Weeknights can be a bit hectic when your priorities are getting the kids to bed, meeting up with friends, working late or just putting your feet up. Cooking can be the last thing on your mind. But the path to a good meal is shorter than you think – we have dozens of dishes that require assembly only. The secret lies in the ingredient choices, so go for those that are precooked, plus look out for seasonal saviours and think creatively about flavour combinations. We’ve picked some of our favourite storecupboard basics that’ll make the 'no-cook' brief a lot easier – and have serving suggestions to boot.
10 star ingredients for making no-cook suppers
1. Rice vermicelli noodles
These low-fat, glassy noodles are so thin they don’t require cooking – just leave them to soak in boiling water for a few minutes. Once soft to your liking, rinse them under cold water to stop them from sticking together. They can then be tossed in an Asian-style dressing or soy and citrus to provide a sound foundation for whatever ingredients you have available. Cooked prawns, lots of herbs, shredded vegetables and spring onions work well.
Try in… Prawn & pink grapefruit salad
Source thick, floury Middle Eastern-style wraps and use as a base to a ‘pizza’. Spread with a dip such as houmous, taramasalata, tzatziki or guacamole, then add matching toppings. Cheese is a must – crumbly feta and creamy goat's cheese work well – then add salad, meat or fish and herbs. Not something the residents of Naples would approve of, but delicious nonetheless.
Try in… Flatbread pizzas
3. Hot-smoked salmon
It’s now common to see hot-smoked fish fillets nestled in supermarket fridges next to their cold-smoked counterparts, but the two are entirely different entities. We love traditional smoked salmon for its salty flavour and silky texture, but hot-smoked salmon is ideal for when you want the bite of cooked fish without having to do the hard work. It’s ideal in sandwiches and wraps or flaked into salad. It's worth seeking out hot-smoked trout too, as well as vacuum-packed peppered mackerel fillets.
Whether you wilt it under boiling water, shred it finely into salads or use blitzed into a dip or soup, raw spinach has the edge over cooked. Use a whole bag as a base to a green gazpacho – combine with cucumber, avocado, herbs and yogurt for a seriously cool summer soup.
Try in… Green gazpacho
5. Cooked chicken
The selection of precooked chicken pieces available in supermarkets now ranges from premium whole breasts to flavoured bites. Or, use leftovers from a home-roasted chicken. Whatever chicken you have to hand, shred it finely and add to broths, salads, sandwiches and more.
Try in… Thai chicken salad
Versatile, thrifty and a staple of students everywhere, most cupboards will have a packet of couscous tucked away somewhere. Don’t boil it into oblivion – as the grains are so microscopic, they just need rehydrating. Place in a bowl and pour over boiling water to completely submerge, then cover and leave to steam. Once the water has been absorbed, add butter or olive oil, then fluff with a fork and flavour with herbs, vegetables, cheese, spices and more.
Try in… Jewelled couscous
7. Rice paper
Working on the same principle as rice vermicelli noodles, these Asian wraps need only to be soaked. Transform them from hard discs into light, fresh, fat-free summer rolls stuffed with prawns, vermicelli noodles and salad. For a real South East Asian flavour, add mint, coriander and Thai basil, then serve with a pungent dipping sauce.
Try in... Vietnamese prawn summer rolls
8. Bulgur wheat
Despite being coarser than couscous, bulgur wheat can be treated in the same way (but do check the pack instructions). It’ll need covering with water for a little longer – 30 minutes should do the trick – giving you time to get on with chopping nuts, fruit, cheese and herbs to make a classic Middle Eastern tabbouleh. Serve with mezze such as falafel, hummus and olives.
Try in… Fruity tabbouleh
9. Super salad
Avoid having to boil eggs or potatoes, cook fish or grill meat and make your salad completely no-cook – just look for ingredients that are in their prime. We have a version for every season:
10. Lime juice
Who needs an oven when astringent citrus juice can ‘cook’ fish? Try Peruvian ceviche out for size if you don’t believe us. This isn’t one to try if you’re in a hurry as this recipe requires an hour and a half to turn the fish from raw and translucent to cooked and opaque, but we reckon you could keep yourself occupied in that time. Try it with white fish, such as haddock, pollock or sea bass.
Try in… James Martin’s ceviche
Do you have a no-cook supper you turn to on busy nights? We'd love to hear your ideas...