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Easy meals you can make with what’s in your pantry

At this busy time of year, just making it to the grocery store can seem like Mission: Impossible. You may think that empty-looking refrigerator signals yet another night of take-out or pizza, but think again. There are plenty of healthy and tasty dinners you can put together using just the ingredients in your pantry and a few refrigerator basics, like bread, cheese and milk.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup is a classic pantry dinner. When done correctly, this beloved lunchtime duo can become a satisfying dinner. Tomato soup is so easy to make yourself, there’s no reason to resort to the canned kind. All it takes is a few pantry ingredients like onions, canned tomatoes and chicken broth.

I pumped up the flavor by adding some sweet and earthy Middle Eastern spices, but you can customize your homemade tomato soup any way you like. If you happen to have an apple or two left in your fruit drawer, slice it up and tuck the slices inside the grilled cheese for extra crunch.

Grown-up Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

Serves four

For the soup:

  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 1 tsp. each coriander
  • and cumin
  • 2 28-oz. cans whole tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, half-and-half or milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the grilled cheese:

  • 6 Tbsp. butter
  • 8 slices sandwich bread
  • Hard cheese, such as cheddar, Swiss, or Gruyere
  • 1 apple (optional)

Begin by making the soup. Melt the butter in a large stockpot. Sauté the diced onion over low heat until very soft and browned, about 15-20 minutes. During that time, season the onions well with the cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. When the onions are browned, add the canned tomatoes with their juice, crushing the tomatoes with your spoon; the sugar; and the chicken broth. Bring the soup to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in the cream, half-and-half or milk and heat through.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the grilled cheese. Melt half the butter over low heat in a nonstick skillet large enough to accommodate two sandwiches. Meanwhile, place slices of cheese on two pieces of bread. Cover with thin slices of apple. Top with remaining bread. Carefully place two sandwiches in skillet and cook over low heat until the bottom slices of bread are golden brown. Add remaining butter to the skillet and carefully turn the sandwiches over. Cook until second side also is golden brown and cheese is melted and gooey. Repeat with two remaining sandwiches.

Another great pantry meal is vegetarian chili. Chili is a dish perfectly suited to experimentation and cooking with what is on hand.

You may think that chili needs to simmer on the stove all day, but that is not the case, particularly with a vegetarian chili. While a longer cooking time might result in deeper flavor-good news for the leftovers!-this chili will be ready to eat in 45-60 minutes.

Serve chili over rice for a nutritious and tasty meal straight from the pantry.

Vegetarian Chili

  • No kidney beans? Substitute black or cannellini beans.
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes with their juice
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Sour cream, chopped scallion and grated cheese for garnish (optional)

Sauté the onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Season well with chili powder, coriander and cumin, as well as salt and pepper to taste, and continue to sauté for a few additional minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the can of whole tomatoes, with their juice, crushing the tomatoes by hand or with the back of a spoon.

Add the bottle of beer. (The alcohol will cook off, so do not worry about serving this chili to children.) Bring the chili to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, at least 15 minutes. Add the kidney beans and stir to combine. Cook until the beans are warmed through, about 10 minutes.

Serve over rice and garnish with any combination of grated cheese, chopped scallions and sour cream.

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