Every week, Executive Food Editor Keith Dresser pairs each main dish with a side to give you a complete, satisfying dinner without the guesswork. Look for the game plan section to learn tips on how to streamline your kitchen work so dinner comes together quicker.
Dinner 1: Baked Sole and Bulgur Salad
Game Plan: Note: The bulgur takes more than an hour to soak, but this can be done up to a day in advance if desired. Once the bulgur is fully soaked, prep and bake the fish. Finish the salad as the fish cooks.
For our Baked Sole Fillets with Herbs and Bread Crumbs, we roll the fillets into compact bundles so they cook evenly. To enliven the fish’s mild flavor, we add Dijon mustard and a variety of fresh herbs. A simple topping of toasted bread crumbs contributes texture and richness. Bulgur Salad with Carrots and Almonds utilizes the technique for making tabbouleh, where the bulgur is soaked to soften. To enhance the grain's nutty flavor, we incorporate ground cumin, cayenne pepper, lemon, shredded carrot, and crunchy almonds. Lots of chopped fresh mint, cilantro, and scallions make our salad fresh and bright.
Dutch OvensOur favorite Dutch oven costs $360. We needed a practical alternative.
Dinner 2: Farrotto and Romaine and Watercress Salad
Game Plan: Start cooking the farrotto through step 4. As the farro cooks, finish any prep for the farrotto and prepare the salad ingredients. Toss the salad right before serving.
The biggest challenge to making a satisfying Farrotto with Pancetta, Asparagus, and Peas is achieving the proper texture. We found that cracking about half the farro in a blender was the key to freeing enough starch from the grains to create a creamy, risotto-like consistency. Adding most of the liquid up front and cooking the farrotto in a lidded Dutch oven helps the grains cook evenly and avoids constant stirring. Romaine and Watercress Salad with Apple and Kohlrabi combines crisp romaine lettuce with spicy, tender watercress. Thinly sliced kohlrabi and sweet apple combine cohesively with the salad greens and provide complexity.
Mixing BowlsThis most basic piece of cooking equipment might not seem worthy of scrutiny—until you have one that wobbles when you whisk, slips in your hand, or traps food in its crevices.
Dinner 3: Gōngbǎo Jīdīng (Sichuan Kung Pao Chicken) and Pai Huang Ga (Smashed Cucumbers)
Game Plan: Start by smashing and salting the cucumbers. While the cucumbers sit with the salt, make the dressing and prep the ingredients for the stir-fry. Toss the cucumbers with the dressing once the stir-fry is done.
To get the requisite tingly, spicy flavor in our Gōngbǎo Jīdīng (Sichuan Kung Pao Chicken), we use toasted crushed Sichuan peppercorns and arbol chiles that we halve lengthwise to expose their interiors and maximize the flavor they add. We cover the skillet to facilitate quick and even cooking of diced chicken thighs. For Pai Huang Gua (Smashed Cucumbers) we place English cucumbers, which are nearly seedless and have thin, crisp skins, in a zipper-lock bag and smash them into large, irregular pieces. Salting the cucumbers helps them expel excess water and breaking them into craggy pieces allows them to hold on to the dressing.