The practical art of making more with less. It’s the tagline of my book. It’s one of my favorite things to think about and implement into my life. I like to talk about it, too. You can listen to this podcast with Robyn of Real Food Whole Life. Throughout our conversation, Robyn asked me to break this idea down and break it down again. To be honest, it’s a complex, multi-faceted thing to break down. While this idea is intuitive for some, it’s counterintuitive and confusing to others. Many would think, if I pare down my kitchen, for example, then I’ll only be able to make basic, 5-ingredient recipes. Aside from Marcella Hazan’s brilliant 5-ingredient tomato sauce (you can see my version here), not a lot of recipes come together in so few of ingredients. At least not many you’d want to make again and again. That’s why this whole less-is-more thing is so incredible. Stay with me.
This post was created in partnership with Muir Glen Organic. Muir Glen harvests organic tomatoes at the peak of ripeness. Tomatoes go from field to can in 8 hours or less. When I shop for canned tomatoes, I stock my pantry with Muir Glen. Thank you for supporting the brands that keep this site running.
When you pare down, you learn how to use the things you own really well. You learn how to configure and reconfigure the same set of tools and ingredients into an entirely new creation. You become less of a recipe regurgitate-er and more of a critical cooker, a resourceful dinner maker, using what you have. A by-product of this method is a kitchen that stays intact. Not one that is bursting at the seams with each new recipe. If this all sounds a little overwhelming (it was for me once too), check out The Minimalist Kitchen course, or stay right here. I’ll break down this abstract idea further into practical application by using this recipe for Aloo Gobi, a delicious little teacher.
Let’s take the spice cabinet, for example. In the process of paring down my kitchen, I pared down my library of a spice collection to around 20. And then one day I wanted to make Aloo Gobi, a vegetarian and vegan Indian dish made with cauliflower and potatoes (Aloo Gobi). The recipe calls for garam masala, a spice I don’t stock. Garam masala, however, is a spice mixture, like pumpkin spice, Italian spice, curry, etc. It is composed of cumin, coriander, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. These are all spices I keep stocked. Great news! I don’t have to pass on this recipe. I can assemble a similar spice mixture, which you’ll see below. What you’ll also see is a long list of ingredients. But wait, aren’t you a minimalist? That list is sooo long. Well, yes. (This is the counterintuitive part.) I’ve pared down, but now I can use what I have to its very fullest. And that’s the beauty of this idea and recipe.
And now on to tools. I have 4 pots/pans, 1 Dutch oven, 1 nonstick pan for eggs, and 1 cast iron skillet. I know which one to grab for the occasion, how to cook with it, and how to properly care for it in hopes that I can get a lifetime (or a long time) of use. One such pan I grab for daily is the cast iron skillet, a surface that people either love or hate. This particular skillet conducts heat so well. It heats fast and maintains heat long after it’s left the heat source. Which is so very important to know. Things cook faster in this pan compared to the stainless steel pan. Because of that, it’s necessary to adjust cook times. This pan, too, can tolerate really high heat, something that would ruin a nonstick pan and take a lot of elbow grease to clean if using a stainless steel pan. Best of all, when maintained well, it can be passed down generation after generation.
And then there’s the pantry staples. Over lots of time, I’ve whittled our stocked pantry ingredients down to the ones we use the most, and from there, to the ones that perform the best. One such beloved ingredient is the can of fire-roasted tomatoes. Muir Glen to be exact. They’re organic, low in acidity, and consistently full of flavor. I load up when they go on sale, always buying diced, even if a recipe calls for crushed. And then I pull out my Vitamix to blend the tomatoes to the desired consistency. You’ll see this play out in the recipe below.
Are you feeling this less is more thing? When you pare down, you naturally figure out how to use your belongings to their fullest potential. And it tastes a whole lot like Aloo Gobi. So very good.
