You don’t need a ton of ingredients for a meal that sings.
The recipes featured here are marvels of resourcefulness, offering enormous flavor in little time and with seven ingredients or fewer (minus those kitchen stalwarts salt, pepper and oil).
We draw the line at seven rather than five or even three (like those buzzy headlines promise) because we believe that the best meals reach just a tiny bit further. An ingredient or two more — a smattering of scallions, a dash of sweet-salty miso, the juice from a single orange — really can be the difference between a good dinner and a great one.
Easy and cheap doesn’t mean skimping on excitement or flavor, and proving that is our goal. After all, the most streamlined meals are often the most ingenious — and the most treasured.
You can feel like you’ve gone on a trip to Italy without even leaving the house. This Kay Chun recipe is a textbook example of how a few humble ingredients can create big, comforting, complex flavors. Treat yourself to a little guanciale, and opt for the irresistible bite of bucatini. Or don’t! And stick with pancetta and regular spaghetti. Either way, enjoy it al fresco with a glass of wine in hand.
Recipe: Pasta Amatriciana
Dried mint and ground turmeric flavor this easy chicken whose light spices recall Morocco. Nargisse Benkabbou employs a single orange to do double duty, its zest and juice infusing the marinade. Reach for chicken thighs or breasts, whichever you prefer, as long as they’re boneless and skinless — just be sure to sear over high heat with a close eye so that the meat stays tender. Or do as our commenters have and fire it up over the grill.
This recipe, from the Philadelphia restaurateurs Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, is as clever as they come, simplifying a much longer process into a speedy five-minute affair that happens entirely in a food processor. But arguably better than its speed and short ingredient list is its adaptability. Eat it the first day with warm flatbread, then use it as a vehicle for leftovers, piling the hummus high with roasted vegetables or a bit of ground meat, warmly spiced.
Heatseekers, have you met Ali Slagle’s kimchi grilled cheese? She calls for mozzarella, which gives kimchi’s gorgeous tang the space to stand out, but feel free to add a little Cheddar or those Jack cousins (Monterrey and pepper) to intensify the sandwich’s flavor. This recipe also taps into a smart, beloved technique: spreading mayonnaise on the outside of the bread before toasting. The oil base means the mayo doesn’t run the risk of burning in the same way that the milk solids in butter do, so the bread can turn crisp and golden in due time.
Recipe: Kimchi Grilled Cheese
Pernil is a perfect dish. A special occasion recipe for many in Puerto Rico and the diaspora, it’s often served at Thanksgiving or Christmas when you want to impress, or to just let someone know you love them. Pork shoulder, an affordable cut of meat, is treated to a (relatively) long marinade and cook time for a feast that feeds long after, with leftovers that shine nestled next to rice and black beans, or in between crisp-soft bread. Von Diaz adapted this recipe, which yields burnished chicharrón and tender meat, from Maricel Presilla’s “Gran Cocina Latina,” a meticulously researched tome of Latin American cuisine. As Von wrote, “It’s blessed by her brilliance.”
Sharp bites of scallions complement earthy grilled steak that’s been marinated in a deeply savory combination of soy, mirin, sake and sugar in this traditional Japanese dish. Normally an appetizer, it needs only steamed rice or the bite and char of roasted broccoli to become a full meal. For an even faster path to this Kay Chun recipe, take a cue from the comments section and use thinly sliced beef meant for hot pot, often sold at Korean markets.
Judy Kim has graced us with this fantastic recipe for slick, spicy noodles, finished with a fresh smattering of herbs. Best of all, it takes well to substitutions and adaptations: Can’t find garlic chives? Use scallions instead. The same goes for chile crisp and chile oil. Add some fried shallots, if you don’t mind taking this recipe into eight-ingredient territory. It’s ready in 20 minutes, but wise cooks know to take just an extra minute to double or triple the sauce for future meals.
Recipe: Chile Oil Noodles With Cilantro
Strip kale leaves from their stems, then soak them in a bath of boiling water. Throw them into a blender with some olive oil and grated cheese until they’re thoroughly puréed, and toss them with whatever pasta you have. (A mix of odds and ends? Sure!) That’s all it takes for a dinner that’s equal parts rich and light in this recipe, adapted by Tejal Rao from Joshua McFadden, the chef at Ava Gene’s in Portland, Ore., who was inspired by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of the River Cafe in London.
Recipe: Kale Sauce Pasta
Dinner in 15 minutes and just five ingredients, this Yasmin Fahr recipe is as generous as it is tart and creamy. Use labneh or a thick yogurt and any number of short pasta shapes. Make it as written, or go bigger — from five ingredients to six (wow) — and make the lemony scallion topping mentioned in the Tip. The details are up to you, but this pasta will be good no matter what.
Recipe: Creamy, Lemony Pasta
Adapted from his cookbook “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques,” J. Kenji López-Alt based this recipe on a brilliant dish created and served by Helene An at Thanh Long in San Francisco. His iteration uses dried Italian spaghetti, rather than the fresh wheat noodles of the original, but the tastes still recall Ms. An’s dish. Twenty garlic cloves may seem like a lot (and it is), but they infuse these noodles with a welcome intensity. Pair them with seafood or spinach, or do as Kenji recommends and finish with a little bit of tarako or mentaiko, Japanese salted pollock roe.
For this fragrant vegetarian curry, Ali Slagle borrows a technique from the cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, who first warms tofu with some of the sauce (for flavor) before adding the frying oil (for crunch). Once crisp, it’s pulled from the pan, which is then used to quickly sear whatever vegetable you’d like. Add and reduce a coconut milk-infused sauce before serving it all over rice or whatever grain most stirs your heart.
