Five-ingredient recipes are irresistible but in pursuit of simple, you could miss sensational

Melissa Joulwan's Tiki Dogs recipe contains five ingredients – plus a few more.
Melissa Joulwan’s Tiki Dogs recipe contains five ingredients – plus a few more.

The lure of the 5-ingredient recipe seems irresistible. Short list means simple, right? With a possible three out of five already in your pantry. That single recipe subcategory accounts for a lot of scrolling through the websites of All Recipes, Eating Well, Good Housekeeping and Rachael Ray, Southern Living, Food Network — you name it.

I am scratching my head about this, though, because I see 5-ingredient recipes that should have asterisks. They are the culinary equivalent of fake news. With notable exceptions, the recipes don’t count water, basic seasonings, oil. Why?

I am looking at a “5-ingredient” recipe for Simple Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lemon at JustATaste.com: the bird, a lemon, butter, rosemary sprigs, garlic. Except any cook worth her salt and pepper knows what’s missing from that lineup. The S&P are in the directions, however. I have the “Quick-Shop-and-Prep 5 Ingredient Baking” book from a couple years back, and its Spiced Chess Pie calls for 13 ingredients. Milk, cornmeal and ground allspice are in boldface, signaling to those who read the foreword that those items need to be purchased; the premise of the book relies on your stock of flour, sugar, butter, ice water, eggs, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt and nutmeg.

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post
This recipe for Brussels Sprouts Pasta with Whole-Grain Mustard has five ingredients – plus a few more.

The 5-ingredient phenomenon makes me wonder what home cooks really want when they type the phrase into their search fields.

“It feels like a scam, a little,” says Suzanne Rafer, executive editor and director of cookbook publishing for Workman. “I’m not a believer in limiting . . . . If it’s going to take six or seven or eight ingredients, so be it. Our deal is, no matter how many you put in, you want it to taste good in the end.”

Not a scam for everyone, perhaps. There is cooking for sustenance, and there is cooking for satisfaction. Overlap is desirable, but often, someone who has to get weeknight meals on the table will look at the clock, do the math and try to reduce the effort one way or another.

The 5-ingredient mode is hardly a stretch for drinks, fruit-and-yogurt desserts, sides. Seasonal produce at its peak doesn’t need bells and whistles or magical transformation. Keeping main-dish recipes “ingredient-simple,” on the other hand, typically relies on using very good components, or it can mean a missed opportunity to enhance flavours.

“People are looking for quicker and easier shortcuts all the time,” says Lisa Ekus, the force behind her eponymous literary agency, which launched Ronni Lundy’s well-received “Victuals” last year. “But you can’t have cheap – meaning economical – and fast and good. Something’s got to give.”

What often gives is a pronouncement of “delicious.” Or the complexity that multiple and complementary spices can bring. Or the control over sodium or fat in the shortcut, store-bought products the recipe calls for, such as a pasta sauce, marinade or frozen pie dough. A short list doesn’t necessarily translate to quick or uncomplicated: Think slow cooker or sous vide or a range of required knife skills.

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post
This dairy-free, spoonbread-type side dish is called “porkkanalaatikko” in Finnish, which translates to “carrot bake.”

Ekus echoes Rafer’s bottom line: “The question in the end is, is it good? Rozanne Gold is one of the few who did it really well.”

Yes, she did. The New York chef’s “Recipes 1-2-3” won a James Beard award in 1996 and forecast a two-decade trend. (Fun fact: It gave rise to the Minimalist column in the New York Times food section, which Gold had to pass on writing because she was revamping the Windows on the World menu at the time.)

She followed up with another eight books in the “1-2-3” vein that were translated into several languages. Her Mahogany Short Ribs in WaPo Food’s Recipe Finder continue to be a revelation for readers every time we happen to mention it in a Free Range chat. But none of those recipes – including the ribs – listed water, salt and pepper as ingredients.

“The idea of ingredients you can count on the fingers of one hand has to do with cooks not being intimidated,” says Gold, now 63 and working on her master’s in poetry. “It’s code.” Her 3-ingredient recipes were, in part, a reaction to an era of “pile-up” on restaurant plates that masked true flavours, she says, as well as a personal challenge to exploit an ingredient to the max – an exploration of all the ways, say, asparagus can taste in raw and cooked forms.

What matters is how the ingredients interact, Gold says. “There needs to be some experience and knowledge” in that guiding hand, and she is heartened that “it’s the mettle of a chef to cook more simply these days.” She recently produced a collection of balanced, “incredibly complex” (in flavour) 5-ingredient recipes for Cooking Light that did not count the water, oil, salt and pepper used. Would “9-Ingredient Recipes!” sound as appealing?

Which brings me to the accompanying recipes. All of them contain 5 ingredients – plus a few more. None of them are complicated; some are downright quirky. Each offers flavours that are true to their ingredients. If you like even one or two of the dishes, the lesson might be: Look beyond the sheer numbers of ingredients, with an eye on the total sum.

SALTED CARDAMOM DRINKING CHOCOLATE

 Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post
Deb Lindsey for The Washington PostSalted Cardamom Drinking Chocolate.

As the recipe’s author says, the challenge here is to find a salt that will land on the surface of your drink without sinking or dissolving. A flaked salt works best in this surprisingly dairy-free beverage.
What’s the difference between hot cocoa and a drinking chocolate? Hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder, and the latter is made with whole chocolate as well, which contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Drinking chocolate typically tastes much richer as a result.
Adapted from “Bitterman’s Craft Salt Cooking: The Single Ingredient That Transforms All Your Favorite Foods and Recipes,” by Mark Bitterman (Andrews McMeel, 2016).