Aloo Gobi is a delicious Indian dish that is naturally vegetarian and vegan (unless you add the yogurt like we do) and perfect for the weeknight. If you like Tikka Masala, you’ll also enjoy this dish. It’s a touch sweeter in flavor from the garam masala spice mixture, which I’ve made from spices I keep stocked. Note: Turmeric is not in garam masala but it is in the dish. You can also add a touch of nutmeg and cloves if desired. To add natural sweetness, I’ve added carrots and frozen peas to this recipe, two ingredients I always keep stocked. Then finished the dish with a short squeeze of honey to bring all the flavors together quickly. Traditionally, this dish is made with fresh ginger. Feel free to sub in a thumb tip size of minced ginger in with the garlic, omitting the ground variety.
1 c. rice
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. coriander
3/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 large sweet onion, roughly diced (about 3/4 cup)
1 large carrot, roughly diced
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (14.5 oz) Muir Glen Fire-Roasted Tomatoes
1/2 tomato can of water (1 scant cup)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus a pinch
2 c. cauliflower florets
2 c. russet potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 c. frozen peas
drizzle of honey
whole milk yogurt
Make the rice. In a small saucepan, make rice according to package instructions, adding salt and butter.
Assemble spice mixture. Stir together all the spices and set aside.
Make the filling. Roughly chop the onions and carrots. We’ll pulse them in the blender shortly, so don’t spend too much time here. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, heat pan to medium-low. Once warm, add the oil, onion, and carrots plus a pinch of salt, and sauté for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and spice mixture and toast for 30 seconds more. Stir in the canned tomatoes, 1/2 a tomato can full of water, and salt, and simmer for about 3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and pour into the blender, pulsing until it resembles a crushed texture, not a puree.
Pour sauce back into the pan, adding the cauliflower and potatoes. Stir to coat and bring to a simmer. Cover and steam for 15 minutes at a low simmer, stirring occasionally.
Test the potatoes to make sure they are cooked through. Then remove the lid, and add in peas, plus a drizzle of honey. Cook until peas are just warmed through and still bright green.
Serve Aloo Gobi over a bed of rice. Add optional garnishes as desired.
Prep Time:20 minutes
Cook Time:20 minutes
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I’m teaming up with Muir Glen to giveaway one of my favorite pans to one lucky winner, the aforementioned Lodge Cast Iron 10-inch Skillet. To enter, leave a comment below with the name of your favorite pantry friendly recipe. Giveaway closes January 17, 2019 at 11pm CST. Open to US residents only.
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Wild rice soup!
I love Muir Glen products and cast iron everything!
One pan pasta with crushed tomatoes and frozen meatballs
Pantry favorite would be spaghetti.
Black bean tacos!
Green curry dal over rice! So good. So easy.
Either salmon cakes or baked sweet potatoes with black beans and salsa
Shakshuka! I always have eggs, bottle of sauce and frozen veg around (as well as fresh) so it’s always an easy brunch/dinner option.
Lentil soup in my Instant Pot with garlic bread on the side. Filling, healthy and fast, with leftovers for lunches.
ps I love your cookbook
I’m so happy to hear this! Thank you for writing!
Spaghetti. Noodles and sauce. So easy.
Huevos Rancheros ala Smitten Kitchen! I can’t believe how many years I’ve been cooking it!
White chicken chili
Lentil veggie dal!
Black bean burritos!!
I think this recipe will be my new pantry favorite! But right now it’s any type of pasta with either marinara sauce or olive oil and spices and herbs and whatever veggies I have on hand or canned.
I love to pasta with sauce, sausage and leftover veggies!
Chicken burrito bowls.
Chili or stir fry! Or maybe now this one 🙂
Marinara over penne, especially if I am feeling froggy and simmer some homemade meatballs in the sauce
Any kind of Thai coconut curry
Stir fry ?
Pasta with olive oil / white wine vin and oregano, topped w feta! Add in whatever veg I have available. So good.
Sweet potato chickpea stew
Chicken soup! I always make my own broth from leftover chicken bones so I can use it as a base for my family’s passed down chicken noodle soup recipe ?
African peanut stew
Pasta primavera – j make a quick skinny cream sauce with whole milk, chicken broth and Parmesan. Sauté from carrots, broccoli and zucchini. This is great with any pasta but even better with ravioli! We love keeping a higher end mushroom ravioli in the freezer for this.
