Cook It Simple: 5-Ingredient Recipes

Fewer ingredients mean less stress in the kitchen

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

What happens when you see a recipe with a list of ingredients that rivals the shopping list of an upscale caterer? If you're like most of us, you turn the page quicker than you can say, "Will that be pick-up or delivery?"

For most families, the concept of "less is more" definitely can apply to recipes -- the fewer ingredients, the better.

Personally, I try to cut corners everywhere I can, because I'm in the trenches, too (married with two busy teens and working outside the home). To my way of thinking, time- and effort-saving recipes should have no more than five ingredients. And if you happen to have all five ingredients on hand? You've just won the kitchen lottery!

The two keys to five-ingredient recipes are keeping it simple and using convenience products -- that is, unless you're content with a diet of grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas. There are some great products out here that help make five-ingredient recipes possible. Here are 15 of my favorites:

  • Reduced-Fat Bisquick (all-purpose baking mix)
  • Bottled marinara/spaghetti sauces
  • Healthy Request Cream of Chicken and Mushroom condensed soups (for use in casseroles)
  • Bottled light/low-fat salad dressings, in creamy and vinaigrette options
  • Frozen or fresh tortellini/raviolis
  • Frozen or fresh vegetable medleys, in which several veggies are packaged together in bags
  • Reduced-fat crescent roll dough (for quick crusts)
  • Seasoning packets, such as taco seasoning
  • Spice/her blends, like Mrs. Dash
  • Cake mixes (you don't have to add any fat to the mix; just add the same amount of another ingredient like fat-free sour cream or fruit puree.)
  • Commercial pesto, frozen or refrigerated
  • Rotisserie chicken (use the shredded meat in recipes)
  • Marinated tuna, already cooked and flavored, available in pouches
  • Veggie Lover's Salad, available in bags in the produce section (it has carrots, sugar snap peas, and shredded purple cabbage in addition to the lettuce)
  • Bottled/canned salsa and enchilada sauce, green or red

I almost put canned refried beans (fat-free and vegetarian options) and canned chili on the list. But I don't personally buy canned chili, and although I go through a can of fat-free refried beans a week, I think they cut down more on time than number of ingredients.

If you're making tamale pie, you can use canned chili and make the cornmeal topping. Canned refried beans can be a star ingredient in simple dishes such as beef and bean enchiladas, quick bean burritos, or even 5-layer dip (refried beans blended with taco seasoning, layered with guacamole or fat-free sour cream, shredded cheese, green onions, and fresh chopped tomatoes).

Now, here are two very different, 5-ingredient recipes to get you started!

Easy Onion Pie

1 cup shredded, reduced-fat cheese of choice (sharp cheddar, Swiss, etc.)
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion or green onion (white and part of green)
1/2 cup Reduced-Fat Bisquick
1 cup fat-free half-and-half or low-fat milk
2 large eggs
Mrs. Dash herb/spice blend of choice (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with canola cooking spray.
  • Sprinkle cheese and onion evenly in the pie plate.
  • Add Bisquick, half-and-half, and eggs to a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth. Pour gently over cheese mixture in pie plate.
  • Bake for 40 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 206 calories, 14 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 8.8 g fat, 4.4 g saturated fat, 3 g monounsaturated fat, 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 124 mg cholesterol, 0.5 g fiber, 399 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 39%.

Spinach & Cheese Tortellini Soup

9 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 pound frozen or fresh cheese tortellini
1/2 cup chopped green onion, white and part of green
8 cups fresh spinach leaves, lightly packed
6 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
Spices to taste (optional) such as pepper, ground nutmeg, parsley flakes

  • Add chicken broth to a large saucepan and heat until it boils; stir in tortellini and return to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to LOW; cover saucepan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tortellini are tender (about 5 minutes).
  • Stir in green onion and spinach leaves. Cover saucepan, and simmer soup for a few more minutes. Add spices to taste, if desired.
  • Ladle soup into bowls and top each serving with a tablespoon of shredded Parmesan.

Yield: 6 servings

Per serving: 285 calories, 17 g protein, 37 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 2 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 4.5 g fiber, 460 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.

Originally published September 24, 2005.
Medically updated September 2006.

© 5-ingredient recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2005 Elaine Magee.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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