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Five Weeknight Dishes: A clever dinner hack

By Emily Weinstein, The New York Times

One of the smartest approaches to feeding a group of opinionated people with different preferences — say, your family — is to make something that’s easy to construct or deconstruct as you like. (Tacos are the reigning champions in this arena.)

Niçoise salad is also a great pick-and-choose meal; let everyone take what they want from the platter of canned tuna, green beans, boiled eggs, tomatoes, olives and so on.

You’ll find a roasted salmon-centered take on Niçoise salad below, as well as a dumpling salad that can be separated into parts for anyone who won’t go for the full package. The tajín chicken, BBQ tofu and creamy lemon pasta are just plain delicious.

1. Tajín Grilled Chicken

Tajín is a Mexican seasoning made from dried, ground red chiles, sea salt and dehydrated lime juice. It is great sprinkled over fresh cut fruit like mango and pineapple, or rimmed on an ice cold margarita. But it is also an easy way to add chile and lime to your favorite grilled meats, rubs or sauces. In this dish, the lime in the Tajín balances out the sweetness from the agave syrup, while the red chiles complement the smoky flavor of the chipotles. Serve the chicken as is or on toasted hamburger buns with mayonnaise, chopped grilled scallions, cilantro leaves and sliced pickled jalapeños. This Tajín sauce also would pair well with grilled bass, cod or salmon, or with shrimp skewers.

By Rick A. Martínez

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 35 minutes


  • Vegetable oil, for the grill
  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
  • Sea salt (or kosher salt)
  • 1/2 cup light agave syrup or honey
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 3 chipotle chiles in adobo, finely chopped, plus 1/4 cup adobo sauce
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Tajín Clásico
  • 8 scallions, root ends trimmed
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems


1. Prepare a grill for medium-high, direct heat; clean the grates well, then brush them with vegetable oil. Alternatively, heat a grill pan on medium-high and brush the pan with oil.

2. Arrange the chicken on a sheet tray and generously season both sides with salt. Whisk together the agave syrup, orange juice, orange zest, chipotles, adobo, garlic, olive oil and Tajín in a medium bowl.

3. Brush both sides of the chicken with the Tajín sauce. Grill the chicken, turning and basting often with the Tajín sauce, until cooked through, charred but brick red and glazed, 7 to 9 minutes. Grill the scallions, turning occasionally, until lightly charred on all sides, about 5 minutes.

4. Serve the chicken with the grilled scallions, topped with cilantro.

2. Sheet-Pan Roasted Salmon Niçoise Salad

Here, the classic French salad becomes an elegant dinner, with mustard-glazed salmon in place of tuna, roasted vegetables and jammy eggs served over a jumble of salad greens tossed with a red-wine vinaigrette. Roasting the vegetables, rather than serving some steamed and some raw as you would for a traditional Niçoise, gives this dish great texture and a delicious contrast of temperatures. The vegetables and salmon are roasted on a single sheet pan, making this an elevated take on the one-dish dinner — fit for company and easy enough for a weeknight.

By Lidey Heuck

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 40 minutes


  • 1 pound baby Yukon Gold potatoes, halved
  • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 clove)
  • 1 anchovy fillet, minced (optional)
  • 6 ounces haricots verts or green beans, trimmed
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup pitted olives, preferably Niçoise or Kalamata
  • 4 (6-ounce) center-cut, skin-on salmon fillets
  • 5 ounces tender salad greens, like baby red and green leaf lettuce


1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees and place a rack near the top of the oven. Place the potatoes on a sheet pan, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Arrange the potatoes so the cut sides are facing down and roast for 20 minutes.

2. While the potatoes roast, fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the eggs and cook over medium heat for exactly 6 minutes. Remove the eggs, and when they are cool enough to handle, peel and quarter them.

3. Make the dressing: In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, the garlic, anchovy (if using), 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Slowly whisk in 4 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.

4. Add the haricots verts, tomatoes and olives to the sheet pan with the potatoes, along with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Using tongs, toss well, then move the vegetables to the sides to create space in the center of the sheet pan. Pat the salmon fillets dry with a paper towel and place them, skin-side down, in the center of the sheet pan.

5. Brush fillets with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Roast on the top rack in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn the broiler to high and broil for 2 to 3 minutes to lightly brown the salmon. (If you don’t have a broiler, roast salmon for an additional 2 to 3 minutes instead.) The salmon should flake easily and be just cooked in the center.

6. Add the greens to the large bowl with the dressing, and toss gently. Place greens on a large platter, leaving a narrow border at the platter’s edges. Place the salmon fillets in the middle of the platter, then arrange the roasted vegetables and eggs around them. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

3. Dumpling Tomato Salad With Chile Crisp Vinaigrette

Harness the crowd-pleasing power of dumplings in this hearty yet light main course salad. The base is simple and summery: Ripe tomatoes are lightly touched with salt, garlic and basil, providing a perfectly fragrant canvas for pan-fried potsticker dumplings. Salting intensifies the tanginess and fruitiness of tomatoes, while also coaxing out some of the juice, which becomes a light sauce for the dumplings. (Salting also works wonders for out-of-season tomatoes, meaning you could eat this salad all year round.) Use your favorite chile crisp as it is the dominant flavor in the dressing and will greatly impact the final dish; all brands of crisp will have different levels of saltiness and spice, so season accordingly.