Love homemade Mac n Cheese! ??
Pancakes with maple syrup ????
Chickpea tikka masala! ?
My go-to is black bean + sweet corn quesadillas!
Also as of late (and not to be a brown-noser…), your lemony green beans – I’m obsessed!!
Julia turshen’s red lentils with coconut milk. Although my kids would probably say your bbq black beans and cheese in a quesadilla 😉
Ground turkey tacos and Mexican rice
Chickpea Puttanesca on Polenta
I don’t think I do too many pantry recipes at this point. I think my favorite is one I do for lunch: pasta, frozen peas and parmesan cheese. Also want to say that I do have a bottle of garam masala in my spice cabinet, but now I see that I really don’t need to keep that.
polenta topped with whatever I have (fresh or frozen veggies, meat, creamed spinach,etc. )
Any variant of beans and rice 🙂
I’m going out on a limb and saying pizza. Homemade crust with flour, yeast, oil and salt + a can of crushed tomatoes simmered with spices + whatever toppings I may have on hand.
Chickpea quesadillas and quick salsa
I like making chili soup!
I’d say pancakes are my favorite… or curry. You can never go wrong with curry ?
Always and forever pancakes. Ideally buttermilk pancakes.
Chipotle black bean chili
Thank you for the giveaway. 5 minute rice – a recipe I learned on Food52.
Risotto with spinach (ingredients arborio rice, onion, white wine, butter or olive oil, frozen spinach and grated parmigiano or pecorino)
Chicken and barley soup with beans and crushed tomatoes.
My favorite pantry meal is pasta puttanesca. We nearly always have all the ingredients on hand to make it if we need dinner in a pinch.
Not your moms breakfast casserole!
I’m sending you a huge hug for this one!
brown rice, black beans with sour cream and cilantro
Pasta with a quick marinara sauce.
Chili or pasta. Quick, easy and I always have the ingredients on hand in the pantry
Picadillo (ground turkey , crushed tomato, zucchini and chicken bouillon)
Chicken Tortilla soup is my pick. Thank you for the fabulous giveaway!
Red beans and rice!! Or really any beans and rice. I grew up on beans at least three times a week and surprisingly, it did not ruin me! I still love, love, love them.
Spaghetti with oil and garlic!! Always!
Stir fry! I love being able to combine and use ingredients that I typically always have on hand. Plus it makes great left overs!
Wintertime calls for chili! However, I just finished dinnertime with my 10 month old downing chickpeas simmered in Muir Glen’s diced fire roasted tomatoes – a pantry staple in our house that finds sooo many uses (including a sauce base for our halibut last night and the aforementioned chili ❤️).
Easy Lentil Tacos ?!!
I’ll go with the obvious choice- pancakes! We like an Oatmeal Brown Sugar version and particularly love it for dinner paired with some eggs and sausage. The whole dinner is made up of items we always have on hand! Oh, and all cooked on cast iron, of course!
Veggie nachos for sure!
Cream cheese chicken chili
Three bean salad!! I’ve been trying decide if I really want to get a cast iron skillet so this could decide me ?
I love making chili! But first I make a roast using a Smitten Kitchen recipe! yum!
I love making chili! But first, I use a Smitten Kitchen recipe to braise the meat yum!
Chicken breasts and tomato sauce (jarred.)
Spaghetti or salmon patties.
Cream cheese chicken chili.
Any type of stir fry! Uses up random veggies and we always have liquid aminos on hand (instead of soy sauce)!
My favorite is a stir fry with any veggies I happen to have and this simple stir fry recipe from an old Food Everyday magazine; soy sauce, rice vinegar, corn starch, and honey (or peanut butter). It’s so easy, and good every time!
Avocado rice and egg bowls!
Chili- all items from the pantry!
Sweet and sour meatballs and rice
My favorite pantry-friendly recipe is banana fritters or grapefruit yogurt cake!
This sounds great….I always have the ingredients for basic stir fry at hand and swap out the protein / veggies for variety.
Salmon patties always
Black bean quesadilla. Or really any sort of quesadilla, enchilada, burrito…
Baked eggs in marinara sauce ?