The art of half-cooking

It's really fun and rewarding to cook fancy stuff, and I wish I could do it all the time. But the reality is that unless you're basking in free time, or work as a food pro, there are just not enough minutes in the day to make the majority of your meals exquisite. This is especially the case if you're like me, working in the tech-startup world where 15 hour days and 7 day work weeks are pretty commonplace (and as a result instant ramen and microwave dinners are pretty commonplace too). So what do you do when you want a yummy, healthy meal and don't want to go out to eat every day? Where do you turn when you're fed up with how the Lean Cuisine never looks or tastes as good out of the microwave as the box cover would lead you to believe?

The answer is what I call half-cooking: using pre-prepared and often pre-cooked ingredients to help speed up your cooking. If you're a hard-core cook, this may seem like cheating. But if you enjoy being efficient while eating well, then hopefully this is more akin to a creative challenge on a time budget. I half-cook almost every weeknight, and as a result I've come up with a bunch of short-cuts and efficient recipes that help me get through the week with a happy tummy. I'll be sharing these tips in this and upcoming posts.

Quick Tips

  • Tip 1: Use healthy, pre-chopped (and often pre-washed) veggies like spinach or collards that are often sold near the bagged salad greens.
  • Tip 2: Use pre-cooked meats like chicken sausages.
  • Tip 3: Buy and use a garlic press. (if you're even more pressed for time, you can use the jarred minced garlic, but I find that the press is almost as quick and the results taste much better)
  • Tip 4: Shop at Trader Joe's. If you're lucky enough to live near one, their stock is geared towards the time-pressed, health-conscious, budget-savvy cook. If not, then most major grocery chains carry larger brands such as Cedarlane and Amy's that have similar, healthy prepared items. The meal below is made with Trader Joe's ingredients.
  • Tip 5: Buy a rice cooker if you're a big rice eater - rice at the press of a button!

Today's half-cooking recipe:

Southern greens with jalapeno chicken sausage

Total prep time: 5 min
Total cook time: 10 min

  • 3-4 loosely-packed cups pre-cut southern greens mix (mix of mustards, turnip greens, collards, and spinach - if you can't find this, you can substitute just spinach or collards)
  • 2 fully-cooked jalapeno chicken sausage links (or any other stronger-flavored/spiced sausage like andouille) chopped cross-wise into 1/4" slices
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced using a garlic press
  • 1 1/2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • dash of salt
  1. Heat a large pan on medium-high heat and add oil.
  2. When oil starts to smoke and shimmer, add the minced garlic. Saute the garlic in the oil until the edges of the garlic start turning a light golden brown.
  3. Add the slices of sausage and saute until the surfaces of the sausage have started to brown.
  4. Add the greens and saute until the leaves are wilted and fully cooked but still green (as opposed to brown).
  5. Salt to taste (certain pre-cooked sausages are very salty on their own, so you may not need to add much).
Pair with brown rice for some healthy, filling carbs.

Voila! A yummy meal in just minutes.
Sachin Rekhi  – (September 13, 2010)  

That dish looks delicious!

Jamie Liu –   – (September 15, 2010)  

I love the idea for this series -- just what I need! Looking forward to future posts! :)

Miss K  – (February 22, 2011)  

I look forward to more of these recipes!

culinaut  – (March 01, 2011)  

Thanks! I've got a bunch more in the works. You can check out the latest one on some half-cooked soups:

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