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If you want a meal that’s guaranteed to be packed with flavor, I can tell you from experience that Nik Sharma will always steer you in the right direction. Nik is a best-selling cookbook author (check out his newest cookbook, The Flavor Equation!), an award-winning food writer and photographer, and a pro at showing home cooks how to prepare wonderfully flavorful food with ease (he recently shared some of his go-to strategies during our Thanksgiving Food Fest).
Here Nik shares a meal plan with weeknight dinners rooted in pantry ingredients that are easy to pull off and guaranteed to be packed with big flavors. Here’s how he does it.
5 Pantry-Friendly Dinners with Big Flavor
While I lean towards convenience in the kitchen and these meals are unfussy and require little work, they still manage to come to the table with bold flavors. My motto with cooking is that the pantry is where the wealth of the kitchen lies. Swapping in new spices or flavor boosters like a spicy mustard oil or chili oil can rework a familiar landscape into something new and marvelous.
Here are some of my favorite recipes that I make often at home — not only for their ease, but also because most of these can be tweaked to work with what I have in stock in my kitchen.
Monday: Baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple Crème Fraîche
I eat sweet potatoes often and they’re absolutely spectacular because they easily occupy both savory and sweet positions in menus, and they’re extremely versatile. I first cook the sweet potatoes in the oven by steaming them covered and then unwrapping and cooking them uncovered to allow their natural sugars to caramelize and turn fragrant. If you don’t consume fish, opt for a vegan fish sauce to build on that umami profile in the crème fraîche sauce. Use fragrant nuts such as peanuts or hazelnuts or pepitas to get a bit of delicious crunchiness.
Get the recipe: Baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple Crème Fraîche
Tuesday: Spicy Eggplant with Ground Lamb
I often need something to accompany a bowl of boiled rice, and this eggplant dish checks that requirement. Ground lamb (or ground meat of any kind) cooks quickly and that ends up saving a lot of time spent in the kitchen cooking. Both the eggplant and lamb act as sponges when it comes to absorbing the flavors from the spices and other ingredients in this recipe. I love this on a cold, wet day in winter.
Get the recipe: Spicy Eggplant with Ground Lamb
Wednesday: Roasted Carrots with Garlic and Lime
While this recipe uses carrots, there’s a secret: It works with almost any type of vegetable that can be roasted, so you can expand it to a roasted mixed vegetable platter of sorts. Use diced potatoes, button mushrooms, beans, and other types of root vegetables.
Get the recipe: Roasted Carrots with Garlic and Lime
Thursday: Chicken, Spinach, and Potato “Samosa Pie’
I’m always looking for ways to make meals out of my favorite snacks. This is a playful take on samosas that then morphs into one large savory pie that requires minimal effort. Chickpeas and spinach are folded carefully into the mixture of seasoned potatoes before they get baked between a layer of phyllo sheets. Serve this with condiments.
Get the recipe: Chicken, Spinach, and Potato “Samosa Pie”
Friday: Baked Branzino in Mustard Oil
This is quite a flexible dish when it comes to the choice of fish (besides Branzino you could also use a red snapper or sea bass). If you like the flavor of wasabi, then you will enjoy mustard oil (some of that horseradish edge is lost during cooking). Mustard oil is used in South East Asian cooking and the oil is extracted by crushing mustard seeds; Yandilla is a wonderful brand that’s available in speciality stores. A generous helping of crispy shallots gives this dish the most gorgeous finish. You can also use a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil if you can’t find mustard oil.
Get the recipe: Baked Branzino in Mustard Oil
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Meal planning isn’t always easy — especially if you’re just getting started. But we’re firm believers that it’s the secret to stress-free weeknight dinners. We want to help you find inspiration and ease some of the pain points that come with getting dinner on the table night after night, whether you’re cooking one or a family of four or five. Every week we share a new meal plan solution specifically customized for you from reader requests or from a guest contributor, for Next Week’s Meal Plan!