Just learning to cook? A while back, I shared my 15-30 minute broccoli skillet supper for two. If you’re fairly new to the kitchen, you may wonder how anyone can get a meal from scratch to table that fast, especially one that uses whole, real foods. Today, I’ll show you how, step-by-step. We’ll be working with that recipe as an example, so if it’s helpful, keep that link open.
What? 15-30 minute meals? Am I kidding?
Nope. Not kidding. You can learn to make a taste-bud-delighting, good-for-you meal just that fast. You remember that old Carnegie Hall adage: Practice, practice, practice? Just like getting to Carnegie Hall, cooking fast takes know-how and practice. I’m here to show you a basic method you can practice each time you make a home-cooked meal. Practice until it’s second nature, a well-established skill, and you won’t have to think about it.
These tips are highly adaptable
In fact, we change this meal up all the time. Sometimes it’s cauliflower instead of broccoli. Sometimes it’s potatoes and kale. Use this method to make a soup or chili on a cold day. Adapt, adapt, adapt. But for starters, I’m going to show you just how we do that broccoli skillet supper recipe here at Chez Grace when we need a wholesome, delightful and fast meal.
We’ll clean the broccoli, toast the almonds, peel and chop the onions and garlic. We’ll even prepare a simple grain pilaf from scratch and add a side of complementary vegetables for nutritional balance and eye-pleasing color.
Once you see how this works, and get used to thinking one or two steps ahead, you’ll find you can make a meal quickly that has eye appeal and tastes as good as it is good for you.
Here’s how to do it.
A YayYay’s Kitchen Cooking & Baking 101 Tutorial
How to make a quick 15-30 minute veggie supper, from washing the vegetables to plating
Step by step, here’s how to make that broccoli skillet supper, complete with a foundation grain and a colorful side, in thirty minutes or less.
Start with the right tools and utensils. To cook fast, you’ll need a few good tools. I use these with nearly every meal I make. Make sure your knives are sharp and the bowls, pots and utensils you need are clean and handy.
- 5-7 quart bowl for soaking and washing veggies (stainless steel is best)
- Colander to drain the veggies
- Food processor with chopping blade (or sharp knife)
- Sharp knives and large cutting board
- Metal dough scraper
- 10-12 inch cast iron or other heavy skillet
- Large metal spoon and/or spatula
- Liquid and dry measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
Now you’ve got your tools handy, you’re ready to go.
Think like the athletes do: Map out a game plan. The trick to cooking fast is to pause, before you start, just like the athletes do, and visualize your game plan. I usually do this in my head while I’m pulling my veggies from the fridge and pantry. I jotted this one down so you can see how informal it is, but you don’t need to write it down unless you have a lot of distractions in the kitchen, like kids popping in and out, or company chatting away.
How to do it: Think about your recipe and the ingredients, as well as the foundation grain or starch and side you’d like to serve with it. While you pull your veggies and other ingredients from the pantry and fridge, visualize how they’ll come together, then ask yourself these questions:
- What takes the most time to prepare? (Usually the grain, unless you have leftovers to heat up.)
- In what order do I need each ingredient?
- What’s already prepped (see tip below) and what do I need to clean and chop?
- What can I make ready while something else is soaking or sauteing?
Tip: When chopping onions, bell peppers and the like for a meal–and you’re not in a raging hurry–chop extra and store them in a tightly sealed jar for a fast meal like this one. Learn more here: Quick tip for making fast meals at home.
Once you have your tasks in order, begin with the top of the list, always thinking ahead to the next item. Ready to give it a go? On to the next step.
Choose a grain or starch and get it going. Check your fridge: Leftover rice, barley, Bulgar wheat, ferro, even mashed or baked potatoes, make excellent supper foundations and re-heat quickly in a skillet or sauce pan. Got enough for supper? Set aside until Step 10.
No leftovers? No worries. Keep Bulgar wheat on hand for fast suppers. Unlike rice, you can prepare this whole grain in less than thirty minutes, start to finish. To prepare the Bulgar wheat, soak it in warm water for 15 minutes while you ready your vegetables.
How to do it: Measure out 1/2 cup Bulgar per person/serving and add about 3/4 C warm water for each 1/2 cup grain, enough to cover, plus a little more. Stir and set aside.