Recipe: Green Curry Glazed Tofu
Every Kwanzaa, Folami Prescott-Adams, a community psychologist in Atlanta and an expert holiday host, makes 10 pounds of this recipe for the karamu, the culminating feast. Adapted by Nicole Taylor, it’s a comforting and sustaining recipe whose simple brilliance extends beyond the celebration. True to its roots as a buffet dish, it can easily be scaled up, and you may want to do just that, even if you’re not feeding a crowd.
Recipe: Folami’s BBQ Tofu
What if you could have a classic Parm without the fuss? Hetty McKinnon pairs that fan-favorite combination of red sauce and melty mozzarella with earthy portobello mushrooms for a meal that comes together easily and delivers so much satisfaction. It’s finished with a smattering of basil-scented bread crumbs for a mix of textures you simply won’t forget.
If you have some slightly sweet vegetables at your disposal — not just carrots, but onions, parsnips, beets or pumpkin — this is the recipe for you. Sue Li lays them on a bed of creamy ricotta and briny feta supported by flaky puff pastry. The one big tip: Don’t forget to cook your veggies first. Raw vegetables release liquid that can weigh down your otherwise crisp-crunchy puff pastry and take away from its charm.
Salty, sour and sweet flavors define chicken adobo, the national dish of the Philippines, and here, Ali Slagle applies that same flavor profile to cauliflower for a vegetarian spin. Brown sugar adds sweetness, Thai chile a little heat and bay leaves a subtle herbaceousness. Serve it all over rice with a heaping spoonful of that deeply savory sauce and green vegetables.
Recipe: Cauliflower Adobo
There’s great beauty in Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s one-step recipe. It’s intentionally simple, with few ingredients and lean direction, echoing Ms. Smart-Grosvenor’s approach in the kitchen. “I just do it by vibration,” she wrote in her 1970 cookbook “Vibration Cooking, or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl.” Cook until the blind-baked crust is golden brown and the custard is just set; add ham or cheese or herbs before cooking; or chill it and then dig in the next day when the custard is especially creamy. As Ms. Smart-Grosvenor writes: “Do your thing your way.”
Yewande Komolafe incorporates a few shelf-stable ingredients — canned pumpkin purée, coconut milk, peanut butter — in this simple soup adapted from a long-simmered West African stew. Her version is ready in 35 easy minutes, and the optional additions are just that — optional. But if you find yourself with a bit of honey to mix in or yogurt to dollop on top, you’ll have an even more nuanced dish, lightly sweet with heat that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Any kind of spicy fresh sausage is right at home in this easy one-pot stew from Melissa Clark. Chorizo, kielbasa or even sweet sausage with a hearty pinch of hot paprika would all work, as long as there’s some heat. Sautéed, then simmered, cilantro stems infuse the soup with their earthy flavor. You really don’t need to finish with scallions, avocado or lime wedges, but they’re nice alongside, as are tortilla chips.
Recipe: Black Bean Chorizo Stew
This roast chicken, from the chef Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café in San Francisco, proves that you don’t need much to make an excellent dinner. The key here is in the technique: Dry-brining the chicken, then roasting it in a hot oven (with a quick flip to ensure even browning) means crisp skin, tender meat and flavorful drippings that reduce into a comforting, savory sauce. Greens and a baguette turn a main into a full meal.
Recipe: Zuni Café Chicken
Eric Kim cooks skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs in a hot, hot oven until you can hear them sizzling, a great sign that their skins are crispy and their fat has rendered. As if that weren’t mouthwatering enough, he then tosses hand-torn chunks of bread onto the pan. (Why hand-torn? Every little imperfect nook is a home for that glorious schmaltz.) A quick fish-sauce butter, assembled on the stove, is spooned over top. A bed of greens would be a great accompaniment, but if you just wanted to sop up the buttery sauce with those croutons, we wouldn’t blame you.
Ginger, mint, lime, shrimp, some oil and salt: With those ingredients and this Ali Slagle recipe, you’ll achieve the platonic ideal of shrimp, charred and lively with a sweet snap. Central to it all is a thoughtful approach to grilling. Very dry shrimp goes on a very dry grill, preferably with their tails on to keep them from wiggling out of your fingers and into the pit of the grill. Marinate the shrimp if you’d like more of that flavor to shine through, but you’ll be just fine without.
Recipe: Ginger Mint Grilled Shrimp
Eric Kim blooms gochugaru, a Korean red-pepper powder, in maple syrup, vinegar and butter to create a stunning ruby-red glaze for salmon. But he doesn’t stop there. He harnesses the salmon fat and uses it to toast leftover rice, which becomes crackling and golden brown on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside. With all those textures, add one more: a big, juicy crunch, preferably from cucumbers, pickles or a big salad built on leafy romaine.
White fish is no stranger to an infusion of lemon and capers. But in this recipe from Danielle Alvarez’s cookbook “Always Add Lemon,” and adapted by Melissa Clark, nori sheets are blended into a briny oil that’s brushed onto the fillets. (Double it for future use. Trust us.) It’s a brilliant way to make seaweed snacks a dinner star, adding depth that makes a reliably good meal great.
Ranch has many uses — chip flavoring, salad dressing, dip — but its smartest application yet may come by way of Ali Slagle, who pairs it with chicken, both as a sauce and marinade. Rather than using store-bought ranch, she builds her own around Greek yogurt and mayonnaise, which tenderizes the meat while giving it a burnished exterior. And true to ranch’s versatile nature, this same marinade can be slathered on fish, pork, shrimp or any sturdy vegetable. Ranch carrots, here we come.
Recipe: Pan-Seared Ranch Chicken
Produced by Krysten Chambrot, Kim Gougenheim, Rebecca Halleck, Nikita Richardson and Tanya Sichynsky. Special thanks to Mary Jane Callister and Wayne Kamidoi.