After a day of work, we all run into the dinner conundrum: We don’t want the same quick standbys we always eat, but we really don’t want to expend the mental energy to scheme up something fabulous. Soon, this back and forth turns us from hungry to famished, and we end up scarfing down whatever’s in the fridge or reverting to takeout.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! We’re obsessed with quick dinners, and, with a little bit of creative thinking, we’ve come up with some surprisingly simple dinners that will transform the weeknight meal from a hassle to a pleasure.

Whip up these recipes, and you’ll still have plenty of time to relax after work, preferably with a glass of wine in hand.

1. Rigatoni With Easy Pork Ragu

If you’ve never had a real ragu before (no, we’re not talking Chef Boyardee), you’re missing out. A rich, slow-simmered, meat-based sauce is served with pasta for a decadent-feeling meal. In our simple take on the classic, the finishing touch of salty Pecorino Romano cheese balances the sweetness of the carrots, onions, and tomatoes in the sauce.

BA_PorkRagu

Ingredients

Serves 3

  • 1 large Spanish onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch fresh oregano
  • 1 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 10 oz. rigatoni pasta
  • 10 oz. ground pork
  • Instructions

    1. Prepare your ingredients: Heat a medium pot of salted water to boiling on high. Peel the onion, carrots, and garlic. Dice the onion and carrots, and slice the garlic. Pick off the oregano leaves and roughly chop them. Grate the Pecorino cheese. Transfer the canned tomatoes and juice to a medium bowl. Using your hands, or carefully using the sharp edge of the can’s lid, cut the tomatoes into smaller pieces.
    2. Make the sauce: Heat some olive oil in a large pot on high until hot. Add the onion and carrot, and cook 3-4 minutes, or until the carrots start to soften. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook 1 minute longer, stirring. Add the pork and half of the chopped oregano, breaking up the meat with a spoon. Cook about 5 minutes or until browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes with your hands to break them up even further. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10-15 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
    3. Cook the rigatoni: After the sauce simmers for about 5 minutes, add the rigatoni pasta to the pot of boiling water. Cook according to package directions, or until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water.
    4. Add the pasta to the sauce: Add the drained pasta to the pot with the sauce. Stir until the pasta is well coated. Cook 1 minute longer. (Add some of the pasta cooking water if the sauce is too thick.) Divide the pasta and sauce between 3 dishes. Sprinkle each with the grated Pecorino and the remaining chopped oregano.
    5.  

      2. Maple and Ginger Glazed Salmon With Watercress and Parsnip Salad

      A sweet, garlicky marinade enlivens filets of beautiful pink salmon, which cook up in just 10 minutes in the oven. While the salmon bakes, whip up a simple salad made from watercress, which adds a peppery bite to your plate. Even better, the green is seriously rich in nutrients, ranking in the top five most nutrient-dense foods next to kale, collard greens, and mustard greens.

      BA_MapleGingerSalmon

      Ingredients

      Serves 2

      • 2 scallions
      • 2 cloves garlic
      • 1 small piece ginger
      • 1 shallot
      • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
      • 1 orange
      • 1 bunch watercress
      • 1 parsnip
      • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
      • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
      • 1 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
      • 2 6-oz. salmon filets
      • 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
      • Instructions 

        1. Prepare your ingredients: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse, dry, and slice the scallions. Peel and finely chop the garlic, ginger, and shallot. Add the shallot to a small bowl with the vinegar. Zest the orange, then, with a knife, peel it and cut it into rounds. Wash and dry the watercress. Trim and peel the parsnips, then thinly slice them into discs. Slice the discs to create matchsticks.
        2. Marinate the salmon: In a shallow dish, combine the maple syrup, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, half of the scallions, and half of the garlic. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the marinade before adding the salmon. Add the salmon to the dish, then let it marinate at least 5 minutes.
        3. Roast the salmon: For easy cleanup, line a baking sheet with foil, then lightly oil it. Place the salmon on the baking sheet, and roast in the oven about 10 minutes or until cooked through.
        4. Make the vinaigrette: While the salmon roasts, add the orange zest and remaining garlic to the shallot and vinegar mixture. Slowly whisk in some olive oil until it’s the consistency of a vinaigrette, about 2-3 tablespoons depending on how tangy you like your dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour some of the vinaigrette over the parsnip, and let it stand while the salmon finishes roasting.
        5. Finish the salad: In a large bowl, combine the watercress, orange slices, and sunflower seeds. Toss to combine. Just before serving, add the dressed parsnip to the bowl, then toss everything together, adding more vinaigrette if you’d like.
        6. Plate the dish: Divide the salmon between 2 plates. Drizzle some of the reserved marinade over the salmon. Serve with the watercress and parsnip salad.
        7. 3. Louisiana-Style Red Lentils and Brown Rice

          Cultures all around the world have their own interpretation of rice and beans. In Louisiana, where Cajun and Creole cuisines reign supreme, it’s red beans and rice. The age-old tradition to make it on Mondays with the leftover ham from Sunday’s meal still lives on. Though it’s usually made with kidney beans and Tasso ham or Andouille sausage, our vegetarian version with insanely fast-cooking red lentils and brown rice is a scrumptious nod to the Big Easy.