Tip: Whenever you make a pot of rice or other grain for supper, make extra and store tightly covered in the fridge. Two or three nights later, when you want a wholesome meal but don’t have time to wait for the grain to cook, you’re covered.
Can’t eat wheat? For gluten-free, fast meals, one reader suggests toasting buckwheat groats. Haven’t tried that yet, but sounds delicious.
Soak your veggies in a salt bath for 5-10 minutes. Salt kills bacteria and helps any creepy crawlies lurking in your vegetables to detach themselves and float to the surface. Then all you have to do is a quick scrub on smooth veggies and a good rinse overall.
How to do it: Fill a large mixing bowl with cold water. Depending on how many vegetables you need to soak, use a five- to seven-quart bowl. Add roughly a tablespoon of salt per gallon of water, swish to dissolve and dump in the vegetables. (Buy sea salt in bulk–it’s so much cheaper.) Top it off with a second bowl, filled with water to weight it. This keeps your veggies gently submerged so the salt water can get in all the nooks and crannies.
Tip: Learn more about why I soak my fruits and veggies in salt water when cleaning them here: How to keep fruit and veggies fresh longer, cut waste and save money.
Toast the almonds and set them to cooling. Toasted nuts and seeds add flavor, nutrients, protein and eye appeal to almost any dish, turning a quick supper into a special meal.
How to do it: Measure about a tablespoon of whole almonds or other nuts per serving. (If using sesame seeds, a generous teaspoon is plenty. Remember, they’re a garnish, so you don’t need a bunch.) Pulse your almonds or other large nuts a few times in a food processor to chop them coarsely. You can chop by hand, but it will add an extra five to ten minutes to your overall cooking time, depending on number of servings.
Toast the nuts or seeds two to three minutes in a dry, hot skillet, preferably cast iron, turning frequently to prevent scorching. You want them golden brown, not blackened. Toasting the nuts till just slightly caramelized brings out their natural fats and flavor–sheer nutty goodness.
Set the nuts aside to cool on a plate or bowl. By the way, they smell heavenly! I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you made extra, just so you could munch on them while you fix supper.
Tip: To minimize mess and cleanup, toast nuts in the skillet in which you plan to saute your vegetables. That little bit of residual almond flavor in the pan just kisses your veggies, and you eliminate one pan from cleanup later.
Rinse, peel, chop and saute the broccoli stems. If your broccoli is old, you’ll likely need to peel the stems before chopping.
How to do it: Stand a stem sturdily on end on your cutting board, and run a paring knife carefully down the sides to remove the tough outer skin layer. If your broccoli is quite fresh, you may be able to omit this step. Chop the stems into half-inch pieces and set aside.
Tip: Don’t discard those trimmings. Toss them in your veggie freezer bowl and make delicious soup stock with them.
Peel and chop the onion, then peel and mince the garlic. Get the onions going while you prepare the garlic, which doesn’t need more than a minute or two in the pan.
How to do it: Chop your onion in 1/4-1/2″ pieces. Add a teaspoon or two of oil to your skillet, heat on medium/high until a piece of onion sizzles when added to the oil, and sweat* the onions while you peel and mince the garlic. Add to the onions, stir and saute about one minute, then add the salt and broccoli stems. Salt helps soften the more fibrous stem bits and brings out their flavor.
Move on to the next steps, coming back to stir these every couple of minutes.
Tip: If the vegetables stick a bit, rather than adding more oil, stir in a tablespoon or two of filtered water. Since our veggies are already lightly coated with oil, they can saute just fine in a small amount of water, saving unneeded fat calories without any loss of flavor. Plus, the water deglazes the pan, making for easier cleanup later and imparting even more flavor to the veggies.
Stir the Bulgar. Take a moment to give your Bulgar wheat a quick stir. By now it will have absorbed about half the water, maybe more. Isn’t it amazing how it expands and softens?
Trim and add the broccoli florets, along with the lemon or lime juice and a little of the remaining onion. Here’s where the dish gets really pretty. You’re on the home stretch now. Cook the florets and fresh onion to just crunchy-tender.
