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.