One 13.5-oz or 14-oz can coconut milk (not shaken, not low-fat)
3 cups (750 mL) water
1/4 cup (50 mL) sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) cardamom pods, cracked
1/2 cup (125 mL) unsweetened cocoa powder (do not use Dutch-process)
8 oz bittersweet chocolate (at least 60 per cent cacao), broken into pieces
6 pinches flaked salt (see headnote)

1. Use a spoon to skim the cream from the top of the opened can of coconut milk and place it in a liquid measuring cup. Add enough of the liquid left in the can to yield 1 full cup. Reserve what’s left for another use, if desired.
2. Combine the water, sugar and cracked cardamom pods in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, cook for 1 minute, then remove it from the heat and let it steep for 5 minutes.
3. Use a slotted spoon or small strainer to find and discard the cardamom pods, then stir the cocoa powder into the saucepan. Place over medium…

These Rich, Fudgy Brownies Are Made with Avocado

avocado-brownies-beth-lipton

Nope, we’re not joking. These brownies are sink-your-teeth-in fudgy and healthy, thanks to the star ingredient: amazing avocados. You already know how nutritious avocados are, loaded with fiber, B vitamins, folate, and potassium. They’re also a great source of healthy fat, which keeps you feeling satisfied and helps your body absorb more of fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K. So we combined avocados with other good-for-you ingredients—keeping the sweeteners minimal and natural—to create a delicious treat (including frosting!) that won’t weigh you down.

Avocado Brownies with Avo Frosting

Yield: 12-16 brownies

Brownies

3 oz. dark chocolate (70% cacao), chopped

1 Tbsp. coconut or extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa (40g)

½ cup almond meal (60g)

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. sea salt

2 ripe medium avocados (about 17 oz. total), halved, pitted, flesh scooped out

½ cup medjool dates (about 4.5 oz.), pitted

¼ cup coconut sugar (1.4 oz.)

1 tsp….

Best Homemade Apple Crumble Recipe, Italian Recipe Apple Crumble Pie

Apple Crumble Recipe

No matter the season, apple crumble will warm your heart and every family has their own recipe. This is my Italian version of apple crumble, and is part crumble, part spicy and completely Delicious. Enjoy it with my super simple but Irresistible sweetened mascarpone cream. #Yum

Watch video recipe:

apple crumble

Ingredients:

The Crumble

6 Pink lady apples
2 x eggs
150g butter
400g plain flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
Cinnamon
Vanilla extract
½ lemon rind
60g caster sugar
Heaped teaspoon of butter

The Cream

250G mascarpone (Polenghi)
2 heaped tblsp icing sugar
½ lemon rind

Utensils:

1 x 24cm springform baking tin
1 x large mixing bowl
1 x tablespoon
1 x teaspoon
1 x hand grater
1 x pastry brush
1 x small sieve (for the icing sugar)

Method:

To Make the Crumble

1. Peel 6 apples and remove the cores to begin your apple crumble.
2. Cut the apples into small cubes and put them into a small saucepan filled with water. Make sure the water covers the top of the apples

Vincenzo’s Plate Tip: Put the apples into the saucepan as you go . The water will prevent them from going brown or spoiling.

3. Boil the apples on a medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until they begin to soften.
4. Melt a small amount of butter and using a pastry brush, spread a layer on the base and sides of the baking tin being sure to cover all the edges so that the apple crumble doesn’t stick to it!
5. Pour a small amount of flour inside and roll the tray around so the flour sticks to the butter and forms a thin layer on the bottom and sides.

apple crumble

6. Put 400g of flour in a large mixing bowl and add 150g sugar and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.
7. Use the rind of either ½ or a whole lemon (depending on your taste).
8. Break up 150g of butter (make sure it is room temperature) into…

3 Delicious Protein Pancake Recipes

By Beth Lipton
Pancakes: the weekend breakfast treat that represent the ultimate carb-laden indulgence. Sure, they’re delicious—but they can leave you feeling less than energetic.
Well, not anymore! We’ve created three healthy pancake recipes packed with protein and high-quality whole grains (think spelt, quinoa, and oats). Each recipe provides the right mix of nutrients to power your morning. They’re all free of empty carbs, easy to make, and yummy (even kid-friendly), so you get to have your tasty A.M. treat and still feel like a champ afterwards. Break out the maple syrup and read on.

Spelt-Quinoa Pancakes


Protein boosters: Spelt and quinoa (Note: you can use leftover cooked quinoa.)
Yield: About 14
1 tsp. olive oil (if not using leftover cooked quinoa)
1/3 cup quinoa, rinsed (56g, or 1 cup cooked)
Salt
1 cup spelt flour (140g)
2 tsp. cinnamon, optional
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 Tbsp. coconut or olive oil (plus more coconut oil or unsalted butter for griddle; if using coconut, melted and cooled)
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. If using dry quinoa, warm 1 tsp. oil in a small saucepan over
    medium heat. Add quinoa and cook, stirring, until quinoa is dry and
    beginning to toast, about 1 minute. Add 2/3 cup water and a
    generous pinch of salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
    Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until water has absorbed and
    quinoa is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and
    let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Spread out on a plate to
    cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 200ºF. In a large bowl, whisk together spelt,
    cinnamon (if desired), baking powder, baking soda and ¼ tsp. salt.
    In a small bowl, whisk together egg, yogurt, coconut oil, maple
    syrup, and vanilla. Pour yogurt mixture into flour mixture and stir
    until nearly combined. Fold in quinoa. (Batter…