Cookbook review: Short on ingredients, long on flavor

"I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To): Low Effort, High-Reward Recipes" by Ali Slagle (Potter, $29.99)

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"I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To): Low Effort, High-Reward Recipes" by Ali Slagle (Potter, $29.99)

‘I Dream of Dinner (so You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes’ by Ali Slagle (Potter, $29.99)

I have two large bookcases devoted to cookbooks, loosely organized by genre and mostly reserved for reference. A small table beside them holds the ones I’m inclined to reach for most frequently, especially when I have no idea what to make for dinner.

Currently sitting at the top of that stack is “I Dream of Dinner (so You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes” (Potter, $29.99) by Ali Slagle, a recipe developer whose weeknight-focused creations regularly garner 5-star ratings on the New York Times Cooking app. The title alone suggests that this author feels my pain. And that tidbit in her bio noting that “you’ll find her in Brooklyn, without a dishwasher, food processor, or stand mixer” suggests she’s got some practical solutions.

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The 150 recipes within boast minimal ingredients that center on fresh produce, freezer-friendly proteins, canned beans, quick-cooking grains, and pasta. Many lean heavily on a well-curated selection of flavor-packed condiments to save you some chopping, measuring and rummaging through your spice cabinet.

With an appreciation for resourcefulness she attributes to her mother and Italian grandmother, Slagle promises recipes in which “the effort-to-reward ratio is engineered in your favor.” I can vouch that Sesame Chicken Meatballs — broiled on a sheet pan with broccoli, served over rice, and dressed with a simple sauce of tahini and a few Asian seasonings — lives up to that pledge.

Ingredients for each recipe are presented as a grocery list so you can determine at a glance what you’ll need to buy, if anything. Tips for stretching and improvising abound.

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Like her recipes, Slagle’s writing is impactful yet spare. To evenly cook a large pan of eggs for Bok Choy-Gochujang Omelet (“an envelope with confetti inside”), she instructs you to “pretend your pan is a hula hoop.” Oregano Lamb Pita has me at “a craggy jumble of juicy bites.”

Her book’s premise boils down to this: “Just remember: Do more with less. Don’t overthink it. And also: It’s only dinner.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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