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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Five weeknight dishes: flavorful recipes to reboot and refresh

By Emily Weinstein

Well, everyone, I’ve eaten a lot of cookies in the last few weeks, and I’ve had a good time doing it. But now I’m cruising into 2024 ready for food that’s lighter on the butter but still brimming with flavor.

Maybe you’re in the same boat? If so, this week’s recipes are for you: five fast and fresh ways to reboot your cooking for the new year, or at least through the end of resolution season.

1. Stir-Fried Shrimp With Snow Peas and Ginger

In 2005, Julia Moskin wrote an excellent article about woks, the best sort for American kitchens (a 14-inch heavy-gauge carbon-steel wok with a flat bottom) and how to season it. This recipe, adapted from Grace Young’s book, “The Breath of a Wok,” ran alongside it. It is simple, fresh and fast. It cooks in under 5 minutes, so start your pot of rice as you clean the shrimp and chop the ginger, garlic and scallions.

Recipe from Grace Young

Adapted by Julia Moskin

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes


1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/3 cup chicken broth

2 teaspoons rice wine or dry sherry

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

3/4 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced ginger

6 ounces snow peas, strings removed, washed and dried

1 scallion, chopped


1. In a large bowl combine 2 cups cold water and 1 tablespoon salt, stirring until salt is dissolved. Add shrimp, and let stand 5 minutes. Rinse shrimp under cold running water, and set to dry on paper towels. With more towels, pat shrimp dry.

2. In a bowl, combine broth, wine, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar and pepper.

3. Heat a wok over high heat. To test heat, flick a few drops of water into wok. When water vaporizes within 2 seconds, wok is hot. Swirl in 1 tablespoon oil around sides of wok. Add shrimp, spreading them in a single layer, so they have contact with hot metal. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes or just until pink, tossing them with a wok shovel or spatula. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil, garlic and ginger, and stir-fry 5 seconds. Add snow peas and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and stir-fry 1 minute more.

4. Stir cornstarch mixture, swirl it in around sides of wok, and bring to a boil. Stir-fry just until shrimp are cooked through and sauce has thickened, about 30 seconds more. Stir in scallions, and serve immediately.

2. Baked Chicken Breasts

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are a popular cut of meat for their versatility, and because they are so lean, knowing how to properly season and cook them is essential. When it comes to baking, a quick brine in a saltwater solution ensures the meat comes out tender, moist and well-seasoned. (Don’t leave the breasts in the brine for longer than 2 hours, or the salt could negatively affect the texture of the meat.) The chicken is delicious as-is, but it can also be diced or shredded and mixed into salads, soups or any recipe that calls for cooked poultry. Feel free to swap the dried herbs and spices here with your favorite seasoning blends — just stick to around 1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning total for each breast and be mindful of the salt if it’s included in the blend.

By Lidey Heuck

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes


4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (10 to 12 ounces each)

2 tablespoons kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

4 teaspoons dried oregano or Italian seasoning

4 teaspoons garlic powder

4 teaspoons sweet paprika (optional)

Black pepper, to taste


1. In a large bowl, combine 4 cups of room temperature water and the salt. Stir until the salt is dissolved. Add the chicken breasts, making sure they are fully submerged. Brine for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. (Cover and refrigerate if brining for more than 30 minutes.)

2. Heat the oven to 425 degrees and line a sheet pan or large baking dish with parchment paper. While the oven heats, remove the chicken breasts from the brine and pat them dry with paper towels, discarding the brine. Place the chicken breasts on the prepared pan. Drizzle generously with olive oil, flipping chicken so both sides are coated. Sprinkle with the dried oregano, garlic powder, paprika, if using, and some black pepper.

3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breasts reaches 165 degrees. Rest for 10 minutes before slicing into the chicken and serving.

3. Squash and Chickpea Stew With Lemon Grass

This comforting weeknight squash stew is inspired by Thai curries that combine rich coconut and fragrant lemon grass, but it’s quite mild and soothing rather than spicy. Deeply orange kabocha is used here, but butternut, delicata or acorn squash would all work well. The secret behind this quick yet flavorful dish is peanut butter; it adds nutty depth to balance the aromatic and bright lemon-grass-infused broth. Chickpeas pair well with squash, but this customizable stew can accommodate any bean (such as white, pinto or black beans); lightly mashing half of the tender squash and beans at the end thickens the sauce.

