A filled refrigerator can be totally useless to a hungry human when the drawers and shelves are full of ingredients, not readily edible food. A head of cauliflower is not a snack until it’s roasted and dressed and unless your tastes are beyond humble, your pantry’s can of chickpeas won’t suffice til blended into hummus.
If you don’t want to stand there gawking at raw ingredients, best to stock the fridge with real food ahead of time, maybe during weekend bursts of inspiration. I often receive questions about what keeps well for a couple of days, and this post is an attempt to show you more than a dozen sides, condiments, and main dishes that last for at least five days when covered tightly and stored in the fridge.
And with a fridge stocked with homemade staples, not only can you throw meals together quickly but you can also fancy up whatever you’re already making with a dollop of pesto, a schmear of hummus, or some caramelized onions without spending time or dirtying any new pans.
1. Caramelized Onions. Caramelized onions make everything fancy. They add a jammy sweetness, turning a grilled cheese into a French Onion Grilled Cheese and a plain little chicken stew into a richly flavored chicken stew. You can make a pretty big batch of these–they keep for ages.
2. Roasted Vegetables. When I come home tired from work and all I want to eat is a grilled cheese sandwich, I’m never unhappy to find already roasted vegetables for me to eat on the side, all in the name of balance. Note also that roasted vegetables are an enviable topping for green salads.
3. Chicken. Cooked chicken completes pretty much any hodgepodge dinner you’re trying heroically to throw together for yourself. Sure, there’s chicken chop chop salad and chicken fritz, but there’s also chicken as an add-in for fried rice and chicken as a topping for your noodle bowl.
4. Chicken Stock. Chicken stock is fridge gold. It means great brothy soups and unbeatable risotto, and it can also mean just a big mug of salty, steamy chicken soup, which, as we know, will fix whatever ails you.
5. Meatballs. These are no ordinary Italian meatballs. They’re Mexican flavored and bathed in a tomato-chipotle sauce. Serve them on top of rice with some fresh Mexican cheese sprinkled on top.
6. Lasagna. Here’s what I love about lasagna: not just that it’s delicious or that it feeds a crowd, but that you can assemble and partially bake it the night before you have guests over, come home from work, pop the lasagna in the oven, make a salad, and eat dinner with friends and family.
7. Chai Tea Syrup. Keep a jar of this for as long as you can. Warning: it might not be that long, since this stuff is better than anything you can buy. Once you’ve whipped up a batch, simply add to hot or cold milk for a painless-to-prepare warming drink.
8. Homemade Bloody Mary Mix. Easy enough to whir tomato juice with horseradish, celery, and Old Bay in your food processor–and clean up the mess–long before your brunch guests arrive. Store the homemade mix back in the tomato juice containers you purchased, then dole out portions, mixed with vodka, whenever the bloody craving strikes.
9. Muhammara. This spicy, sweet, and rich dip is a divine snack, whether eaten in front of an open fridge or served to friends, who will be impressed by the obviously cosmopolitan combination of walnuts, pita, and pomegranate molasses. Also excellent spread on grilled cheese.
10. Hummus. Store-bought hummus is nothing compared to the fluffiness of hummus you’ve whizzed up in your food processor in about two minutes. This post details how to make the condiment no matter how bare your cabinets.
12. Mac ‘n Cheese. Like lasagna, mac ‘n cheese is a meal that can be prepared 92 percent in advance, then stored until you’re ready to eat. That means it’s a great throwback meal for friends and that you can scoop out portions from a big dish and microwave or bake them individually, feeding yourself all week. (In that case, please also eat some veggies, thanks.)
13. Lentil Soup. Like lots of stews and soups, lentil soup gets better after a night or two in the fridge. The flavors just meld in a beautiful way, and though you may have to thin out the soup with water when you reheat it, I guarantee you’ll be happy to come home to a bowl of already made, hearty, healthy soup on a wintry night.
14. Beef Stew. A personal favorite, beef stew has all the important elements of a soul-satisfying meal. Even after the long slow cooking time, you’ll find that reheated leftovers have even more heft and umami than the original portion. Stretch your stew out for a few extra days of dinner bliss by serving it on top of noodles or potatoes.