I recently reached out to my good friend, Melissa Joulwan, to ask if I could share a sneak peek of one of the simple, flavor-packed recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less. Mel graciously agreed to reveal the recipe for her Paleo-fied Dan Dan Noodles (one of my faves from the book!) AND a bunch of tips and tricks for getting tasty weeknight meals on the table pronto.
Longtime Nomsters know that Mel is one of my favorite humans on the planet. When I first started eating Paleo back in 2010, her blog (formerly known as The Clothes Make The Girl) was a daily must-read for me; I loved catching up with Melicious, a former roller girl who crushed equally on Jane Eyre and Social D, threw heavy weights around the gym, and also happened to be a Paleo culinary wizard. As an ardent fangirl, I was nervous to finally meet her IRL at the inaugural Ancestral Health Symposium back in 2011, but she was a sweetheart. We instantly clicked, and we’ve been great pals every since. Over the years, I’ve been excited about every single one of her cookbook releases, and can’t wait for her latest collection, Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less, to hit the shelves. Just like the first two cookbooks in the Well Fed series, Well Fed and Well Fed 2 (read my review and a history of our friendship here), this one packs in as many delicious recipes and kitchen shortcuts as possible. So without further ado, I’m gonna turn it over to Mel!
Michelle and I have been friends for years—since before either of us had become cookbook authors—and we were drawn together by two things: (1) our shared love of eating food that’s so delicious you want to smash in your own face with joy, and (2) cursing. Michelle stole my heart when I realized she has tremendously good taste and can cuss like a sailor. But I promise my guest appearance here today will be free of questionable language, and I’m going to share a recipe with you that’s crazy-delicious, super-fast to make, and sure to please you and your family, no matter how picky some of those picky-pants might be.
If you’ve read my site or cooked from my previous cookbooks Well Fed and Well Fed 2, you know I’m a passionate advocate for what I call the Weekly Cookup: a batch cooking session once a week to stock your fridge so you can turn those cooked ingredients into meals before anyone gets too hangry. (You can learn more about this approach here.)
I still think that’s a great idea, and I know a lot of you do, too. But I’ve also heard concerns like these a lot:
“I don’t have time this week to do a big Weekly Cookup. Am I totally screwed?”
“I want to eat paleo, but going to multiple grocery stores wears me out. I just want to make recipes with stuff I can find at my regular store.”
“I just want to cook a dinner that makes everyone happy. If my kids and my husband eat it—and ask for seconds—I’m all good.”
“I get bored eating the same thing over and over, and my family HATES leftovers. I need recipes that taste good and can be made fast.”
Everyday challenges like those were the motivation for my new cookbook Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less. The recipes are inspired by food trucks, takeout favorites, and delicious things I’ve eaten on my travels, and all of them are made with ingredients you can buy at your neighborhood grocery store. Best of all, 100 of the 128 recipes can be cooked in about half an hour.
I learned a lot about how to cook quickly while I developed the recipes for this book, and I hope these tips will help you and your family eat the food you love every day—without feeling like you’ve become a full-time short-order cook. And at the end, I’ve shared a recipe from the book so you can try out your new tricks.
Become a Veg-o-Matic.
Leafy greens pack a nutritious punch and add color to your meals, but kale, chard, and collard greens are practically useless to you if you’re staring down dinner and they’re unwashed and uncut. Ditto for salad greens, carrots, cucumbers, celery, and dozens of other veggies. My advice: Wash them, cut them, and store them as soon as you get home from the grocery store. It might add about 20 minutes to your grocery-shopping adventures, but it will ultimately save you time—and make it easier to eat more veggies. Wash hearty greens, remove the ribs, spin them dry, then store them in a ziplock bag so they’re ready to go when you are. Wash and trim carrots and celery, then store in an airtight container with a little water so they stay crisp. Wash and spin salad greens and fresh herbs, then store in a ziplock bag with a damp paper towel to keep them from wilting. If you can become your own veggie-processing engine, meal time will be faster and easier.
Opt for fast-cooking proteins.
First, a disclaimer: There is no sexier hunk on the planet than Michelle’s Kalua Pig—and thanks to her Instant
Pot recipes, you can make a lot of delicious meals more quickly. But if you’re like me, and you’re just working with a stove and a
skillet, fast proteins like chicken breasts and thighs, pork loin, thin steaks, shrimp, and ground meats are the answer. They’re loaded with flavor, very versatile, and transform from raw to done in a flash. The recipes in Well Fed Weeknights are built around these fast-cooking proteins.
Arm yourself with the right tools in the right place.
Unless you have the knife skills of Gordon Ramsey or can channel the ghost of Julia Child with a wire whisk, it’s unlikely that you can julienne, mince, or purée as quickly as a gadget can. I resisted the lure of a stick blender for years, and now I wonder how I got by without it. My go-to gadgets for fast cooking are a stick blender and pint-size Mason jar for making sauces and salad dressings, and a mandoline or a food processor with a slicing blade to julienne and to make cuts thinner than I ever could with a knife. I also rely on my spiralizer for making zucchini noodles, although if you don’t want another appliance, a julienne peeler works great, too. And I’m madly in love with my meat hamer! I use it to pound protein into thin cutlets that cook evenly and to smash plantains before frying.
Once you have the tools you need, put them in the right place! They’re no good to you inside a cabinet or trapped in the back of a drawer. If you can spare a corner of counter space for your equipment, you’ll be able to move faster and with less frustration. You’re essentially the head chef of your kitchen, so make your space work for you.
Don’t wait until you’re hungry.
