The Dinner Rut Is Real. Here Are 3 Ways Out

Deep-fried tofu, the case for ricotta as pasta sauce, and fish salad 2.0

While I almost never cook a recipe exactly the same way twice, it’s rare for me to make three dishes in a week that I haven’t ever cooked before: The dinner rut is real. While the recipes below are all versions of things I cook and eat pretty frequently, they each brought something new to the table, which was a refreshing change of pace.

First, there’s tofu with peanut sauce, which honestly sounds boring, but is a bit of an eye-opener if you’ve never deep-fried tofu before. I deep-fry stuff all the time, but seldom tofu. Not anymore. It’s golden and crisp on the outside, creamy inside, and an ideal sponge for soaking up peanut (or any other) sauce. Or as my wife put it: “You never make tofu like this. It’s like restaurant tofu. Make this more.” Heard.

Next is a spin on the beloved pasta with broccoli rabe and garlic, which becomes immediately luxurious with the addition of creamy ricotta stirred in at the end. Add some Italian sausage if you want, or don’t; it’s good either way. It’s not mentioned in the recipe, but some lemon zest grated in right before serving wakes the whole thing up.

Finally, there’s a dish I made purely because I have a bunch of cod in the freezer and a giant jar of horseradish leftover from Passover in the fridge. It’s a simple white fish salad: poached cubes of cod dressed in mayo, horseradish and lemon, tossed with cucumber, parsley, and dill. Classic flavors, for sure, but not a conclusion I ever would have reached on my own. But I have to say, surprisingly satisfying. If you want a dinner that’s light, full of flavor, good at any temperature, and takes 15 minutes to make, serve this with some toasty bread and call it a night.


Deep-Fried Tofu with Peanut Sauce and Scallions

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

If you think you don’t like tofu, try deep-frying it until golden and serving with this peanut sauce—then we’ll talk. Serve it with rice, noodles, or vegetables on the side.

Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil for frying

  • 2 bricks firm tofu (12 to 14 ounces each)

  • 1 garlic clove

  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

  • Salt

  • 3 scallions

Instructions

1. Put at least 2 inches of vegetable oil in a deep heavy skillet or saucepan over medium heat. You want the temperature to reach 350 degrees.

2. Cut each brick of tofu in half across its equator, then cut each of those halves into 2 triangles; pat them dry with a paper towel. You’ll end up with 4 pieces for each brick.

3. Peel 1 garlic clove and 1/2-inch ginger; mince them together and put them in a small bowl.

4. Add 1/4 cup peanut butter, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, and 2 teaspoons sesame oil to the bowl. Stir to combine, adding enough hot water to turn it into a sauce.

5. When the oil reaches 350 degrees, fry the tofu in batches, turning occasionally until golden brown and puffed up, 2 to 4 minutes.

6. As each batch is finished, remove the pieces with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels; sprinkle with salt.

7. Trim and chop the scallions.

8. When all the tofu is fried, pile it on a platter, scatter the scallions over the top, and serve the peanut sauce on the side for dipping.

—Recipe from How to Cook Everything Fast

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Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Ricotta

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 25 minutes

Stir a cup of ricotta cheese into hot pasta, add a splash of cooking water, and you’ve got a rich and creamy sauce that took you 30 seconds to make. Slightly bitter broccoli rabe is the perfect vegetable to cut through the richness of the cheese.

Ingredients

  • Salt

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe

  • Pepper

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes

  • 1 pound cut pasta, like elbows, penne, or ziti

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese

Instructions

1. Bring a stockpot of water to a boil and salt it.

2. Put 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Trim and chop the broccoli rabe, separating any thick stems.

3. Raise the heat under the skillet to medium-high. Add any thick stems to the skillet and cook until they begin to soften, 3 or 4 minutes.

4. Add the leaves, a handful at a time if necessary to fit them in, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until just wilted, 3 or 4 minutes.

5. Peel and mince 2 garlic cloves; add them to the skillet along with 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes.

6. When the water boils, add the pasta and stir occasionally. Start tasting after 5 minutes. When the pasta is tender but not mushy, drain it, reserving some cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot.

7. Add the broccoli rabe, 1 cup ricotta, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and a splash of the cooking water to make it saucy. Toss, taste, adjust the seasoning and serve.

—Recipe from How to Cook Everything Fast

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Fish Salad with Horseradish Dressing

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes

A great cool salad, especially wonderful if you use fresh horseradish. (If you never have, buy just a small piece of the root, which looks like a tree root; peel and grate it, being careful not to get any of its juices in your eyes.) You can prepare the fish and dressing ahead of time and toss them together immediately before serving.

Ingredients

  • Salt and black pepper to taste

  • 1 1/2 pounds white fish fillets, like red snapper, cod, or halibut, skinned, boned, and cut into 2-inch chunks

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • One 2-ounce piece fresh horseradish, peeled and grated, or 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish or wasabi paste, or to taste

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and diced

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill leaves

Instructions

1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil, then adjust the heat so the water bubbles gently. Add the fish pieces and cook for about 5 minutes, or until a skewer or thin-bladed knife pierces them easily. Do not overcook. Drain and sprinkle with half the lemon juice.

2. Whisk the remaining lemon juice with horseradish, mayonnaise, sugar, salt, and pepper. When you’re ready to serve — the salad is good warm, cold, or at room temperature — gently toss the dressing with the fish and cucumber, top with parsley and dill, and serve.

—Recipe from The Best Recipes In The World

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