In my last email, I asked you all to let me know what you’re struggling with in terms of cooking and shopping during these turbulent times….
What I heard most often is that many of you are having a hard time figuring out what to cook with limited supplies.
Maybe you don’t have all the ingredients for a certain recipe and don’t know what to substitute… maybe you’re unable to plan out meals because you aren’t sure what will be available on the next shopping trip.
I totally get it. I’ve been there myself recently. You venture out to find 10 ingredients for a recipe and end up with nothing but a handful of wilted spinach and a cart full of toilet paper…
It turns out, there’s a solution for this. Today I’m going to give you guys my own system for cooking healthy delicious meals from scratch – even without a fully stocked pantry. This is something I developed years ago and that has guided me in making the 300+ recipes on this website.
It all goes back to the basics of One Ingredient cooking. Once I started eating a whole-food, plant-based diet 10+ years ago, the thing that surprised me the most is how easy it is to throw a meal together with whole, plant-based, “one ingredient” foods. That was my main motivation for starting this website in 2013, to show you guys just how easy and simple and delicious real food can be.
Now, more than ever, One Ingredient cooking is the answer!
When you take whole, plant-based foods and cook/combine them into meals, virtually any combination ends up being a delicious, nutritions, balanced meal. It just works, and that fact is the backbone of the system I wanted to share with you today.
For example… could you make a meal with a bizarre combination of almond butter and whole wheat pasta? Sure! Maybe you have some soy sauce and vinegar too, which you can add to the almond butter until you have a sauce, maybe some green onions and frozen veggies to cook with the pasta, toss it all together and it would be delicious!
That’s the power of One Ingredient cooking. Throw real ingredients together and you end up with a delicious meal.
Of course, it’s still pretty daunting to stare at a random assortment of ingredients and wonder how you can fit them together into a meal. For that, I have a free tool that I developed years ago and have been using to create most of the recipes on this website.
This tool was previously only available in my One Ingredient Online Course, but I decided to share it with all of you today, for free. Hopefully it will help you cook healthier, easier meals with less stress in these difficult times.
The Dinner Adventure Cards
I call them the “Dinner Adventure Cards” and you can click the button below to download the PDF file, print a copy, and cut out the cards –
Once you have your cards cut out and ready to go, how do you actually use them?!
The cards are divided into 5 categories (Grain, “Protein”, Rainbow, Finish, and Healthy Fat). You draw 1-2 cards from each category and that’s your ingredient list. The categories are self-explanatory, but…
Whole GRAINS are kind of the cornerstone of a healthy, plant-based meals and this is #1 because once you’ve settled on a grain, the rest is pretty easy.
“PROTEINS” are in quotes because it’s a silly name because 1) all plant-foods have protein, and 2) some cards (mushrooms) are actually pretty low in protein, but it makes sense because these cards add a rich, meaty, umami component.
RAINBOWS includes fruits and veggies across the rainbow, with suggestions for each color. I’d shoot for 2 of these if possible.
HEALTHY FATS is optional, but includes things like nuts, seeds, avocado, and a category I’m calling nut butters which would also include pureed sauces like cashew cream.
FINISHES are essential for adding more depth and flavor. A simple squeeze of lemon juice, some extra spices, or a dash of low-sodium soy sauce can go a long ways towards turning a bland meal into something great.
Then, you simply combine and cook the ingredients as needed to create a delicious meal.
You can make a delicious plant-based meal with pretty much any unprocessed ingredients. But the value of these cards is that they give you some structure, take out the guesswork, and ensure you’re creating a balanced meal.
As long as you have at least one ingredient from each category, you can be confident that you’re creating something delicious and satisfying.
That’s the system I’ve followed for making many of my recipes here on One Ingredient Chef.
The original purpose of these cards was to teach students how to cook unprocessed whole-food meals without a recipe. I would challenge them to draw cards at random and figure out how to make a meal with whatever they drew.
In these more uncertain times, however, they can be used backwards. Even if your shopping is a little chaotic and uncertain, I’d bet you have at least one ingredient from each category. Just compare the cards with whatever is in your fridge/pantry until you’ve found at least one thing from each category. Then, voila, you have ingredients for a meal.
EXAMPLE: Quinoa Salad with Peanut Butter Lentil Curry
Just to show you an example of how this works, I’ll cook dinner tonight directly from the cards. Before figuring out what I’d actually make, I poked around my supplies and this is what I settled on:
RAINBOW: Green (mixed baby greens) + Red (tomato)
HEALTHY FAT: Peanut Butter
FINISH: Allium (onion), Spices (curry powder)
What can I POSSIBLY do with all that? Why not a lentil peanut butter curry, served with warm quinoa and wilted greens?!
I didn’t measure anything, it’s not a full recipe (in fact I do have a killer peanut butter lentil curry recipe that is much more involved), but here’s what I did…
- Cooked the quinoa (GRAIN) and tossed with some finely-chopped greens (RAINBOW – GREEN) and a dash of pepper.
- Warmed some diced onion (FINISH – ALLIUM) and curry powder (FINISH – SPICES) in a skillet until the onions softened
- Next I added in fresh tomatoes (RAINBOW – RED), some pre-cooked lentils (PROTEIN), and a few tablespoons of peanut butter (HEALTHY FAT) with enough water to make it all creamy and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
As you can see from the photo, it was nothing fancy or pretty or worth posting as a full recipe but it was very tasty and a big hit. One Ingredient cooking, guys, you can’t go wrong 🙂
So, that’s the Dinner Adventure Cards! Hopefully they can take a little of the stress out of grocery shopping and cooking. If all you can find is some purple cabbage and canned beans, no problem, you know where they fit into the cards and it should be pretty easy to throw a meal together from there!
P.S. I also = put my Ingredients app on sale for just $0.99 for the next few weeks – the lowest price as which I can offer it. It’s my mobile app with 275+ recipes in the easiest, fastest, most convenient format. If you’re struggling to find recipes these days, hopefully this app can help as well. You can read more about the Ingredients app here or pick it up with these links: