Ali has a fresh mindset when it comes to preparing dinner: focus on the joy it brings.
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Ali Slagle grilling outside
Credit: Mark Weinberg

Some days—OK, most weekdays—thinking about what to make for dinner might be just as stressful as actually getting the meal on the table. Ali Slagle, author of I Dream of Dinner (So You Don't Have To) ($27.59, bookshop.org), which features simple recipes that require 10 ingredients or less, encourages people to approach the evening meal with a different mindset: "It can be a source of stress for a lot of people, but it can also be a source of joy." We spoke to Slagle about what you'll always find in her pantry, how she manages to get food on the table every weeknight, and more.

How Ali Plans What to Make for Dinner

Slagle isn't big on meal prep—you won't find a written-down dinner menu for the week in her kitchen, and we love that. Instead, she focuses on what she already has on hand.

"I start with what in the fridge will go bad first, it could be a protein, or it could be a bunch of cilantro or a half opened can of beans, whatever thing that I need to move first," says Slagle. "Then I think about what I feel like eating. I think about what flavors, what textures I want. Do I want something soft and cozy, or charred and crispy and from there I think of what I'm going to turn into dinner."

Ali's Fridge and Pantry Staples

In Slagle's kitchen you'll likely find lots of canned foods plus lemons. "Canned beans, canned tuna or a canned protein that doesn't go bad really expedites dinner and can make something not so substantial into a finder, for instance adding beans or canned tuna to lots of crunchy vegetables," says Slagle.

The lemons, which she buys in bulk and keeps in the fridge so they last longer, are for brightening up dishes. "If you're making something and it tastes mild or dull, it often needs salt or lemon," says Slagle.

The Kitchen Tool Ali Swears By

One of the lovely things about I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To) is that Slagle, who has experience living in a tiny apartment with a small kitchen, created all the recipes with the idea that you don't need a lot of pots and pans or random cooking equipment to make. The one essential cooking tool she thinks is often overlooked is a microplane.

"It's really useful," says Slagle. "I use it to grate cheese on top of pasta or if I need to finely chop garlic or ginger or something tedious like that, rub it back and forth on the microplane and it's done for you."

Ali's Favorite Dinners

You'll find lots of comfort food on Slagle's table. "I make a lot of pasta, it's just one of those dishes that can accommodate so many different ingredients," says Slagle. "It's a great way to use what you have." She suggests mastering a good olive oil sauce for noodles for an adaptable base that's versatile.

In addition to big pots of porridge or soups (often lentil-based), Ali has been making the Sloppy Lennys from I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To) quite frequently. There are always leftovers and "it's as good on buns as in a stew, or topped with green veggies," she says.

She's also been making a lot more vegetarian and vegan recipes. Half of the recipes in I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To) are vegetarian, and she's currently working on perfecting a vegan nacho dish. If you're someone that really loves cheese and you can't imagine being vegan because of it, Slagle recommends trying nutritional yeast instead of vegan cheese: "It adds a salty yumminess."

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