Five or fewer: From breakfast to dessert, less is more with these dishes

You don’t need a huge number of ingredients to cook well. Think of the iconic food duos — peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and tomato soup, coffee and doughnuts — and how perfect they are together. Adding other flavors would only muck up the complementary beauty.

There’s definitely a time and a place for trying out a recipe with a two-page-long ingredient list. Maybe you want to cook a proper bowl of pho or re-create a dish you loved eating in a restaurant. I sure know the feeling. In my work as a food writer, I collaborate with major chefs to create cookbooks. I have written recipes for ling cod brandade, hand-rolled gnocchi with saffron-tomato sauce, and ballotine (twice). I relish the challenge of tackling a weekend project such as shrimp-and-pork dumplings. But after many years in the kitchen, what I’ve come to love most is cooking simply, with only a handful of ingredients. My favorite recipes are the kind that grow with you, teach you something new, and have emotion and subtlety. Every so often, I am caught breathless at the discovery of a recipe that miraculously checks all the boxes: simple, rewarding, doable on a busy weeknight, elegant, and most importantly, incredibly delicious.

The following recipes are those kinds of gems. Each has bold, interesting flavors and fewer than five ingredients. Salt, pepper, and olive oil don’t count because they’re pantry staples in most kitchens. I suppose you could argue with my math, but why bother? In the same amount of time, you can grocery shop (now’s your chance to breeze through the express lane) and cook something unexpectedly wonderful.


See the honey-chia granola recipe in our California Cookbook »


55 minutes. Makes about 6 cups

4 cups rolled oats

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons chia seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup honey

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, chia seeds and salt.

3. Melt the butter using a microwave or in a small pot on the stovetop. Stir in the honey, mixing until blended, then pour the honey-butter into the bowl of oats. Mix well.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet, spreading evenly and pressing down with the back of a spoon to encourage the granola to form clusters. Bake for 15 minutes, stir the granola and press it down once again, then continue to bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet. Store the granola in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one month.

Each ¼ cup serving: Calories 169; Protein 5 grams; Carbohydrates 24 grams; Fiber 4 grams; Fat 6 grams; Saturated fat 3 grams; Cholesterol 10 mg; Sugar 6 grams; Sodium 50 mg

Note: Recipe by Maria Zizka.


See the warm steak salad with sherried cherries recipe in our California Cookbook »

45 minutes. Serves 2

1 boneless steak (about 3/4 pound), such as rib-eye, flat iron, strip, or hanger

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup fresh or frozen pitted cherries

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

¼ cup olive oil, divided

3 loosely packed cups arugula

1. Use paper towels to pat the steak completely dry. Generously season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper, then rest the steak at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small pot over low heat, combine the cherries, sherry vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Warm for a few minutes, then remove from heat and set aside to soak while you cook the steak.

3. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until it’s so hot it’s nearly smoking, 3 to 4 minutes. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place the steak in the skillet and cook until browned on the first side, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook on the second side to your preferred doneness, 3 to 5 minutes for medium-rare, depending on thickness. (If using a thermometer to check doneness, 130 degrees is medium-rare.) Use tongs to hold the steak on its side and crisp any strips of fat for another minute or so. Transfer the steak to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes.

4. Scatter the arugula across a serving plate. Using a fork, stir the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the sherried cherries. Thinly slice the steak against the grain and place the slices on the arugula. Drizzle any juices from the cut steak over the top, then spoon the cherries and their sauce over everything.

Each serving: Calories 486; Protein 36 grams; Carbohydrates 7 grams; Fiber 1 gram; Fat 34 grams; Saturated fat 6 grams; Cholesterol 111 mg; Sugar 6 grams; Sodium 84 mg

Note: Recipe by Maria Zizka.


See our salt-and-vinegar-cauliflower recipe in our California Cookbook »

35 minutes. Serves 4

1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ cup chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, plus more as needed

1. Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with the olive oil to coat it well. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper, or to taste.

3. Heat a large skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Transfer the cauliflower to the skillet and cook, stirring only once or twice, for about 5 minutes, until golden-brown in a few places. Place the skillet in the oven and roast the cauliflower until brown in a few more places, another 5 minutes or so. Stir the cauliflower around in the skillet, then roast until just tender, 3 to 5 more minutes.

4. Remove from the oven and mix in the dill, vinegar and another pinch of salt. Taste a piece of cauliflower and add more vinegar and salt if needed. Serve hot or warm.

Each serving: Calories 212; Protein 4 grams; Carbohydrates 10 grams; Fiber 4 grams; Fat 18 grams; Saturated fat 3 grams; Cholesterol 0; Sugar 4 grams; Sodium 354 mg

Note: Recipe by Maria Zizka.


See our lemon-rosemary shortbread cookies in our California Cookbook »

1 hour, 20 minutes. Makes 20 cookies

2 cups (8.5 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1 teaspoon salt

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, lemon zest and rosemary.

2. In another bowl, vigorously beat the butter and sugar using a wooden spoon until creamy and lightened in color, about 3 minutes. (Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.) Add the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to bake the cookies, heat the oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into 20 rectangles (or any shape you like) and place them on the prepared baking sheet, leaving space between each one. Bake until lightly golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating halfway through for even coloring. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Each cookie: Calories 157; Protein 2 grams; Carbohydrates 17 grams; Fiber 0; Fat 9 grams; Saturated fat 6 grams; Cholesterol 24 mg; Sugar 7 grams; Sodium 118 mg

Note: Recipe by Maria Zizka.

This is an occasional column highlighting easy weeknight recipes of five ingredients or fewer.