Great Ingredients: No Recipe Required

No Recipe Required: Thai Salad with Chicken, Cucumber, and Sunshine Sauce |

As we get closer to our move — 11 days and counting! Our one-way airline tickets for Sunday, July 6 are purchased! — it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to deal with keeping us well fed. I love the process of making up new recipes or devouring other peoples’ cookbooks for inspiration, shopping for the perfect ingredients, and spending a few hours playing in the kitchen, but that’s just not priority right now. I want our food to taste good, but I don’t have the time or inclination to be super creative these days. Sometimes you just gotta eat.

Yesterday, I rubbed a whole chicken with za’atar and garlic, threw  it (literally! I threw it!) into the slow cooker, and 4 hours later, plucked the meat from the bones and shoved it in the refrigerator. As unglam as that sounds, today it was part of a very delicious, very nutritious, very fast lunch. Alongside the chicken on the plate, we had hearts of palm, Persian cucumber, and a handful of fresh cherries that were super plump and tart.

That on-the-fly meal got me thinking: maybe you guys would also like some ideas for delicious meals — that don’t require a recipe — that you can throw together from whatever ingredients you have on hand. As a cookbook author, it might seem nutty for me to say this, but you don’t need a recipe to prepare stunningly tasty food. I give you… Great Ingredients: No Recipe Required. (Pssst… all of these ideas are Whole30 compliant.)

Great Ingredients: The Shopping List

To improvise meals from Great Ingredients, you first need to have your kitchen stocked with Great Ingredients. I’m assuming you know already that you need to have protein ready to go — grilled/roasted chicken, grilled steak, a bunch of browned ground beef, a pork shoulder that’s been roasted in a slow cooker (all of which can be cooked simply with salt, pepper, and garlic powder), canned salmon/tuna/sardines/smoked oysters, hard-boiled eggs — these are all your basic protein pals. To go along with them, here are some ideas for veggies and condiments that elevate your plate from blah to BLAM!

Canned/Jarred Goodies
  • hearts of palm

  • artichoke hearts

  • roasted red bell peppers

  • asparagus

  • black & green olives

  • pickles and/or cornichons

  • pepperoncini

  • (By the by, if you took all of the things in the list above and tossed them in a bowl with extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, you would have a delicious chopped salad that would complement any cooked meat. Just sayin’…)

Pantry Goodies
  • whole nuts: almonds, macadamia, Brazil, pistachio, cashew, pecan, walnut

  • pepitas

  • coconut flakes

  • dried apricots

  • raisins

  • extra-virgin olive oil

  • great vinegars: balsamic, cider, champagne, rice

  • salsa

Produce Goodies

Great Ingredients: Cold Composed Plates

NOTE: Some of these ideas are made better by having a delicious sauce on the side, which may require  recipe, unless you already have it memorized (Hello, Sunshine Sauce! Hey, Paleo Olive Oil Mayo!) or are willing to just wing it and experiment on your own.

At times like these — busy, stressed — I love meals that come together fast and can be eaten cold or mostly cold. But here’s the thing: If I call my meal a “salad,” I feel deprived. Instead, I play a mental trick on myself and call it a “Thai Salad Plate” or an “Antipasto Plate.” Suddenly, I feel like I’m dining in some totally kickass café where they only serve food I like.

With the ingredients listed above, you could make dozens of combinations, based on your preferences. Here are just a few ideas to get you started — obviously, you can make whatever combos your imagination and refrigerator serve up:

  • Thai Salad Plate (pictured above): cooked chicken, cucumber, carrots, Caramelized Coconut Chips, Sunshine Sauce

  • Country Chicken Platter: cooked chicken, red grapes, raw green bell pepper, seedless cucumber, cornichons

  • Middle Eastern Feast: cooked chicken, tahini dressing, cucumbers, olives, dried apricots, almonds

  • Cuban Platter: roast pork; pan-fried plantains; diced avocado and tomato; raisins & pepitas mixed together with salt

  • Nearly Nicoise: tuna, steamed green beans, black olives, hard-boiled egg, minced parsley, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil or a dollop of mayo

  • Vietnamese Platter: cooked steak or ground beef; slaw of red bell pepper, carrot, cabbage with rice vinegar & fish sauce; minced mint & basil; cashews

