You’re hungry and you have nothing to make for dinner. We’ve all been there. Maybe there’s something in the freezer? Nope. Maybe some instant ramen or at least some chicken or tofu? Fresh out. How about some leftovers? Nothing.
Looks like it’s time to order takeout or delivery, but wait! Don’t open that app. Don’t head to the place around the corner. Don’t call for pizza (does anyone actually make a phone call for pizza anymore?). You just need some culinary inspiration. You’re bound to have enough ingredients kicking around in your pantry or fridge to throw together one of these respectable meals. It’ll probably even take you less time than ordering in or running to the grocery store. And it’ll also probably be way more satisfying.
From simple and satisfying rice and beans, to retro casseroles, to what might be the best scrambled eggs of your life, here are the meals you should make when you have "nothing" in the house.
A lot of people will always have eggs on hand. They were one of the most popular items to stock up on at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and, even before that, have been a staple in many kitchens (via USA Today).
There’s also no shame in having this excellent protein source for dinner. Omelets are one of the top dishes that everyone should know how to make and Food & Wine knows that a great one can make for a gourmet dinner, not just breakfast or brunch.
But scrambled eggs are even easier, quicker and sometimes much tastier than omelets. Take this recipe for scrambled eggs inspired by Gordon Ramsay, for example. What’s the secret to these perfectly fluffy scrambled eggs? Crème fraiche, but if you don’t have any on hand, you can use sour cream or Greek yogurt instead for that delicious tangy touch. The rest of the recipe is just butter and some ground spices and comes together in no time.
Canned tuna, dry pasta, frozen peas and a can of cream of mushroom soup are the key ingredients in this classic "there’s nothing in the kitchen" meal. You don’t really even need the 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, and any breadcrumbs can stand in for panko in this tuna casserole recipe. The best part is that what comes out of the oven is piping hot, cheesy, gooey, protein-rich and delicious, demonstrating why this old-fashioned recipe has stood the test of time.
Rice and beans
Okay, you might not have andouille sausage on hand for this Cajun-inspired rice and beans recipe, but you don’t absolutely need it. The key ingredients here are the rice and the beans. With an Instant Pot, you don’t even need to have soaked the dry kidney beans in advance to make the recipe work. The onion, bell pepper and celery add some flavor to the dish, but aren’t essential, since there are plenty of spices. And anyone scared off by "Cajun seasoning" should know that it can be replaced by a combination of paprika, cayenne, salt, pepper and (if you have them) garlic powder, onion powder, oregano and thyme, according to Gimme Some Oven.
Meatball pasta bake
Frozen meatballs (or ground beef), milk, pasta sauce, noodles and mozzarella cheese: that’s all you need for this baked dish of comfort. Recipe author Kristen Carli says you can even use a meat-free meatball and vegan cheese for a plant-based version of this meatball pasta bake recipe. But if you don’t happen to have meatballs on hand and do happen to have ground beef, just roll either of those into balls with some salt and pepper and you’ll get by. For a real gourmet touch, sear the replacement meatballs before baking to give them a nice, tasty crust with great texture.
Much like scrambled eggs, avocado toast is a perfect meal at any time of the day. It’s rich, creamy and filling and all you need is toast, avocado and a little lemon juice, plus salt and pepper, of course. If you have some extra spices, recipe creator Maren Epstein does recommend some optional chili flakes, cilantro, chives, goat cheese or eggplant caponata. Remember that jar your aunt gifted you one Christmas that’s been sitting at the back of your cupboard for ages? Now’s the time to use it in the quest for a quick, tasty dinner courtesy of avocados.
It doesn’t get simpler than mashing up a can of beans. Frying an onion and some spices with a little lemon juice turns this refried beans recipe into one you’ll make again and again, but if you ran out of onions and only have a squeeze bottle of lemon juice or even lime juice, you’ll be just fine. The key is in the spices you use, which you’re bound to have. Feel free to skip the onion powder if you’re using fresh onion and use garlic powder if you don’t have fresh cloves of the stuff. Serve the whole thing with rice and you’ve got a vegetarian feast.
These salmon patties might be the epitome of pantry luxury. Crunchy and savory, salty and juicy, they always deliver on flavor. The key ingredient is a can of salmon, which is highly likely to hiding at the back of your cupboard, plus breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, and egg, along with some lemon juice, Dijon, green onions and dill thrown in. If you skip the fresh dill and use the dried version instead, you’ll till be fine, though the result may be just a little less luxurious.
Though a little less sumptuous than salmon patties, which you could get away with cooking for a pantry-friendly dinner party, this tuna salad gets points for being even simpler, though no less tasty. Take a can of tuna (hopefully of the sustainable variety) and then add some mayo, minced celery, onion, carrot and black pepper. That’s it. Yes, really. This tuna salad recipe makes a great sandwich filling with bread, pita or naan, or with crackers or raw vegetables for a lighter meal.
Green bean casserole
Ah, casseroles: the ultimate meal when there’s nothing to in your kitchen, since they usually call for frozen or shelf-stable items that are likely hanging out somewhere in your kitchen. All you need for this slow-cooker green bean casserole recipe are frozen green beans, a can of mushroom soup, a can of evaporated milk, salt and onions. You’ll also need a slow-cooker, but recipe author Laura Sampson says you can always make this recipe in the oven, too. The recipe doesn’t tell you how to fry your own onions, but if you don’t happen to have any fried onions on hand, Butter Over Bae has everything you need to know for frying your own.
The best plan is to make a big batch of these taquitos in advance and throw a bunch in the freezer, but as long as you have tortillas and a can of green chilies you can probably make this meal fresh from whatever else you have on hand. Some leftover chicken? Throw it in. Just cheese and no meat? No problem. Go vegetarian. The rest of the ingredients are just pantry spices and it’s no big deal if you don’t have some of them, like onion powder. And, if you’re fresh out of chili powder, don’t sweat it. A little hot sauce like Cholula will do the trick.
5-ingredient vegan risotto
There’s no cheese, meat or mushrooms in this 5-ingredient vegan risotto, but the essential creaminess is still there front and center in Maren Epstein’s recipe, thanks to its use of arborio rice, vegetable stock, and a lot of stirring. It’s a bare-bones but still super satisfying version of a classic Italian dish that will make your empty cupboards feel as full as your stomach. And if you happen to have a bit of broccoli or other vegetables sitting in the fridge, perhaps getting close to the end of their usefulness and just waiting to be used up, you can quickly sear them for a risotto-topping treat.
Making a 5-ingredient chili often brings you one of those moments when you remember that life’s not always so hard. To make this dish, just cook some ground beef or ground turkey with an onion, add some chili pepper and a can of tomatoes with a drained can of beans, and cook for 20 minutes. Then, garnish the result with whatever you happen to have lying around, be it sour cream, green onions, lime wedges, pickled or fresh jalapeños, cheddar cheese, avocado, tortilla chips or even a bag of Fritos. Dinner accomplished.
There’s nothing simpler (or maybe more comforting) than congee. In its most basic form, congee is just rice and water. It are the optional toppings that take this meal from simple to deliciously elaborate. But those are, after all, just optional. Without some protein or vegetables, this rice porridge is, admittedly, more of a breakfast or light lunch. However, if you get creative with the toppings like soft-boiled eggs, scallions, or toasted sesame oil, it can turn into a decadent dinner fast. Make a big batch and you’ll even have leftovers for breakfast.