seconds to two minutes on high in the microwave. Suggested dessert: microwaved apples with cinnamon.
Couscous with broccoli, sour apple, cherry tomato, prawns and creamy cashew dressing
Soak 100g of cashews in 50ml of water, 50ml of lime or lemon juice and salt - and, if you want, add chillies to taste - and place in the fridge. Measure 350g of couscous into a bowl. Add 350g of water, salt and a little bit of oil and let it sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile, shred or finely chip 400g of broccoli and put it into a bowl. Add 250g of cherry tomatoes, cut in half, and a peeled and sliced Granny Smith apple, 250g of cooked and peeled prawns or shrimp, and, if you like, some raisins. Remove the dressing from the fridge, blend and add water, oil or lime juice to achieve the desired texture. Serve as a main dish. Suggested dessert: mango with grated lime zest.
Minestrone with carrot, pumpkin and cod
Chop an onion and four cloves of garlic and dice four peeled carrots, about 600 grams of pumpkin and six quartered mushrooms. Brown everything in a saucepan or pot with oil over high heat, stirring constantly for a few minutes. Then add 1.2 liters of broth or water and bring to a boil. Once it boils, add 200g of cod. After five minutes, add 150g of pasta. When the pasta is ready, so is the rest. Before serving you can add chopped or mashed parsley with garlic and/or a little paprika. Suggested dessert: yogurt with banana and grated chocolate.
Chickpea salad, lettuce hearts, hard-boiled egg and tuna with mustard dressing
Boiling the egg is the most time-consuming step in this salad, so it is the first thing we have to do: bring water to a boil in a pot that can hold between four and eight eggs (depending on how hungry we are). While the eggs cook for nine minutes, remove 800g of cooked chickpeas from their containers, wash them well and drain. Also wash between six and eight lettuce hearts - depending on their size - dry, cut and spread over the chickpeas. On top, add a spring onion or half a sweet onion in strips and half a cucumber in wedges.
Remove the eggs from the heat and cool quickly in iced water to stop the cooking. Prepare a vinaigrette with four tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar to taste. Peel the eggs, slice them, serve on top and dress. Add about 200g of drained tuna in oil and, if desired, some olives to taste. Suggested dessert: pear with whipped cream cheese.
Spinach, carrot and red bean fritters with yogurt sauce and a quick salad
Sauté a 400g bag of fresh spinach in a pan with a little garlic, oil and salt. Meanwhile, wash 600g of canned red beans and drain them of their liquid. Mash them with a fork or a masher with the well-drained spinach, three grated carrots, curry and coriander or other spices to taste and a raw chopped onion.
While the dough sits, prepare a salad by chopping and mixing three or four tomatoes, a cucumber, a can of drained corn, a spring onion, olives, oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Prepare a sauce with plain yogurt, a tablespoon of tahini, lemon, garlic to taste and paprika. With the dough, form pancakes about two centimeters thick and about five or six centimeters in diameter. Brown them for a couple of minutes on each side in a pan with a little oil and serve with the sauce and salad. Suggested dessert: grapes with a few slices of cured cheese.
Sautéed salmon with rice noodles, crispy vegetables and quick-pickled red onion
Peel and cut a red onion into strips. Put in a bowl with vinegar and salt and give it a massage. Bring water to boil to prepare about 250g of fine vermicelli-style rice noodles, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Meanwhile, slice a pepper, two medium-sized zucchinis, an onion, two carrots and about 100g of sprouted soybeans. Put all the vegetables in a large frying pan with a little oil and sauté over a light heat, stirring frequently. Add soy sauce in the process. When the vegetables are browned, add the noodles, toss a couple of times and finish off with 400g of diced salmon. Top with sesame seeds and serve with the pickled onion and, if desired, some chillies or hot sauce. Suggested dessert: persimmons.
Whole-grain pasta with seasonal vegetables and two cheeses
Bring a pot with plenty of salted water to a boil. While it heats up, prepare a sauce with a chopped onion and three cloves of garlic in a large saucepan with a splash of oil and salt. When the onion begins to brown, add 300g of chopped chard leaves - leave the stalks for another dish - a small chopped eggplant, 200g of spinach and a little fresh or dried sage. Let everything cook for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook 360g of whole-grain short pasta in the water, until the eggplant is soft and the water in the leafy vegetables has evaporated. One minute before the recommended cooking time ends, remove the pasta from the water, drain and add to the pan with the vegetables. Add about 200g of fresh cream cheese and distribute it well, adding pepper in the process. Serve and finish with a few flakes of Parmesan, Grana Padano or another cured cheese that adds flavor. Suggested dessert: kiwi.