At Heyday, we are ALL about making it easy and effortless to whip up delightful meals. We're chatting with some of our favorite chefs and recipe developers to learn more about they approach weeknight cooking. Today, Ali Slagle is joining us to chat all things easy cooking, fun flavors, and pantry staples.
Ali, welcome to the Heyday kitchen! For those not already in the know, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi Heyday! Most of my time is spent in the kitchen, developing and testing recipes. I like to focus on recipes that don't require many resources, whether time, effort, budget, enthusiasm, or cooking knowledge. My first cookbook came out this year; it's name is I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). In past lives, I was on the creative and editorial teams of Food52 and Ten Speed Press.
Your latest cookbook collection is what you call "Low Effort, High Reward" recipes. Tell us a little more about your low effort/high reward approach to cooking.
Weeknight cooking to me means you're multitasking: You're cooking and doing something else - finishing up work, soothing a crying baby or cat, just generally distracted. And also, maybe you're cooking because you're hungry, not because you really want to cook. These moments are also when a home-cooked meal can be the most beneficial and uplifting. A low-effort, high-reward recipe is the recipe for these moments: It's successfully accomplished within that imperfect environment but then when you sit down to eat, you're shocked by and thankful for its deliciousness.
What are some of the tips and tricks you keep up your sleeve to cut down on unnecessary effort in the kitchen without sacrificing flavor?
Start with ingredients that show up already super flavorful and don’t require a long cooking time. There’s a time for eeeking out the subtle flavor and creaminess of a potato or carrot, but Wednesday is usually not that moment for me. Instead, I look to ingredients that don’t ask much of me, like quick cooking vegetables (asparagus, fennel, radicchio), pantry flavor boosters (soy sauce, Parmesan, olives, hot sauce) and already-cooked proteins (beans!).
Take us on a tour of your pantry. What do you always make sure to keep on hand?
When me and my fridge are running on low, rice and beans or greens. Or pasta, like a one-pot puttanesca or some version of Aglio e Olio. I don't eat a lot of cheese outside of work, but folks adore a white ban bake and it's black bean counterpart. My boyfriend and I traveled around the country in a van for six months, so I thought a lot about what ingredients were essential enough to win a slot in our one drawer for pantry staples. The ingredients fall in two two categories: dish anchors and dish flavorers...is that a word?
My anchors: beans and chickpeas, grains (farro and white rice), and pasta.
My flavor drivers: acid (lemons, Sherry vinegar), briny punchy pops (olives, capers, mustard, peperoncini), fat (olive oil or butter), heat (red pepper flakes), umami (salt, soy sauce). I have all of that, plus some hearty greens, eggs, and bread. I'm set.
What is your absolute lowest effort/highest reward go-to-dish on those nights when you just need something ridiculously simple?
When me and my fridge are running on low, rice and beans or greens. Or pasta, like a one-pot puttanesca or some version of Aglio e Olio. I don't eat a lot of cheese outside of work, but folks adore a white ban bake and it's black bean counterpart.
Obviously, we share a strong love of beans. Your cookbook has a whole chapter dedicated to beans which made our hearts sing! What are some of your favorite ways to let beans take center stage on your dinner plate?
Gosh I do love beans. There are essentially three ways I turn beans into dinner.
1. Add crunchies: Don’t mess with the beans much themselves. Instead, flavor them with a sauce or by warming them with aromatics, then add crunch to counter their starchy denseness with nuts and seeds, raw fruits and vegetables or carbs.
2. Crisp them: Roast or fry.
3. Stew them: Simmer them into a soup, stew or otherwise brothy mixture.
Where can people go to discover more of your delicious recipes?
My book’s name is I Dream of Dinner (so You Don’t Have To) and there’s a couple hundred recipes of mine over at NYT Cooking.