I began making sure my kitchen has the ingredients that allow me to effortlessly — and at a moment’s notice, if need be — put together a meal that feels like an actual meal, rather than unwrapped nubs of leftover cheese masquerading as one. I pick one very simply prepared star of the show, and dress it up with more than a few tiny bowls (I own close to a million tiny bowls) filled with low-cook or no-cook items.
My spreads are mostly composed of whatever I’m trying to use up in the refrigerator (any rogue vegetable that can be sliced and quickly pickled is a popular choice) and the freezer (a whole, cut up chicken), food from my pantry (tinned fish and hot pickled peppers are big in my house), and something that I actually purchased for the occasion — a nice piece of fish, a whole chicken or some good pasta or noodles I happened across.
In the magical tiny bowls, there’s something salty, something tangy, something spicy. Herbs, lettuces or both are nearly always present. There’s probably a dish of something creamy, like seasoned sour cream, or maybe a tahini dressing. A crunchy element like bread crumbs or fried shallots is nonnegotiable. Nothing takes more than a minute or two to throw together.
Essentially it’s all the things I want to eat, sometimes served on their own, sometimes piled on top of one another, all on my table for a very casual and customizable eating experience.
Below you’ll find three ideas for relaxed meals that follow that basic template, rather than formal recipes for dinner: bowls of spicy, simply dressed spicy cold noodles with citrusy cabbage and garlicky tahini; slow-roasted salt-and-pepper salmon with just-set eggs and salty salmon roe; and a six-ingredient chicken to be served over buttered toast and crunchy lettuces.
Feel free to take just one cue from these ideas, improvising with what you have and what you like. Or replicate them fully. You won’t be sorry, I promise.
Through this combination of unfussy centerpieces and relaxed, snacky sides and condiments, you’ll find yourself spending less time in the kitchen and more time at the table. Life may not actually get less busy. But for a few glorious hours, it can feel that way.