Quick dinner recipes for spring use budget-friendly leftovers from holiday meals, including St. Patrick’s Day corned beef, Passover beef brisket, Easter ham and hard-cooked eggs, and Cinco de Mayo avocados, rice, and beans. These recipes also make use of seasonal vegetables including asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and peas. Many of the recipes also freeze well. While the recipes suggest amounts, they are intended only as a guideline. These are “grandma-style” recipes, where you simply use ingredients you have on hand to pull together something tasty to eat.
Easy homemade pizza dough
In a small bowl, stir together 1 package yeast (1/4 ounce dry) and 1 teaspoon sugar with 1/4 cup warm water; let stand for 5 minutes, or until it becomes foamy. In the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook or in a food processor, blend together 2½ cups all-purpose or bread flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the foamy yeast mixture, ¾ cup water, and 2 tablespoons olive oil and mix to form a soft, sticky dough. Mix in additional flour just until you get a soft dough that cleans itself from the sides of the bowl. Avoid adding too much flour—too soft and slightly sticky is better than too stiff. Continue to beat dough for another two minutes. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, cover with a towel, and let rest 10 minutes.
Knead dough by hand: fold in half towards you, press down and away firmly with your palms, turn dough ¼-turn, and repeat. Knead for a minute or two, or until you feel that the dough is smooth and silky (if you let the machine do most of the work, kneading by hand is quick and easy). Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning it over once to coat lightly with oil. Cover with a towel and let rise about 1 hour, or until doubled.
How to top and bake pizza
Remove dough from bowl. Divide into 2-3 for medium to thin crust pizza, or four (or more) pieces for small pizzas. Lightly oil a pizza pan or baking sheet. Press dough onto the pan evenly, pressing out any air pockets as you go.
The trick to homemade pizza is to add toppings sparingly, especially if you prefer thin crust pizza. The following are a few suggestions for pizza toppings using seasonal ingredients you may have on hand. Feel free to use any ingredients that appeal to your tastes.
- Cheese and asparagus: tomato sauce (straight from the can), salt and fresh ground black pepper, cooked asparagus, and dabs of goat cheese or grated mozzarella. Other tasty additions include diced ham, corned beef, or chicken, cooked potato slices, or sliced onion.
- Lamb with cheese, nuts, and honey: Greek yogurt (or white sauce), diced lamb (or use some leftover lamb curry—see recipe below), crumbled feta or grated mozzarella cheese, thinly slice green onion, chopped nuts (almond, hazelnut, pine nut, walnut), and a drizzle of honey.
- Smoked salmon: Bake the pizza dough with a drizzle of olive oil. After removing from the oven, spread with Greek yogurt or sour cream, and top with smoked salmon and sliced green onions. If you want a little heat, try slices of Mama Lil’s, pepperoncini, or pickled jalapenos.
Bake pizza on the lowest rack in your ovens at the highest possible temperature, preferably 450-550° for 9-12 minutes, or until top is hot and bubbly. Tip: check that the edges and bottom of the crust are golden brown, and the crust is cooked through to the center.
Easy Cajun-style Bean Soup
In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat ¼ cup oil. Add 1 chopped onion; cook 10-15 minutes, or until onion is nicely browned. Sprinkle with ¼ cup flour and cook 2 minutes. Add 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 small can (14-15 oz.) diced tomatoes with liquid, 1 cup beans (or 1 small can, undrained, 1 quart water, 12 ounces dark beer (or water or chicken broth). Add 1-2 cups sliced smoked sausage (andouille, kielbasa, etc) or any other diced cooked meat (ham, chicken, beef, etc.). If needed, add additional water or broth to cover ingredients by an inch or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 minutes to blend flavors (but if you are in a hurry, you can eat the soup as soon as it comes to a boil). Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper or Cajun seasoning. Serve with a scoop of rice and sprinkle with sliced green onions. If you want to skip the meat, add more beans, and top the soup with diced hard-cooked egg. The soup freezes well; chill first and then pour into freezer-safe containers.
