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What Does "Weeknight Meal" Even Mean?

Published June 12, 2023

Every weeknight is nuanced, and should be treated that way

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Melissa Clark’s Fish Tacos with Red Cabbage, Jalapeños, and Lime Slaw

I’m tired of the term “weeknight meals.”

I mean, I’m also just tired in general. Everyone has had so many curveballs thrown at them lately, and my head, at least, feels exactly like Riley’s in Inside Out, anger and joy and disgust and sadness all partying together in a confined space. Cooking calms me down, when it’s just for us three – or two, if it’s something that spice-adverse, seven-year-old Holden really won’t try – and when it’s something easy that I know for sure will be good.

The problem with the promise for weeknight meals in the majority of cookbooks and food sites (including this one!) — ease, simplicity, few ingredients, and quick cooking time — is that you never know if a recipe will be a homerun for you. And when your day is spent dodging said curveballs, you need to hit a homerun. 

(Side note: Two baseball references in one sentence was an accident, and I hope I made my husband and father proud.)

So I now have two tiers of weeknight meals. The first is anything easy with relatively few ingredients. But it doesn’t need to be something I’ve made before. These are for the nights when I have slightly more gumption to make adjustments on the fly or am prepared for disappointment. 

The second are my “go-to” weeknight meals. I’ve made them before, I’m confident they work and truly come together quickly and that they’re awesome to eat. I’ve called them “fail-safes” in the past, when I first shared a few of them, a couple years back. Call them whatever works in your house. The point is, I’ve got some new go-tos today. 

You can probably guess what comes after the recipes: What are your go-tos? Newly discovered or old-school favorites — we’d love to hear about them. And let’s keep sharing in that thread whenever we discover new ones. Here are mine:

  • Melissa Clark’s Fish Tacos with Red Cabbage, Jalapeño, and Lime Slaw: I made these for the first time the other night. I had some rockfish and halibut in the freezer from Sitka Salmon, and really wanted tacos, but wanted a little guidance — some accoutrement to make the tacos sing. Melissa Clark’s Dinner is a cookbook I’ve gone to so much, since it first came out, and her fish taco recipe did not disappoint. The highlight is the lime/garlic/sour cream mixture that tops the tacos. I can’t wait to make these again. (I need to buy some more fish.)

  • Mark’s Pressure Cooked Beans and Greens: Seven ingredients. (Two of which are salt and olive oil.) The bare minimum of prep. (Rinse beans, wash greens, chop greens.) An astonishing amount of hearty greens, plus protein from white beans. Pressure cooker magic. Bowls of happiness. I like Parmesan on top and a baguette on the side. (Would also be great on toast.)

  • Mark’s Pasta with Anchovies and Arugula: I never processed just how much better real arugula is than the kind that comes in the clamshell. Real arugula tastes like eating raw black pepper, but in a good way. And when it’s in season, I don’t have much interest in other greens. Usually I eat it raw, in salad, but I love finding ways to cook with it, too. And if you have good arugula plus good anchovies, what more could your pasta actually need? (The answer is nothing. This dish is perfect.) 

  • Food & Wine’s Green Goddess Turkey Burgers: My friend Lynn shared this recipe with me ages ago. The green goddess treatment gives what’s normally a pretty dull burger — made with ground turkey, womp womp — spectacular flare. I’ve served these on buns, but they’re also great eaten as you would any meat dish — alongside a salad and some bread. 

Green goddess turkey burgers. Photo: Nicole Franzen