For weeknight dinners, it's essential to keep it simple. These five "secret ingredient" combinations will give you all the inspiration you need to get through the week, without needing to run to the market.

The Best Roast Chicken EVER

The "Secret" Ingredients: Butter, Garlic, Soy Sauce

Despite the soy sauce, this recipe was actually inspired by a dish at a French restaurant in New York.

It is so easy, and is a great way to make the easiest whole chicken or chicken pieces between shopping trips.


Heat your oven to 475°. Melt 8 tbsp unsalted butter in 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat; stir in 1/2 cup soy sauce; set aside. Season chicken with salt and pepper, stuff cavity with 7-10 cloves of crushed garlic; tie legs together. Transfer to 9" x 13" baking dish. Brush heavily with some of the soy mixture, and cook, basting twice more, until cooked through, about 1 hour. Let rest for 10 minutes.


5-Minute Spicy Pasta Pan Sauce

The "Secret" Ingredients: Chili Oil, Garlic, Parmesan

When you're out of ideas, this is a great go-to pasta sauce. Add in some veggies to make it a more complete meal, or serve alongside a kitchen sink salad. While your pasta is cooking, mince some garlic and toss it in a pan with a good, thick coating of olive oil and a drizzle of hot chili oil over medium-low heat. When your pasta is al dente, toss it directly into your garlic-oil pan (don't dump your pasta water yet!), along with some parmesan and toss with tongs. Season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper, plus a little more hot chili oil, if you like. If the pasta seems dry, add some pasta, one tablespoon at a time, until it loosens up. Top with fresh parsley, if you have it, and serve immediately.

Ridiculously Easy Middle Eastern Tahini Dressing

The "Secret" Ingredients: Tahini, Lemon Juice, Garlic

This super-easy dressing transforms grain bowls, is incredible over roasted or grilled vegetables, makes a sweet potato feel like a meal, gives heft to chopped salad, and can even be drizzled over leftover chicken for bootleg shawarma wraps. Mix 1/3 cup tahini (Middle Eastern sesame paste), 1/3 cup water, juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon, 2-3 minced garlic cloves, a drizzle of olive oil, and a teaspoon salt. Taste and adjust, adding more water, lemon juice, or salt, as needed to reach desired flavor and consistency. Feel free to add fresh herbs or red pepper flakes for easy variations.

Your New Go-To Steak Marinade

The "Secret" Ingredients: Soy Sauce, Thai Chili Garlic Sauce, Lemon Juice, sesame oil (optional)

This basic combination of soy, garlic, chili, and lime has infinite variations, and is super forgiving (we don't even measure, just eye-ball splashes). Give your marinade a sniff or taste before adding the steak and adjust according to your taste. Pour ¼ cup soy sauce, a heaping spoonful of Thai chili garlic sauce (or 3 cloves minced garlic and some red pepper flakes), juice of one lime, and a dash or two of sesame oil in a Ziploc bag. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Toss in your steaks and let them marinate for an hour or overnight. Then cook on a grill or pan.

Kitchen Sink Rice and Beans

The "Secret" Ingredients: Can of beans, rice

If you have a can of beans and a cup or two of leftover white or brown rice, you have yourself the makings of a meal. This dish can be made with whatever you have on hand, so feel free to toss in some cubed sweet potato, if you have it, add some chopped tomato, chop up that lonely sausage in the back of your freezer, use black, pinto or whatever cooked/canned beans you have, and omit whatever you are missing.


If you want to get fancy, serve topped with some fresh cilantro, sliced avocado, or fresh pico de gallo. Simply sauté some garlic, onion, and pepper (and sausage or sweet potato, if using) in olive oil over medium to medium-high heat until soft and beginning to brown. Add some cumin, salt, pepper, and chili powder, give it a stir. Add in your beans and mix well. Season to taste salt and let it cook for a few minutes until heated through. Dump in your rice and stir to combine. Let it cook a few minutes more (if you forget about it for a while, that's okay too). Add the juice of a lemon or lime, taste and adjust seasonings.

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About the Contributor
Felicia Campbell
Felicia Campbell is an award-nominated writer, editor, and producer. She is the author of The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia; numerous travel guides; and Chasing Iraqi Chicken: A Memoir (forthcoming). She writes about culture, travel, food, and lifestyle and has held editorial positions at Saveur, Times of Oman, Phoenix New Times, and Edible San Diego. She now works with authors as a developmental editor and writing coach, produces digital videos, and is developing a documentary series about endangered cuisines. Learn more at