          BA_RedLentil

          Ingredients

          Serves 2

          • 3/4 cup uncooked brown rice (4.8 oz.)
          • 1 bunch spinach (about 4.5 oz.)
          • 1 bunch parsley
          • 3 cloves garlic
          • 2 stalks celery
          • 1 green bell pepper
          • 1 onion
          • 1 bay leaf
          • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
          • 1 teaspoon paprika
          • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
          • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
          • Fresh pepper
          • 3/4 cup red lentils
          • 2 cups vegetable broth
          • Instructions

            1. Cook the rice: In a medium pot, combine the rice with 1 1/2 cups of water and a big pinch of salt. Heat the pot to boiling on high. Once it comes to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 20-25 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
            2. Prepare your ingredients: While the rice cooks, wash and dry the spinach and parsley. Peel the garlic and onion. Mince the garlic. Dice the celery, green pepper, and onion. Roughly chop the parsley.
            3. Cook the vegetables: Heat a little olive oil in a medium pot on medium-high. Add the onion, garlic, celery, green pepper, and bay leaf. Cook 3-5 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally.
            4. Cook the lentils: Stir in the tomato paste, paprika, thyme, oregano, and some freshly ground pepper, and cook about 1 minute. Add the lentils and vegetable broth, scraping up any bits at the bottom of the pot. Add a good pinch of salt. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer about 10-15 minutes or until the lentils are tender and the mixture is thickened. Once the lentils have thickened, tear the spinach leaves and add to the pot. Remove from the heat, and stir until combined. (If you find the lentil mixture is too thick, add a little water to thin it out.) Remove and discard the bay leaf. Taste for salt, adding more if needed.
            5. Plate your dish: Divide the rice between 2 plates. Top each with the lentil mixture, and garnish with the parsley.
            6. 4. Mustard Tofu With Smashed Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli

              It goes without saying that tofu is a staple food in many vegetarian diets, and most of the time, our inclination is to give it an Asian-inspired preparation like stir-fry. In this refreshing rendition, tofu gets to wear a new hat—made out of a mustard marinade and crispy panko breadcrumbs. Creamy potatoes (grab pretty purple ones if you can find them) and roasted broccoli round it out for the perfect vegetarian meal.

              BA_MustardTofu

              Ingredients

              Serves 2

              • 3 large purple potatoes (about 10 oz. total)
              • 1 head broccoli
              • 1 clove garlic
              • 14 oz. package firm tofu
              • 2 scallions
              • 1 oz. butter
              • 1 cup milk
              • 1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
              • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
              • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
              • 1 lemon
              • Instructions

                1. Prepare your ingredients: Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling on high. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Wash the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut the broccoli into florets. Peel and mince the garlic until it resembles a paste. Drain the tofu, then slice it in half horizontally. Slice the green parts of the scallions on an angle.
                2. Make the potatoes: When the water comes to a boil, add the potatoes. Boil 8-10 minutes, or until very tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot. Add about 1/4 cup of the milk and the butter, and mash it all together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
                3. Prepare the tofu and broccoli: While the potatoes boil, in a small bowl, combine the mustard, mayonnaise, garlic, and some pepper. Place the tofu and broccoli on a baking sheet. Spread the mustard mixture on each piece of tofu, then top with the panko. Drizzle the tofu and broccoli with some olive oil. Season the broccoli with salt and pepper. Roast the tofu and broccoli about 15-18 minutes or until they are browned.
                4. Plate your dish: Divide the tofu and broccoli between 2 plates, along with the mashed potatoes. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the broccoli and tofu. Garnish with the scallions and lemon wedges.
                5. 5. Roast Beef With Horseradish Sour Cream and Baby Carrots

                  Here, we turn a cut of steak known as the eye round roast into an easy roast beef that will remind you of home. Using baby carrots instead of regular ones as a side dish cuts down on preparation time, since you don’t have to chop them at all. If you can find small, sweet, multi-colored heirloom carrots at the farmstand, use those. Otherwise, it’s fine to rely on the pre-cut ones from the supermarket.

                  BA_RoastBeef

                  Ingredients

                  Serves 2

                  • 5 oz. baby carrots
                  • 1 shallot
                  • 1/4 cup sour cream
                  • 1 tablespoon horseradish
                  • 1 15 oz. eye round beef roast
                  • 3 oz. mizuna or spinach
                  • 1 lemon
                  • 1 bunch thyme
                  • Instructions

                    1. Prepare your ingredients: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Wash and dry the fresh produce. Peel and mince the shallot. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream and horseradish. Stir until combined, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
                    2. Roast the beef and carrots: Place the beef on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle it with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast the beef in the oven for 20 minutes, then remove, adding the carrots to the baking sheet. Season the carrots with salt and pepper, then top them with the thyme sprigs. Return the baking sheet to the oven, roasting the beef and carrots together 5-10 minutes longer, or until the carrots are browned and the beef reaches your desired doneness. We like to cook it medium-rare, so if you have a meat thermometer, take the beef out when it hits 125°F. Transfer the beef to a cutting board to rest for at least 5 minutes.
                    3. Make the salad: While the beef roasts, make the salad dressing. In a small bowl, stir together the shallot, the juice of half the lemon, and some olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, add the mizuna or spinach to a large bowl, and drizzle with a little bit of the dressing, tossing to coat. (You may have extra dressing.)
                    4. Slice the meat and plate your dish: After the meat has rested at least 5 minutes, thinly slice the beef crosswise into round slices. Squeeze the juice of the other lemon half over the carrots. Divide the roast beef slices between 2 plates. Top the beef on each plate with a dollop of the horseradish sour cream. Serve with the mizuna salad and roasted carrots.