© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Expand Your Pandemic Cookbook With New Spring Flavors

Spring miso broth with greens and ginger meatballs. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Spring miso broth with greens and ginger meatballs. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Are you sick of your recipe repertoire? Is the pandemic testing your kitchen skills? You can kick things up without having to buy all new ingredients at the grocery store.

You’ll notice that these recipes are highly adaptable. The phrase “if you have it” appears often and many ingredients have a range of possible substitutions.

Spaghetti Al Limone

There is a sophistication to this dish that belies its simple ingredients. This is pantry cooking at its best.

The spaghetti is boiled in salted water. Meanwhile chopped garlic is sautéed with lemon zest, lemon juice and then a cup of the salted pasta water. Boil the pasta until just al dente (meaning it’s not yet tender, but still has a “bite”) and then toss it in the skillet with the lemon sauce. Grated Parmesan cheese thickens the sauce and a sprinkling of black pepper and parsley (if you have it) finishes it off.

Serves 4.


  • 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
  • 2 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, from 1 large or 2 small lemons
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley or chives, finely chopped, if you have it
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream optional
  • 1 packed cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 very thin lemon slices, not wedges


  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta, stir and cook for 11 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and cook 1 minute. Add the lemon juice, half the parsley and cook over low heat. After 10 minutes, remove 1 ¼ cups of the salted pasta water and add to the lemon sauce. Raise the heat to moderately high.
  3. At 11 minutes, drain the pasta from the pot of water and add to the drained pasta to the skillet with the lemon sauce along with the cream if desired. Stir in half the cheese, salt and pepper to taste to coat all the pasta. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until pasta is tender and the sauce has thickened slightly. Place on a serving platter, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and parsley, a grinding of pepper and place the lemon slices down the center of the pasta.

Fried Rice

This highly-adaptable recipe uses bits and pieces you might have ignored in your refrigerator. Use up your leftovers by stir-frying some onions, any raw vegetables you have on hand, any bits of chopped cooked meat or poultry and an egg with leftover cooked rice and you’ve got a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Serves 2 to 4.


  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • About 2 to 2 ½ cups raw vegetables, cut into small 1/2 to 1-inch pieces*
  • 2 cups cooked rice, separated so it doesn’t clump up
  • 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • Hot pepper sauce or Chinese chile paste, to taste
  • 2 scallions, very thinly chopped (or 2 tablespoons chopped chives)
  • Bean sprouts or microgreens, optional

*Any vegetable will work. Think small florets of broccoli, cauliflower, slices of carrot, celery, asparagus, zucchini, or greens like spinach, kale, mustard greens, beet greens, etc.


  1. Whisk egg with 1/2 teaspoon of the sesame oil. Heat wok or skillet on high with 1 teaspoon of the canola and another ½ teaspoon of the sesame oil. Add the egg and spread it out along the bottom of the wok or skillet to create a kind of flat omelet. Cook egg until it no longer looks “wet,” about 1 to 2 minutes. Flip over and cook another minute. Remove to a plate and cut into thick strips and set aside.
  2. Heat the remaining canola oil in wok or skillet over high heat. Add the onion, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, 10 seconds. Add the vegetables, adding the densest ones first like broccoli or carrots and cook 2 minutes. Add remaining vegetables (like asparagus or spinach or kale) and cook another 2 minutes, stirring. Add the rice, making sure it doesn’t clump up, and stir all the ingredients together. Add the soy sauce, the hot pepper sauce or chile paste, remaining sesame oil and half the scallions and cook, stirring for another 2 to 3 minutes. The vegetables should be almost tender but not overly soft. Add the reserved egg strips and stir together. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with the remaining scallions and serve hot.

Spring Green Soup

You can make this soup using frozen vegetables, fresh vegetables or virtually anything you have around. I made it with a few asparagus, a handful of spinach and beet greens, stock and a chunk of celery root or potato. But try it with frozen spinach or frozen peas or fresh greens of any kind. Adaptability is the name of the game.

Serves 4 to 6.


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, shallot or leek, or 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions, if you have them
  • 1 cup peeled chopped potato or celery root (celeriac)
  • 3 to 4 asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups spinach or beet greens or kale, or any greens you have, or 1 to 2 boxes frozen vegetables (frozen vegetables don’t need to thaw)
  • 4 cups vegetable, or chicken stock


  • Greek yogurt of plain yogurt, heavy cream, or crème fraiche
  • 1/4 cup minced chives or scallions


  1. In a large pot heat the oil over low heat. Add the onions, salt, pepper and chives and sauté, stirring, for 10 minutes. Add the potato and cook 3 minutes, stirring. Add the asparagus (or frozen vegetables) and greens and cook 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover and cook until the potato is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  2. Using a blender, food processor or a hand-held immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
  3. Serve hot or cold, with a spoonful of yogurt or cream and a sprinkling of chives or scallions.

Spring Miso Broth With Greens And Ginger Meatballs

This is a slightly more complex soup: a miso broth with fresh ginger and greens, noodles and delicious, small ginger-spiked meatballs. If you don’t eat (or have any) meat, add 1 cup cubed tofu to the broth instead of the meatballs.

Serves 4.


For the meatballs:

  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1/2 pound ground beef or pork, or a combination, or ground turkey
  • About 2 to 3 tablespoons Panko or regular breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

For the soup and ramen noodles:

  • 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, one chopped and one thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons miso paste
  • About 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • Dash hot pepper sauce or chili paste
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 8 asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • A handful of spinach, kale, mustard greens or beet greens, or 1 package frozen greens (frozen greens don’t need to thaw)
  • About 4 ounces soba, ramen or rice noodles

For garnishes:

  • Fresh cilantro, if you have it
  • Dash sesame oil
  • Dash hot chili paste or hot pepper sauce


  1. Make the meatballs: In a large bowl mix garlic, ginger, scallions, soy sauce, and whisked egg. Add the ground meat and mix with your hands or a spatula, making sure the meat is coated with all the ingredients. Add about 2 tablespoons of Panko breadcrumbs and mix well. The mixture should hold together when shaped into small balls. If the mixture is still too moist, add another tablespoon of Panko breadcrumbs. Using your hands, form the mixture into about 12 small meatballs.
  2. In a large skillet heat the oil over moderately high heat. Cook the meatballs about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove and set aside. The meatballs will finish cooking in the soup.
  3. Make the soup and noodles: In a medium pot, heat the oil over low heat. Add the ginger, garlic and onion and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes. Stir in the miso paste and cook 10 seconds. Stir in the sesame oil, soy sauce and chili paste. Cook 1 minute. Raise the heat to high and add the stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the browned meatballs and cook 2 minutes, then add the asparagus and greens. Cook until the meatballs are cooked through and the greens are just tender. To test the meatballs, cut in half and make sure there isn’t any pink.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente, depending on the type of noodle, about 3 to 8 minutes. Drain.
  5. To serve: Divide the miso broth, vegetables and meatballs into 4 bowls. Divide the noodles between the bowls and top with fresh cilantro if you have it and a drizzle of sesame oil or chili paste.

Other recipes:

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.