Food has always been a passion of mine. Ever since I was young, I’d watch Food Network and practice cooking with my parents. This continued up until I got to college. When it became time for me to cook all of my meals, I lost all motivation. Cooking for one felt a lot less special than cooking for my whole family, so I progressively became lazier and lazier with my eating habits. Breakfast was typically oats, and lunch was some sort of leftover or combination of whatever was in the fridge, but when it came to dinner, that’s when things fell apart. I began skipping meals and eating out to save time, but in reality, I didn’t feel nourished from the food I ate and lost time because I had no energy to sustain me and my busy schedule throughout the day.
Once I reached this realization, I began cooking myself healthy yet fulfilling meals. It wasn’t hard for me to come up with meal ideas because I already knew so many of my favorite dishes from the past. Always being on the run as a college student inspired the six following recipes that will keep you full and focused all day long.
- Crispy cauliflower
This one is my take on one of my favorite restaurant’s appetizers, Ghee Indian Kitchen in Miami. I definitely don’t limit myself when it comes to meat, but I knew I had to try their crispy cauliflower the first time I went, and it completely changed the way I’ve cooked cauliflower since. First, I season some flour with whatever I’m feeling that day. Some days I’ll go the spicier route with cayenne and hot paprika, and other days I’ll go for garlic and parmesan. Next, I lightly toss my cauliflower in butter and add the seasoned flour so it sticks to the cauliflower. Then I sauté it on a frying pan until it gets browned. I throw the pan into the oven at 450° until I see the edges get crispy and the cauliflower looks caramelized. After that, I garnish with cilantro or a drizzle of hot sesame oil for an easy dish that pairs well with anything or is perfect on its own!
- Jicama wrap tacos
I recently saw the Trader Joe’s jicama wraps gain traction on Tik Tok and knew I had to pick them up the next time I went grocery shopping. I personally like my tacos simple with four main ingredients: meat, diced onions, cilantro and a corn tortilla. Switching out the corn tortilla for a jicama wrap definitely changed the flavor profile as a whole, and it became a great variation of one of my favorite meals. Jicama is a root vegetable that tastes like a cross between a water chestnut and an apple, adding even more freshness on top of the onion and cilantro. I normally reach for steak when it comes to tacos, but trying this with shrimp was without a doubt my favorite variation. The jicama wrap also feels more lightweight than a tortilla would, so I definitely reach for more tacos than usual with them, but I’m not mad about it.
- Pesto cauliflower gnocchi
Like all things at Trader Joe’s, I never understood the hype around their cauliflower gnocchi until I tried it. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be disappointed, so I made sure to stock up on some because they always seem to run out by the afternoon, and rightly so! Again, it’s a great alternative to regular gnocchi that can sometimes feel heavy, and in no way do I feel like I’m eating vegetables when I have it. My only issue is that if you don’t put the heat high enough, the gnocchi will stick together and get a gummy texture that isn’t very appealing. I start off by heating butter on a saucepan at high heat and leaving the gnocchi untouched for a few minutes until they are browned on one side. Making sure you wait until they unstick themselves from the pan prevents them from getting clumped together and sticky. Once I find the gnocchi to be cooked through, I throw in the sauce of my choice. I typically reach for the Trader Joe’s vegan kale, cashew & basil pesto, which by the way, they nailed. Ironically, I also throw in some parmesan because everything’s better with cheese, right? Trade this out for any shredded cheese alternative of your liking and you’ve got yourself an easy vegan meal that any meat eater would be fooled by!
- Smashed potatoes and salmon
Potatoes are undoubtedly the most versatile ingredient. I could go on an entire tangent to express my appreciation for the starchy, blank canvas that the potato provides, but I’ll leave you with my current favorite way to eat them: smashed. Start off by boiling baby potatoes until a fork can poke through them. Make sure to salt your water so they get seasoned throughout and become creamy on the inside. Transfer them to a saucepan on high heat and—here comes the best part— smash them with a fork until they become flattened. This is when I add in a few pieces of butter, freshly minced garlic and rosemary so the potatoes take in all the flavor. Not only will they smell great but they’ll get crispy and golden brown. This leaves them creamy on the inside with a nice crunch on the outside that is difficult to replicate with any other vegetable.
As for the salmon, any variation of a marinade works. I typically reach for a mix of lemon, garlic powder, honey and red pepper flakes to create that sweet but spicy dynamic. I leave that marinade on for 20 minutes, then oven-bake my salmon so it stays soft and falls apart. Twelve to fifteen minutes at 425 degrees Farenheit is enough for the salmon to be fully cooked without getting dry. The method stays the same for any other marinade. This is easily the most satisfying yet simple recipe you can master in a few tries.
- Garlic naan with avocado tzatziki and chicken
Back at Trader Joe’s, I picked up their avocado tzatziki, a Greek yogurt dip that tastes incredibly fresh. Again, it’s another lightweight item that’s full of flavor. The addition of diced cucumbers and mint makes for a cool and refreshing dip that pairs well with multigrain crackers or carrots. I will say that the Greek yogurt throws me off a bit—the tang is just a little too much for my liking—but I could definitely see myself using it as a replacement for guac. I heat up any naan I can find, spread this all over it and add a few pieces of grilled chicken I’ve pre-cooked to make myself a filling meal that takes less than five minutes to throw together.
- Oats for dinner
I’m not the biggest breakfast person, but I will eat oats any time of day. Rolled oats are fibrous and heart-healthy and will definitely get your digestive health in check. My favorite way to make oats is by loading a bunch of toppings to add texture. I start off by boiling the oats in almond milk and letting them absorb the milk to my liking. Meanwhile, I chop up an apple to add a nice crunch and throw some cinnamon on top, along with chia and hemp seeds for some extra fiber and protein. To top it off, a drizzle of honey or a spoonful of peanut butter really completes the meal. Oats are definitely an acquired taste, but this recipe is what got me into them in the first place!
Hopefully, the six recipes I’ve given you have changed your perspective on cooking at home. With a bit of dedication and a solid list of meals made of basic ingredients, you’ll be able to figure out which meals are the best to include into your lifestyle. As easy as a Chipotle run is, be friendly to your wallet and improve your cooking skills!