Limited Ingredients
Credit: Self

For those of us that are hungry with an empty fridge

            If you’re anything like me, at least once a week, you look into your refrigerator in an attempt to start dinner and find nothing but half a stick of butter, a tomato, and a slice of cheese.  But before you reach for your phone to waste ten dollars on takeout, take a look through the freezer and the cupboard; chances are with a little ingenuity you can whip up a perfectly good dinner in no time.


Take Inventory


First, don’t just look in the refrigerator.  Check out the cupboard, the freezer, and even your baking supplies.  Identify what you have the most of.  There is most likely an unopened bag of rice, a can of beans, or a giant bag of spinach you bought on sale but never found a use for.


Whatever food product you have the most of will become your staple.  This is what you will plan the meal around.  Rice?  Think stir-fry. Beans?  Try chili.




If your kitchen is truly empty you will not have all the ingredients needed for any recipe, but recipes will give you an idea of the types of flavors that go into a meal. 


For example, chili pretty much always has a tomato base, but just because a recipe calls for a 15 oz. can of chopped tomatoes doesn’t mean you can’t chop your own tomatoes if you only have a can of whole peeled ones.  Even a few tablespoons of tomato paste will work in a pinch!    


Get Creative


            This will become easier over time, but try using the ingredients you have in unexpected ways.  If you have a bunch of eggs and some veggies, don’t just make an omelet, make a quiche!  Pastry dough is deceptively easy to make.  It’s nothing but flour, salt, and a fat mixed together.  No need to refrigerate it for the two hours before rolling it out.  You are making a quick dinner for yourself, not trying to impress houseguests.  Maybe it won’t be as pretty as the pictures, but it will taste just fine.   


A Few Meals to Keep in Mind


            There are a few versatile meals to keep in mind when raiding your kitchen for scraps of food to pull together into a meal.  Each of these meals can be made using just one staple and whatever else you happen to have lying around. 


1.  STIR-FRY (Staple: Rice)


Any veggies (raw, frozen, leftover) + Rice + Soy Sauce = Stir-fry


2.  PASTA (Staple: Pasta)


Ah pasta, the college student go-to.  But don’t just make pasta and canned tomato sauce. 


Use equal parts flour and fat to make a roux and add it to milk with some cheese and spices for a cream sauce. 


Sautee a bunch of chopped garlic in olive oil and pour it over pasta for Spaghetti Aglio e Oilio.


Or just fry some onions and veggies in oil and toss the pasta into the hot pan for a minute or so for a simple and unexpected pasta meal. 


3.  BLENDED SOUPS (Staple: Veggies or Potatoes)


If you have a blender or food processer, blended soups can be an easy and tasty way to use up any odd vegetables you have lying around. 


Simply boil the veggies in a broth, once soft, toss in any spices or dairy products you desire, and blend.


While root vegetables and many winter and fall vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and butternut quash make excellent soups on their own, it is best to combine lighter vegetables such as broccoli and spinach with potatoes. 


Some of my favorite soups include:

                        -Broth + Onions + Carrots + Coriander

                        -Broth + Leeks (or onions) + Potatoes + Cheese

                        -Broth + Potatoes + Spinach + a dollop of sour cream in the bowl

                        -Broth + Onions + Butternut Squash + Nutmeg

                        -Broth + Potatoes + Broccoli + Cheese + Mustard


4.  FLATBREADS (Staple: Flour)


Flatbreads can be an excellent addition to any soup, salad, meat or veggie dish you have managed to whip up.  They can make a last minute scramble really feel like a full meal.


Once again, I would suggest looking at some recipes online for inspiration and proportions, but flatbreads are deceptively easy to make.  Simply mix flour, baking powder, salt, spices, and water into a dough, flatten it, and fry it on a grill or in an oiled skillet until both sides are browned and the flatbread has cooked through. 


Planning for an Unplanned Meal


            Finally, here are a few things you can pick up next time you are at the grocery store that have long shelf lives and can make future ‘empty kitchen’ meals easier to manage:



-Frozen and Canned Veggies

-Broth Cubes/Cans/Cartons

-Canned Beans (dried beans must be soaked overnight, so they don’t tend to work well for last minutes meals)  


-Baking Powder and Baking Soda



-Flavoring Sauces (Soy Sauce, Hot Sauce, BBQ Sauce, etc.)



Now I’m off to make a baked potato with cheese and a side salad…. because that’s all I have in my kitchen.