You already know that it’s a pretty terrible idea to go grocery shopping without a list or when you’re hungry—and it’s not a great idea to wait to cook until you’re stomach is rumbling. Kitchen tasks are so much more daunting when you need to eat right now. So I recommend a mini-cookup once a week to stock your fridge with the raw materials for fast, satisfying meals. Just set aside about an hour to prep a few paleo building blocks, then you can use those food Legos to construct awesome meals all week long.
- Roast or grill chicken thighs or breasts
- Brown ground meat
- Hard cook a dozen eggs
- Blend a jar of salad dressing
- Whip up a batch of homemade mayo
- Turn 2-3 pounds of zucchini into noodles with a spiralizer
- Grate 1-2 heads of cauliflower into “rice”
- Boil 2-3 pounds of potatoes or roast sweet potatoes
With these meal basics stored in the fridge, you’re only about 15 minutes away from a delicious, nutritious meal. You can use the chicken and cauliflower rice to make fried rice—or toss the zucchini noodles with chicken or cooked ground meat and your favorite tomato sauce for a quick Italian dinner. Assemble a big, ol’ salad with raw veggies, cooked chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and homemade salad dressing. Make hash with the ground meat and potatoes—or mix both with beaten eggs for a fast frittata. Combine hard-boiled eggs and mayo for egg salad, or turn them into Michelle’s Lazy Devils. There are dozens of ways to mix and match these ingredients to create tasty meals quickly.
Clean up last.
I have a hard time concentrating when my kitchen is messy, but I’ve learned that if I want to cook with speed, I have to let some of my perfectionism slide. I’m not suggesting that you should cook in the middle of chaos, but you can just set aside used equipment to be washed up later, or—even better!—recruit an assistant to wash while you cook. Once you’ve got your meal simmering on the stove or roasting in the oven, you can restore order to the kitchen. But you can also let the dishes languish until after dinner so you can focus on your food. Kitchen clean-up is so much easier with a full belly!
And my final tip: Build a collection of recipes you can rely on when you need to make dinner fast. I asked Michelle to choose a recipe from Well Fed Weeknights that you can add it to your “fast recipe” collection, and she picked Dan Dan Noodles, a.k.a “noodles on a pole.” I think she chose wisely.
Dan Dan Noodles from Well Fed Weeknights
Dan Dan Noodles are one of the most popular street foods in Sichuan (a.k.a. Szechuan) province of southwestern China. The cuisine of the region is known for its bold flavors, with lots of garlic, chiles, and Sichuan pepper. The name “dan dan” refers to
the pole that noodle vendors used to sell their wares. It was carried across their shoulders, a basket of noodles on one end and the spicy sauce on the other. Traditionally, the noodles swim in a face-tingling broth and are topped with minced pork and preserved vegetables. This fast, paleo version uses zucchini noodles for slurping, cornichons for an acidic tang, and a separate chili oil so you can customize the heat.
Total time: 40–45 minutes
Ingredients: (Serves 2-4 people)
For the noodles:
- 2 pounds zucchini
- 2 teaspoons salt
For the chili oil:
- ½ cup light-tasting olive or avocado oil
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- ½-inch piece of cinnamon stick
- 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
For the pork:
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2-inch piece fresh ginger
- 1 jalapeño
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1½ pounds ground pork
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons tahini or almond butter
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ cup coconut aminos
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- pinch coconut sugar
- ⅓ cup cornichons
garnish: a handful cashews, 2–3 scallions
Make the noodles. Julienne the zucchini with the spiralizer. Place the noodles in a colander and toss them with the salt until the strands are lightly coated. Set the colander in the sink to drain while you prep the other ingredients.
Make the chili oil. In a small saucepan, combine the oil, peppercorns, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes. Warm the oil over medium-low heat while you cook.
Cook the pork. Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. While the oil heats, peel and grate the ginger, mince the jalapeño, and peel and crush the garlic. Add the aromatics to the oil and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Crumble the pork into the pan, season with the salt and pepper, and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it’s browned, 7–10 minutes.
Make the sauce. While the pork cooks, place the tahini, sesame oil, Chinese five-spice, and black pepper in a small bowl and mix with a fork. Add the coconut aminos, vinegar, and sugar; stir until combined. Chop the cornichons and set them aside.
Put it together. Add the sauce to the meat in the skillet and stir to coat the meat. Add the cornichons to the skillet, toss to combine, and transfer the meat mixture to a large bowl. Reheat the skillet over medium-high heat. Rinse the zucchini noodles under running water, drain well, and squeeze them dry in a clean dish towel. Add the noodles to the heated pan and stir-fry for 2–3 minutes until hot. Return the meat to the pan and toss with two wooden spoons to combine; allow it to heat through. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cinnamon stick from the chili oil and discard it. Set the oil aside to cool. Chop the cashews and scallions.
To serve, divide the noodles among individual bowls and top with a drizzle of chili oil, then sprinkle with cashews and scallions.
Spiralize the zucchini, make the chili oil, and prep the sauce in advance; store everything in separate airtight containers in the fridge. When it’s time to eat, cook the pork and put it all together according to the directions.
For 127 more delicious recipes like this one, please check out my new cookbook Well Fed Weeknights. When you pre-order through my online store, you’ll also receive awesome free bonuses, including an exclusive 1-month Epic Well Fed Dinner Plan, plus goodies from ButcherBox, Thrive Market, and Paleo Magazine. You can also pre-order from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
If you need more convincing—or want to start cooking some of the Well Fed Weeknights recipes before the book is officially launched on November 1—you can download a free 70-page sampler that features 18 recipes.
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013) and Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017)!