What to cook (when you don't know what to cook)

A collection of foods to suit many moods

By Food52

Published September 9, 2021 10:00AM (EDT)

 (Julia Gartland / Food52)
(Julia Gartland / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

Do you ever open the fridge and just stare at it for a while, wondering what to cook? Us too. Sometimes, cooking funks arrive without warning — and they don't care whether you have a pantry full of groceries, or are having friends over in two hours, or are hungry literally right now. But look, you've still gotta eat, and a handful of cereal absolutely won't do.

Sure, takeout is always an option, but we consulted a few Food52 editors and contributors to find out what they cook when faced with what-to-cook situations, like a rapidly ripening farmers' market haul or a desperate craving for comfort food. Because maybe you're in a rut, aren't feeling your best, or are simply in need of some kitchen-inspiration...and just want to be told what to cook. (We get it.)

* * *

What to cook . . .

. . . when you're entertaining on a budget

Pita Chip Dinner Salad with Stone Fruit and Chickpeas

Okay, so you want to have friends over for dinner, and you want things to be really cute, but you can't spend a lot. Plenty of recipes in Assigning Editor Rebecca Firkser's budget-friendly recipe column, Nickel & Dine, fit this mold (looking at you, grilled tofu cabbage cups, but this month, we're excited about her Pita Chip Dinner Salad with Stone Fruit and Chickpeas.

. . . when you've had a looooooong day

Feta-Brine Martini

It's 7:46 p.m. You're stumbling through the door (or finally logging off email for the day), and you need to unwind. And also, you need a snack. No one knows how to do cocktail hour like Food Editor Emma Laperruque, and this time she's made a Feta Brine Martini — complete with feta-stuffed olives to munch on while you drink. And maybe for dinner, opt for another Big Little Recipe, like a five-minute pickle sandwich or super-garlicky, stupid-quick pasta.

. . . when you're missing home

Mom's Pork Soup with Peanuts and Lotus Root

When you're feeling homesick, there's no greater comfort food than a family favorite. And for contributor Yi Jun Loh, that's Mom's Pork Soup With Peanuts & Lotus Root. He often tried to replicate the dish when he missed his mother's cooking and lived too far away to visit for dinner, but it was never the same; it wasn't until moving back home during the pandemic that Jun was able to totally nail this recipe — but he'll always prefer his mom's: "Each time she makes it, I'll sneak into the kitchen, pop open the lid of the simmering brew, and let the porky steam envelop me. Over dinner, I'll ladle out a bowl for her and for myself, and slurp on it, scalding my lips in the process, but warming my heart — like no soup of my own ever could."

. . . when you're pregnant

Breakfast Pasta

Contributor Olivia Mack McCool wants to register a complaint with whoever came up with the term morning sickness, "because if you've ever experienced it, you know that it is not relegated to just the early hours of the day." And when you're basically feeling hungover all day, every day, for months, nothing takes the edge off like a giant bowl of pasta. A simple mixture of butter, everything bagel spice, and an egg, this pasta is just as good at night as it is for breakfast, and you certainly don't have to be pregnant to enjoy it.

. . . when you need a sweet pick-me-up, stat

Misugaru Milkshake

"As a pastry chef, I still crave dessert — but I don't always want to bake, which can feel like an extension of work," writes contributor Joy Cho. And we bet even folks who aren't baking for a living will agree that, at the end of the day, turning on the oven is less than desirable. So allow us to suggest Misugaru Milkshakes. The earthy, slightly nutty powdered grain makes a classic vanilla shake sing — and bonus, you can make it totally vegan if you don't do dairy.

. . . when you feel sick

Rotisserie Chicken Soup with Pierogi and Lots of Herbs

When you're under the weather, one of the last things you want is to spend time making dinner, but at the same time, maybe find yourself craving a home-cooked meal. How about a compromise: contributor Jessica Romanowski's Rotisserie Chicken Soup, featuring (duh) a store-bought chicken that's submerged in water to make a flavor-packed broth, then shredded into a soup along with pierogi from the freezer (only have dumplings? Use those! Noodles will work in a pinch too.) and any herbs you have hanging around. Basically, you'll dump everything in a pot, shred some meat, and you'll be settling into the coziest soup in no time. Don't you feel better already?

By Food52


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