  • Antipasto Plate: sardines, roasted red peppers, olives, pepperoncini, hearts of palm, artichoke hearts; drizzled with the oil from the sardines; minced parsley

  • California Plate: cooked chicken, hard-boiled egg, avocado, pepitas, raisins, artichoke hearts

  • Smoked Salmon Platter: smoked salmon, hard-boiled egg, olives, cornichons, bell pepper strips & cucumber spears, blueberries & blackberries

  • Mexican Fiesta: chicken/pork/steak, olives, avocado, salsa, jicama strips, bell pepper strips… sprinkled with lime juice & fresh cilantro; pepitas on the side

  • Plus… you can always make tuna salad, salmon salad, chicken salad, or egg salad with homemade mayo, and surround it with raw veggies and pantry yummies like hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, etc. and make a beautiful deli platter.

Great Ingredients: Diner Platters

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania during the late 60s and early 70s, so I ate in a lot of diners. And every menu included what I think of as a “diner plate:” meat, starch, vegetable, salad. It may occur to you as you read that that (a) it looks familiar and (b) it’s not a bad way to go. While diner plates may not seem as sexy at first glance as Paleo Pad Thai or Bora Bora Fireballs, they’re high-quality meals that are good for you… kind of like the good guy in a romantic comedy who wins the girl in the end.

Just pick your protein, add a reasonable amount of starchy veg*, toss a steam-sautéed veggie with fat and garlic, and serve a salad on the side, dressed with vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and za’atar. So easy; so good!

*Sweet potato shortcut: Wash a sweet potato and poke it with a fork a few times. Wrap it in a paper towel and microwave 8-10 minutes, until it yields to pressure when you squeeze it. Cut in half and top with duck fat, coconut oil, or ghee — or cut into 1/2-inch cubes and quickly brown in a skillet with your fat of choice and a healthy sprinkling of salt.

More ‘Great Ingredients’ Ideas

Here are a few non-recipe recipes from some of my favorite paleo people to help you enjoy a Great Ingredients Dinner.

Print this recipe
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  • Kristina says:

    Holy wow! I am inspired to buy every canned delicacy you just listed and start dumping them in bowls with leftover meat. I love salads, but I was so over salads proper. I mean, I’ve put together lunches of raw veggie strips and rolled-up deli meat with olives and a dab of homemade mayonnaise to dip, but the antipasto plate with sardines? Brilliance.

    • I’ve been really into chopped salads lately. Sometimes with lettuce, sometimes not, but everything diced the same size, so it’s almost like salad hash. The dressing coats everything, and it’s AWESOME.

  • Kristina says:

    This is amazing.

    I love salad, but I’ve been making the same basic one for two years, and my home-cooked dinners are almost always a roasted meat and green vegetable or a slow cooked meat with a roasted vegetable. Most of the time sweet potatoes make an appearance. I kind of feel like I should have thought of at least one no-cook, non-salad meal at some point… But I’m going to print this out and stick it to my fridge to remind myself to broaden my horizons and run the oven less often!

  • Adelyn says:

    THANK YOU!!! This is exactly the reminder I need. I have both your cookbooks and I have to tell you that because of you I am (finally) really learning to be a chef. (Instead of someone who just makes recipes.) I am feeling more confident about winging it and mixing together stuff that sounds good to me. My favorite right now is garlic-ginger mayo.

  • Tracie says:

    Thanks so much for putting these ideas in one place, Melissa! We eat AIP, I am steadily improving from RA and MS, and run businesses from home which means there’s always something going on. Having quick ideas for yummy paleo plates is fantastic and a major help. 🙂

    Good luck with the move. Keep the great ideas coming, and thanks again so much!
    Be well,

    • I’m glad the AIP is helping you feel better! That’s really wonderful. I hope you have fun with these ideas for on-the-go comfort meals. You guys inspire me to stay true to my habits and to keep coming up with ideas to make it delicious 😉

  • Katie says:

    I just want to point out July 7th is a Monday. Don’t want you to go to the airport on the wrong day. I know how crazy moving time is! Good luck. Love your blog!!

    • Thanks! I KNEW the 6th was a Sunday and that the 7th is Monday, but my brain and my body are not cooperating with each other right now. No lie: yesterday I put my kitchen scale into the refrigerator and today, I left my keys at the bank.

