At the end of a long and stressful day at work, few things are worse than realizing you're low on groceries and need to drive to the store. We're not proud to say that when faced with the choice between eating the sad ingredients at the back of the fridge or grabbing takeout, we usually choose the latter—which isn't good for our wallets or our waistlines.
This is hardly a unique dilemma though, and thankfully, it's something that even foodies are familiar with. The difference between us and them? When faced with few ingredients in the fridge, they get creative and resourceful. Ahead we asked five talented recipe creators and food bloggers to share the "stretch meals" they make when they just can't muster the energy for a trip to the grocery store.
Peek inside your pantry and fridge: You can make at least one of these easy recipes with foods you already own.
Hot Smoked Salmon and Leek Pies With Aioli
The Recipe: Hot Smoked Salmon and Leek Pies With Aioli
The Hero Ingredient: It's a tie—the smoked salmon makes this a seriously filling (and mouthwatering) dish, but fragrant dill aioli dip will make you come back for seconds.
The Pro Tip: Foodie Sarah Tuck of From the Kitchen says pies are her go-to when her fridge is full of leftovers. "I find popping leftovers in large or smaller hand pies always works well. I make them using leftover roast chicken or vegetables, pulled pork or lamb, spaghetti bolognese, or even spicy beans," she tells MyDomaine. "The trick is to get your moisture-to-filling ratio right—if it is something quite wet, add something to dry it out and hold it together (e.g., leftover mash or rice and grated cheese), and if it is a dry filling, add something with some moisture (e.g., caramelised onions, pesto… and always cheese!) to balance it out."
Garden-Fresh Herb, Olive, and Parmesan Pasta
The Hero Ingredient: "This pasta is all about the olives and the olive oil sauce," says Tieghan Gerard from Half Baked Harvest. The recipe involves simmering high-quality olive oil with pepper flakes, garlic, oregano, thyme, and lemon rind to create a fragrant pasta sauce.
The Pro Tip: "When I am running low on groceries, I almost always turn to a pasta recipe because I can use pantry ingredients to make a full meal. This one uses almost all pantry ingredients," she says. "I always have dried pasta, herbs, and olives in my pantry, fresh parmesan in the fridge (it last for a few weeks in the fridge), and bread in the freezer."
If you have vegetables that are starting to wilt at the back of your fridge, this recipe is perfect. "Add them in with the olive oil, garlic, and herbs," she says. Not a fan of olives? That's okay, too. "Use oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes in place of the olive oil the recipe calls for."
Quinoa Bowl With Harissa Roasted Veggies
The Hero Ingredient: Harissa gives the baked vegetables like cauliflower and radishes extra flavor. Drizzle the remaining harissa and olive oil on top for an added spicy punch.
The Pro Tip: Got a moment on Sunday night? Make grains en masse, says Camille Styles. "Make a big pot of grains (like quinoa) at the beginning of the week, and you've got the main building block to healthy delicious grain bowls all week long," she says. "Just add shredded raw veggies like carrots and radishes, leftover roasted veg like sweet potatoes, and whatever herbs, avocado, and proteins happen to be lying around in your fridge."
Lemon Chicken Pasta
The Recipe: Lemon Chicken Pasta
The Hero Ingredient: Zesty lemon sets this easy pasta recipe apart. "It's my current obsession, and I've made it three times in the past two weeks," says Gaby Dalkin of What's Gaby Cooking. "No apologies though—it's so good!"
The Pro Tip: Round up those stray ingredients for this recipe. "If you have a few mushrooms hanging in the fridge and a chicken breast, turn it into something tasty with tons of garlic, some lemon juice, and pasta," she says. "If you have a few other random leftover veggies, just saute them up with the mushrooms, and put them to good use." We're sold.
Cauliflower, Kale, and Chickpea Curry Pot
The Recipe: Cauliflower, Kale, and Chickpea Curry Pot.
The Hero Ingredient: No matter which vegetables you sub into this steaming pot, the curry and spices make it mouthwatering. Customize with more or less vegetable stock for a thicker stew or thinned-out soup.
The Pro Tip: One-pot recipes are a no-fuss way to use stray ingredients in your pantry. "It starts with a flavourful base and works for almost any scraps or bits of vegetables that you have left in the crisper," says Laura Wright of The First Mess. "As long as your spices are fresh and you have good-quality tinned tomatoes, this one comes out perfectly every time."
What's your go-to "stretch meal"? Share your favorite recipe with us in the comment.