By Hetty McKinnon

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 20 minutes


For the salad:

  • 2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (any variety), cut into roughly 1- to 2-inch pieces (at room temperature)
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
  • Kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal brand) and black pepper
  • 1 pound frozen potsticker dumplings (not thawed)
  • Neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons store-bought crispy fried shallots (optional)

For the chile crisp vinaigrette:

  • 3 tablespoons chile crisp (or chile oil)
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, or more to taste


1. Place the tomatoes on a large serving plate or in a bowl. Add the garlic, half the basil leaves, 1 teaspoon of salt and a big pinch of black pepper. Toss to combine and set aside.

2. To make the vinaigrette, combine the chile crisp, rice vinegar and soy sauce and whisk to combine. Taste and if it needs more saltiness, add ½ teaspoon more soy sauce.

3. Heat a large (12-inch) nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium high for 1 to 2 minutes until very hot. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil and, working in batches, add the dumplings, flat-side down, and cook until the bottoms of the dumplings are lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately add about ¼ cup of water to the pan, just enough to cover the base of the dumplings, then cover and cook until the water has evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes. (If your dumplings contain meat, cook for an extra 1 to 2 minutes, or according to packet instructions). Transfer the cooked dumplings to a plate and continue cooking the remaining dumplings. (If you prefer to steam the dumplings, see tip.)

4. To serve, place the warm dumplings over the tomato salad and drizzle with the chile crisp vinaigrette. Toss very gently. Top with the crispy fried shallots (if using) and the remaining basil leaves. Serve either while the dumplings are still warm or at room temperature.

TIP: To steam, arrange the dumplings in a steaming basket lined with baking paper or cabbage leaves, place over a pan of boiling water and steam for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Creamy, Lemony Pasta

This 15-minute pasta lets you decide how much effort to put in: If you’ve had a day and need an easy, no-nonsense meal, then make it as-is and use kitchen shears to cut your scallions. If you’re feeling slightly more ambitious, then make a topping that adds texture, vibrant green color and more lemony flavor to the dish (see tip). But don’t cut corners when it comes to the yogurt: Use a thick, strained whole-milk yogurt like labneh, Greek or skyr, as it will give the finished dish an irresistibly rich and tangy taste.

By Yasmin Fahr

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 15 minutes


  • Kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal) and black pepper
  • 1 pound short curly pasta, such as cavatappi, fusilli or farfalle
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced (about 1 tablespoon zest and 3 tablespoons juice)
  • A heaping 3/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 cup labneh or other thick, strained whole-milk yogurt, such as Greek or skyr, drained if necessary
  • 2 scallions, green and white parts, sliced


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil, and cook until just shy of al dente, 2 to 3 minutes less than the package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Drain the pasta, then return to the pot on the stove over medium-low heat.

2. Stir in 3/4 cup of the pasta water and half the lemon juice. Add several grinds of black pepper, then gradually add the Parmesan, stirring vigorously between additions to prevent clumping, until a silky sauce has formed. Add a tablespoon of water at a time as needed to make a creamier sauce if it looks dry. Stir in the labneh, remaining lemon juice, lemon zest and scallions until creamy and combined, about 1 minute more. Season with salt as needed. Finish with another grind of pepper and serve immediately.

TIP: To make the lemony scallion topping, combine 4 sliced scallions with 1/4 cup cilantro leaves and stems roughly chopped or torn, the juice of half a lemon and a pinch or two of salt. Serve over the finished pasta.

5. Folami’s BBQ Tofu

This richly red tofu recipe, adapted from Folami Prescott-Adams, a community psychologist in Atlanta, is perfect for celebrating Juneteenth with a crowd. But it’s also great for any weeknight when you want a helping of crisp, flavorful tofu. Store-bought, tomato-based barbecue sauce provides the comfort factor.

Recipe from Folami Prescott-Adams

Adapted by Nicole Taylor

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes, plus drying


  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or vegan butter
  • 1 tablespoon tamari
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce


1. About 2 1/2 hours before serving, start drying out the tofu: Place the slices in a single layer between clean, dry dish towels or double layers of paper towels. Press to remove water from the tofu, and let stand for 2 hours, replacing the soaked towels once or twice, until there is very little water left in the tofu. (You can press and dry the tofu quickly, and use it immediately, but it will be less crisp.)

2. Heat a broiler to its highest setting. Heat a large skillet over medium and add the oil and butter, swirling to cover the bottom. Pour the tamari into a small, shallow dish. Press the tofu one last time. Quickly dip both sides of a single slice in the tamari and place it in the skillet. (Be careful as the liquid may lead to hot pops from the oil.) Repeat with the remaining tofu slices and tamari.

3. Cook until the tofu gets the same beautiful golden brown on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. While the tofu browns, spread half of the barbecue sauce on a small rimmed baking sheet. Transfer the tofu to the barbecue sauce on the sheet, then cover with the remaining sauce. Broil, turning once, until the sauce thickens and bubbles, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve hot.

TIP: Scale up the proportions to prepare as many pounds of tofu as you’d like.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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