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 that dinner comes together quicker.
Dinner 1: Spaghetti and Meatballs with Spicy Salad
Game Plan: Prep and cook the meatballs. As the meatballs simmer in the sauce (step 5), prep the salad. Toss the salad right before serving.
Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs uses a panade to keep the meatballs moist. If you don’t have white bread on hand, other types of bread can be substituted. Alternatively, ½ cup of panko bread crumbs can be used, but you will need ⅔ cup of buttermilk (or plain milk) to moisten them. We like to make our own tomato sauce, but a 24-ounce jar of your favorite pasta sauce can be substituted. Spicy Salad with Mustard and Balsamic Vinaigrette calls for a mix of spicy greens, like arugula and watercress, but feel free to use other boldly flavored greens with the pungent mustard-based vinaigrette.
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Dinner 2: Pan-Seared Shrimp and Rice and Pasta Pilaf
Game Plan: Start by preparing the pilaf, using any unattended time to prep the shrimp. While the pilaf rests for 10 minutes at the end of step 3, sear the shrimp.
For Pan-Seared Shrimp with Garlic-Lemon Butter, we season the shrimp with salt, pepper, and sugar, which encourages a well-caramelized exterior and brings out the shrimp’s natural sweetness. We sear the shrimp in batches and then pair them with a flavorful compound butter to add richness and acidity. Rice and Pasta Pilaf combines tender rice with toasted, nutty pieces of vermicelli. In order to have both ingredients finish cooking at the same time, we soak the rice in hot water for 10 minutes to soften the outer coating of the grains and help them absorb water quickly. We let the cooked pilaf stand for 10 minutes with a towel under the lid to keep it from becoming soggy.
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Dinner 3: Spicy Sichuan-Style Noodles and Pai Huang Gua (Sichuan Smashed Cucumbers)
Game Plan: Start by prepping the cucumbers through step 2. While they sit, prep and cook the noodles. Toss the cucumbers with the dressing right before serving.
Spicy Sichuan-Style Noodles is a flavorful dish that comes together quickly. Fresh or dried Chinese noodles work best in this recipe, but linguine can be substituted in a pinch. We pair the noodles with a cooling dish of Pai Huang Gua (Sichuan Smashed Cucumbers). English cucumbers, which are nearly seedless and have thin, crisp skins, are placed in a zipper-lock bag and smashed 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.