Easy Lentil Soup Recipe
In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat 2-4 tablespoons oil. Add 1 chopped onion and 2 chopped carrots (or celery, or both); cook 6-8 minutes, or until vegetables begin to brown. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and 1-2 teaspoons seasonings of your choice (such as cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano, thyme, or black pepper), 1-2 cups lentils, 1 small can (14-15 ounces) diced tomatoes, and 1-2 quarts water or stock (depending on amount of lentils used). If desired, add 1-2 cups diced cooked meat (beef, pork, ham, lamb, chicken, etc.). If necessary, add more water or stock to cover ingredients by an inch or so. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook 30-40 minutes, or until lentils are very tender. If desired, stir vigorously with a spoon or hand blender to make the soup creamy. Season to taste with salt and black pepper—amounts can vary widely depending on the saltiness of your ingredients and personal taste. A splash of vinegar or lemon juice will also perk up flavors. Serve lentil soup with bread or rolls and butter, grilled cheese or egg salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, or avocado toast. Lentil notes: brown and especially red lentils are often used for soup because they break down easily compared to other varieties. Green or black lentils hold their shape, so are often cooked, drained, and chilled to use in salads. The soup freezes well; chill first and then pour into freezer-safe containers.
Quick skillet pasta with meat, vegetables, and cheese
In a skillet over medium heat, heat a thin film of oil. Add ¼ cup chopped onion and 1 cup chopped meat (ham, corned beef, chicken, etc.). Cook 3-5 minutes, or until meat is hot and onion is soft. Add 1 cup vegetables (frozen peas, cut fresh asparagus, or chopped broccoli), 2 cups cooked pasta (shells, fusilli, rigatoni, etc.), and ½ cup liquid (water, broth, milk, or thin yogurt), and bring to a simmer. Turn heat to low, sprinkle with ¼ cup grated Romano cheese, and stir until creamy. If mixture is too dry, add more liquid and stir over low heat until warmed through and creamy.
Quick Lamb or Beef Ragu over Pasta
In a saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add 1 chopped onion and 1 diced carrot; cook 6-8 minutes, or until onion is nicely browned. Stir in 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon dried oregano or Italian seasoning, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Add 1 cup diced cooked lamb or beef and 1 small can (14-15 ounces) diced or crushed tomatoes. If necessary, add broth or water to cover meat completely. Bring to a simmer and cook 15 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning with additional salt or pepper. Serve over wide noodles (pappardelle), sprinkled with Romano or Parmesan cheese. The ragu sauce freezes well; chill first and then pour into freezer-safe containers.
Leftover Lamb, Chicken, or Egg Curry
In a saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add 1 chopped onion and cook 6-8 minutes, or until onion is nicely browned. Stir in 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper. Add 1 cup diced cooked lamb or chicken and 1 small can (14-125 ounces) crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook 15 minutes. If making Hard-Cooked Egg Curry, add 3-4 quartered eggs after the sauce has simmered, and heat just long enough to warm the eggs through. Taste and correct seasoning with additional curry, salt, or pepper. Serve over rice. Curry sauce with meat freezes well; chill first and then pour into freezer-safe containers.
Meat Stuffed Pita Bread Sandwich
For the yogurt sauce: stir together ½ cup Greek (thick) yogurt with ½ cup thinly sliced kale or cabbage, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, and 1 small minced garlic clove. For the filling: combine sauce with ½ cup diced leftover meat (beef brisket, lamb, chicken, etc.) and ¼ diced avocado. To make the sandwich: cut a pita bread in half and divide the filling to stuff each side. Makes enough filling to stuff one pita, or two halves.
Rice cakes with vegetables and cheese
How to make rice cakes
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat a thin film of oil. Add 1 medium chopped onion and 2 chopped garlic cloves for 3 minutes, or until soft. Add 1 cup chopped raw vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, carrots, spinach, green onions, mixed frozen vegetables, etc.). Reduce heat to low, add ¼ cup water, cover pan, and cook 3 minutes. Uncover, let most of the water boil off if it hasn’t already, and transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add 1 cup cooked rice, ½ cup dry bread crumbs (panko, crushed crackers, corn or potato chips, corn flakes, or pretzels can be substituted), ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1 beaten egg, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper. If desired, you may also add a pinch or two of dried seasoning such as Italian, thyme, or oregano.