How to do it: Separate the florets into bite-sized pieces, trimming off longer bits of stem and chopping those as needed. Add the florets, stem bits and about half of the reserved onion to the skillet. Squeeze the lemon or lime over all, careful not to let any seeds in, and stir gently, turning the heat to low. Watch the florets closely, turning heat to “warm” as soon as they are bright green and slightly tender. Do not overcook!
Tip: If you have it, use red onion in this step for a more colorful, eye-appealing dish.
Prepare your red/orange side vegetables, and make ready for plating. While the florets warm, slice the clean, drained veggies, even cook a side of carrots if that’s what’s on hand. I’m sharing three quick veggie option here. We’ve always got at least one of these vegetables on hand. We eat a lot of them! Colorful, delicious and nutritious. You? What vegetables do you keep on hand?
How to do it:In the few minutes the florets heat through, slice your veggies. If carrots, make thin, broad cuts on the diagonal, and if you want them slightly cooked, bring a quarter cup of water to boil in a second skillet and toss in the carrots, stirring frequently. They’ll cook nearly tender, but not mushy, in just a few minutes. If they use up all the water and begin to caramelize a little, all the better. Without removing the carrots, de-glaze the pan with just a tablespoon or two of water or fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice sprinkled over and stir.
If using colorful bell peppers, slice in largish chunks on the diagonal for easy finger food. You can serve cherry tomatoes whole, but for a dish like this one, I like to slice them in half.
Tip: You can slice an entire plateful of cherry tomatoes in seconds. Turn a dinner plate upside down. Place a single layer of cherry tomatoes on the flat of the plate. Top with an identical plate placed right side up over the cherries. Hold the top plate down gently but firmly while slicing through the tomatoes. (Click on the photo to view larger images and captions.)
Voilà! An entire pint of halved cherry tomatoes in seconds. My gratitude to blogger Lee of Veggie Quest, who shared this trick and 6 other cooking hacks.
Heat the soaked (or leftover) grain. When the broccoli florets are brilliantly green and just slightly tender, remove them to a warmed serving dish and use the same skillet to heat the grain.
How to do it: Dump the leftover or soaked grain, whichever you’re using, into the skillet, along with a sprinkle of salt to taste. Here you can see a little moisture remains in the Bulgar wheat. Not to worry, it cooks off quickly. By the time it’s warmed through, you’ll find the grain tender, with a rice-like texture and a mildly nutty flavor.
Now if you’re lucky enough to have leftover rice, barley or other cooked grain on hand, heat it up the same way, with just a little moisture–not fat–in the bottom of the skillet to keep it from sticking. Watch closely to prevent scorching. Grains like a little toasting, so that’s fine, but you don’t want them sticking to your pan and making cleanup difficult.
This is where cooking becomes a bit of dance, as you move between the two pans, gracefully or, in my advancing years with a touch of arthritis in knees and hands, not so gracefully. Still, it’s a dance and rather fun.
Tip: A skillet works better than a saucepan for this step because you can spread the grain out and heat it fast, as well as quickly cook off excess moisture.
Plate the vegetables, light the candles and sit down and enjoy. To plate, dish up a half cup or so of Bulgar wheat per person, making a wide, shallow well with the back of a large spoon. Top with heaping serving spoons full of the broccoli mixture and sprinkle all with the toasted almonds and remaining fresh onion.
Alongside the broccoli main event, make a crescent of colorful halved cherry tomatoes, sliced bell peppers in red, orange and yellow, or your choice of raw or steamed carrot wedges. Add a twist of freshly ground black pepper, sit down, grab a fork and go for it.
*To sweat the onions means to cook them until they soften a bit, begin to release some of their moisture and appear to perspire.
Adapt this method dozens of ways
That’s it. You can adapt this method to almost any stir-fry combination, one-skillet meal, soup or casserole. I realize these steps may seem like a lot to a novice, but once you’ve got the rhythm of cooking like this, you’ll find it’s quick and easy. Remember to enjoy the dance!
Did you try it?
If you try this method and, over time, find it becomes second nature in the kitchen, do come back and share your thoughts, or even a new tip I haven’t thought of here. If you see something that needs adjusting, do please let me know that too. I’m all for collaborative learning. Are you?
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