By Kay Chun

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 35 minutes


2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as safflower or canola

1 cup finely chopped shallot

2 lemon grass stalks, tough outer layer discarded and stalk cut into thirds

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

2 1/2 pounds kabocha squash (1 small), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 1/2 cups)

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk, stirred

Kosher salt and black pepper

5 ounces baby spinach

1 tablespoon lime juice

Cooked basmati rice and chopped basil, for serving


1. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium. Add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, using a meat mallet or the bottom of a small pot, crush the lemon grass pieces to split open the stalks. (This helps release the aroma and flavor.) Add lemon grass, garlic and ginger to pot and stir until fragrant, 1 minute. Add peanut butter and cook, stirring constantly, until well blended and lightly caramelized on the bottom of the pot, about 2 minutes. Add squash, chickpeas, coconut milk and 3 cups water; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to lift up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.

3. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook at a lively simmer until squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover, discard lemon grass and continue to cook stew, mashing half of the squash and chickpeas, until thickened, another 5 minutes. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Turn off heat, add lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

4. Divide curry among 4 bowls and top with basil. Serve with rice.

4. Sheet-Pan Salmon and Broccoli With Sesame and Ginger

A healthy sheet-pan dinner that comes together in just 20 minutes? Sign us up. Brushing a simple sesame-ginger glaze onto the salmon before it roasts promotes caramelization on the fish, a feat not easily accomplished when roasting salmon fillets. The garnishes give this dinner a professional finish: A squeeze of lime juice, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and a handful of thinly sliced scallions make for a beautiful plate.

By Lidey Heuck

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 20 minutes


4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (about 1 tablespoon)

1 garlic clove, finely grated

1 pound broccoli, trimmed and cut into florets, thick stems discarded

2 scallions, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1 1/2-inch segments, plus thinly sliced scallions for garnish

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing the salmon

Kosher salt and black pepper

4 (6-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets

1/2 lime, for serving

Sesame seeds, for serving


1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk 3 tablespoons sesame oil with the soy sauce, vinegar, honey, ginger and garlic until smooth. Set the glaze aside.

2. Place the broccoli florets and 1 1/2-inch scallion segments on a sheet pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, toss well and roast for 5 minutes.

3. While the broccoli and scallions roast, place the salmon fillets on a plate and pat dry with paper towels. Brush all over with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. Toss the broccoli and scallions and move to the edges of the pan, clearing spaces in the center for the salmon fillets. Place the salmon fillets, evenly spaced, on the center of the pan. Brush the fillets generously with the glaze.

5. Return the pan to the oven and roast until the salmon is cooked through but still slightly rare in the center, about 12 minutes.

6. Squeeze the lime over the broccoli and sprinkle with salt. Scatter the sliced scallions and sesame seeds over the salmon, and serve hot.

5. Black Bean Chili With Mushrooms

Mushrooms and black beans are the perfect pairing for a hearty weeknight chili with a kick of heat from a fresh jalapeño. Seared minced mushrooms add a depth of flavor that balances an easy homemade chili spice mix of mild chile, warm cinnamon and smoky chipotle. If you’d like, you can substitute 1 1/2 cups of the broth for 1 1/2 cups of Mexican lager.

By Jocelyn Ramirez

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 40 minutes


1 pound cremini or portobello mushrooms, or both, minced (see tip)

1/3 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed

Salt and black pepper

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

2 red bell peppers, finely chopped

1 jalapeño, minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon ground mild chile, such as chile California

3/4 teaspoon chipotle powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Ceylon

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained

3 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water

1 tablespoon raw or turbinado sugar

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, torn into bite-size pieces (optional)

Sour cream (plant-based if you’d like) and torn cilantro leaves, for serving


1. Spread the minced mushrooms on a clean dish towel or paper towel and squeeze out excess liquid. Heat the oil in a medium pot over high. Add the mushrooms with a pinch each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring every minute or so, until the mushrooms sear to a darker color and any remaining water in the mushrooms has cooked off, about 5 minutes.

2. Lower the heat to medium and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and browns slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers, jalapeño and garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant and beginning to brown. Add the chile powder, chipotle powder, cumin and cinnamon and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add the tomato paste and mix.

3. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the canned diced tomato and its juices, beans, broth, sugar and porcini mushrooms, if using. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with the lid ajar and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Divide among bowls and serve with sour cream and cilantro.

TIP: To quickly mince mushrooms, pulse them in a food processor.

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