  • AustinGirl says:

    Oh my lord, you are just so breath- takingly awesome. Thanks for the great ideas…and the equally amazing cook books. I hope you guys have so much fun on your New England adventures!

  • Diannah says:

    GREAT timing! Thank you! Daughter and I are both in rehearsals for a production of Oklahoma, and often get home from work with only 30 min before we have to head out to rehearsal. I can only tolerate so many slow cooker meals. With it being summer and our rehearsal space having no air conditioning, cold meals sound wonderful. Now to just find a day to do the cook up!! Hope your move goes a smoothly as it can!

    • How fun that you’re both in Oklahoma! I was Laurie in our high school production… I have a soft spot for that show. If you don’t have time for protein cookup, grab a rotisserie chicken and some canned seafood!

  • Barrie Jo Hamilton says:

    This is awesome! Exactly what I needed. Thank you so much!! I like to cook, but sometimes I don’t feel like it (too busy/tired/hot/whatever). Honestly, though, these are some of my favorite kinds of meals. Comfort food all the way… and being easy to prepare only makes it better. 🙂

  • Hilah says:

    Great ideas, Mel! Lately I’ve been feeling super lazy in the kitchen and this is a good reminder to go easy on yourself sometimes, and just eat some stuff.

  • Colleen says:

    I LOVE the cold plates and rely on them all summer long! They are perfect because they are so easy, but they are also DELICIOUS. Starting another whole30 on July 7th and plan to eat cold plates all month long!

  • Nancy Padulsky says:

    I didn’t realize you could slow cook chicken so quick….any other meats? have to try. good for summer and to just have on hand, as I’m always needing new ideas, new at this. Thanks!

  • Leah says:

    I buy the packages of mixed cubed veggies at Trader Joe’s (I think it’s called the Healthy 8) and these are a great base for a crunchy, fresh salad. Just add some homemade balsamic vinaigrette,sundried tomatoes, and meat of choice and it is delicious! A great go-to without the work of all that chopping.

  • Suzanne says:

    Hey Melissa! I have had both of your well fed’s on kindle for awhile, but this morning I ordered hard copies. I’ve been looking your stuff over and initially was intimidated, I’ll concede, but now I’m ready to spring into action. I’m ready to expand my normal repertoire, which has become kind of boring 😉 Thank you!

    • Thank you for buying our cookbooks! I’m glad you’re over the hump and ready to start playing in the kitchen. Just have fun with it — you really can’t mess it up. Happy cooking!

  • Dean Whittaker says:

    Do you leave the skin on the sweet potato when you cut it up ? Also do you mean a wet paper towel ? THanks

    • If your sweet potatoes are organic, you can leave the skins on. I like the way they taste, so I keep them. I wrap a wet potato in a dry paper towel — but it doesn’t matter that much. Works either way.

  • Dean Whittaker says:

    Thanks for the quick reply. Much appreciated 🙂

  • Tracie says:

    Hey Melissa,
    As a person who eats autoimmune paleo (my partner does paleo), this list is utter brilliance for me. There are tons of things he can have to fill out his meal (peppers, nuts, pickles etc), and that I just won’t partake in. Easy. No need to fix several dishes which means more energy and less fatigue for me!

    In a household that runs two at-home businesses, this type of quick, little thought meal preparation is JUST what I need!

    Thank you so much for compiling it in one spot for me. Definitely belongs ON THE refrigerator!
    Again, many thanks,

    • I’m so glad you found these ideas helpful! Ever since I wrote this post, my husband Dave and I have been brainstorming more “no recipe” ideas, so I hope to have more fun ones to share soon.

  • Roni says:

    You are making my first Whole 30 SO much easier than it was before I visited you. What a blessing you are!

  • Eileen says:

    Hi Melissa! I love this post, and I shared it with the Whole30 group I started on FB. I have a couple of go-to, no-cook, quick-fix items: rolled up slices of serrano ham (or prosciutto), on a plate with quartered hard boiled eggs, cornichons, sliced tomato and hot banana pepper rings; and canned tuna on a bed of arugula with tomato, onion, avocado and olive oil. These two meals have saved my butt (and my Whole30) on many occasions!