How to cook rice cakes
Heat butter or oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Scoop ¼ to ½ of the mixture into the skillet and press with the back of a spatula to flatten and form a patty. Cook 4 minutes, or until golden and crisp on the bottom. Flip rice cake and cook another 3 minutes or until golden and transfer to a warm plate. Repeat with remaining rice mixture until all rice cakes are cooked. Serve as a side dish to grilled or roast meats or fish, for breakfast with eggs, or as a light meal on their own with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and sriracha or hot sauce. Cooked rice cakes freeze well–freeze in a single layer on a lined baking sheet, and then place in a zipper-style bag or wrap with foil and freeze.
Colcannon with Bacon and Kale
How to make rich and creamy mashed potatoes
Boil until tender 2 pounds Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes; drain and reserve cooking water. While still warm, peel and mash the potatoes. Stir in 2-4 ounces (½ to 1 stick) melted butter and enough hot milk or cream to make soft creamy potatoes (about ¾ cup).
How to make colcannon
Fry 6 thick slices (6 ounces) diced smoked bacon until crisped. Add to the bacon 1 chopped onion and cook 3-5 minutes, or until soft. Add 3 cups washed, stemmed, and thinly sliced kale (cabbage may be substituted) to the onions and continue to cook until kale is wilted. Stir in 1 cup chopped green onions, 1-3 cloves minced garlic, and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper.
Add the warm kale mixture to the mashed potatoes and stir to combine. If the potatoes are stiff, soften the mixture with some of the potato cooking water to create a creamy mashed potato dish. Makes 4 servings as a supper dish, or 6-8 as a side dish. Leftovers can be formed into patties and frozen as for rice cakes.
Japanese Savory Pancakes (Okonomiyaki)
The description looks long, but okonomiyaki is a simple pancake recipe that goes together quickly and is highly adaptable to ingredients you have on hand.
Okonomiyaki is a kid friendly recipe. Young, aspiring cooks can participate by choosing their favorite ingredients and then helping to cook the savory pancake.
How to make okonomiyaki batter
Mix together 1 small (2-3 inch) boiled and mashed, 1 cup potato cooking water (add plain water if needed), and 1 teaspoon salt. Whisk in ¾ to 1 cup all-purpose flour a little at a time to make a batter; stop adding flour when the batter is somewhat thick, but still pourable. Whisk in 2 beaten eggs. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes while you prepare savory ingredients.
How to prepare okonomiyaki ingredients
For this amount of batter, you want 2½ to 3 cups of loosely measured ingredients. Use diced cooked leftover meat or fish (corned beef, ham, bacon, sausage, chicken, smoked salmon, etc.), cooked or raw vegetables (chopped cabbage or broccoli, grated carrots or zucchini, chopped onions or chives, frozen peas or corn, etc.), cooked (drained) beans or cubed firm tofu, and accents such as chopped pickles, sliced olives, mayonnaise, and sriracha sauce.
How to make okonomiyaki sauce
¼ cup soy sauce, 3 tablespoons sugar or honey, 2 tablespoon ketchup, and 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
How to cook okonomiyaki
First, stir together the batter and chosen ingredients. For one serving, in a small bowl or coffee cup, add ½ cup of the desired ingredients, top with ½ cup batter and stir together until well mixed. Alternatively, you can combine all the savory ingredients with all the batter and cook large pancakes to be cut into wedges for serving.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and film the bottom of the pan with oil. When the oil is hot, pour the prepared batter into the pan and press gently in the center with a spatula to spread the pancake in an even layer. The pancake should sizzle happily in the skillet. Cook about 2 minutes, or until the underside is lightly browned. Flip pancake and cook the other side about 2 minutes, or until browned. Serve warm, drizzled with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise and/or sriracha sauce.
I don’t usually freeze leftover okonomiyaki. They do make a nice find in the refrigerator for a midnight snack raid.
These quick and easy dinner recipes are basic preparations that suggest amounts but are intended only as a guideline. Feel free to adjust to leftover and seasonal ingredients you have on hand.