Top 20 Ingredients for Quick Cooking

Keep these essential ingredients on hand and in mind. You can combine them in creative ways to yield deliciously quick and healthy weeknight meals.

Ingredients for Quick Cooking

Photo: Plamen Petkov

Fast, Fresh, and Healthy Ingredients for the Quick Cook

We've identified 20 ingredients that get our creative juices flowing, from fresh, superconvenient products like bagged baby spinach, to go-to pantry standards like organic canned black beans, to high-flavor spice-rack heroes like smoked paprika, which gives a bacon-y savor to foods while adding zero calories and zero saturated fat.

With this list of gold-standard quick-cooking ingredients in hand, we also provide 20 easy recipes perfect for busy nights. We hope these inspire you to stock your own pantry and experiment further. Fast, fresh, and healthy can be something else, too—fun.

Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice

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Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice

Boil-in-bag brown rice is one of the quickest ways to get more whole grains in your diet.

Use for: rice pilaf, rice salad, soups, and stews

Quick Paella Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice Recipe: Quick Paella

Yes, it's possible to riff on the flavors of Spain's most famous dish and make a delicious Quick Paella! Boil-in-bag brown rice makes a fast, nutty, and nutritious foundation.

View Recipe: Quick Paella

Canned Diced Tomatoes

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Canned Diced Tomatoes

Canned no-salt-added diced tomatoes save you the time and effort of seeding, chopping, and peeling fresh tomatoes.

Use for: marinara sauce, bruschetta, salsa

Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Pizza Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Canned Diced Tomatoes Recipe: Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Pizza

A robust topping of turkey sausage, onions, diced tomatoes, and peppers crown this satisfying Chicago-style pizza. French baguette halves mimic the traditional deep-dish crust—a real timesaver.

View Recipe: Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Pizza

Canned Organic Black Beans

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Canned Organic Black Beans

Canned organic black beans offer options for main dishes and sides, and going with organic ensures there's minimal added salt.

Use for: black bean cakes, filling for tacos or burritos, salsa

Quick Black Bean and Corn Soup Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Canned Black Beans Recipe: Quick Black Bean and Corn Soup

Using six of our top quick ingredients, Quick Black Bean and Corn Soup is ready in less than 30 minutes. Serve with a dollop of Greek-style plain yogurt to counteract the spicy chile paste.

View Recipe: Quick Black Bean and Corn Soup

Frozen Shelled Edamame

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Frozen Shelled Edamame

Frozen shelled edamame (soybeans) are a superconvenient way to add color, texture, and protein to most any dish.

Use for: salads, (pureed) dip or spread, whole-grain salads

Edamame Succotash Recipes

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Frozen Shelled Edamame Recipe: Edamame Succotash

Frozen shelled edamame makes a hearty addition to this summer staple.

View Recipe: Edamame Succotash

Couscous

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Couscous

Couscous is one of the easiest and most versatile starches you can find.

Use for: salads, stuffing roasted veggies like zucchini, serving with Moroccan tagines and other stews

Quick Greek Couscous with Shrimp Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Couscous Recipe: Quick Greek Couscous with Shrimp

These wonderful Mediterranean ingredients combine with quick seafood to produce Greek Couscous with Shrimp. Yogurt adds a velvety texture.

View Recipe: Quick Greek Couscous with Shrimp

Canola Mayonnaise

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Canola Mayonnaise

Canola mayonnaise has far less saturated fat than conventional store-bought mayo.

Use for: marinades, flavored sandwich spreads, dips

Mayonnaise Dips Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Canola Mayonnaise Recipe: Custom Dips

The delicious, rich ingredients in mayonnaise—oil, eggs, and vinegar—work miracles on more than just sandwiches. Try this fridge-door staple in creative ways from custom dips to marinades.

View Recipes: Mayonnaise Dips, Marinades, and More

Smoked Paprika

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Smoked Paprika

Smoked paprika packs a huge punch of flavor—and you don't need to fire up a grill.

Use for: replacing the smoky flavor of bacon, dry rubs on oven-roasted meats, stews, and chili

Smoked Paprika Pork Chops Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Smoked Paprika Recipe: Smoked Paprika Pork Chops with Bell Pepper and Corn Relish

Smoked paprika gives pork chops a smoky flavor without having to grill. Accompany with an easy side: refrigerated potato wedges tossed with garlic powder, ground red pepper, and salt, and roasted until crisp.

View Recipe: Smoked Paprika Pork Chops with Bell Pepper and Corn Relish

Frozen Corn Kernels

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Frozen Corn Kernels

Frozen corn kernels allow you to skip corn shucking and cutting the kernels from the cob.

Use for: cream-style corn, salsa, corn bread

Quick Tex-Mex Confetti Pizza Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Frozen Corn Recipe: Quick Tex-Mex Confetti Pizza

Is there anything more prosaic than frozen corn? But when it's given a zing from the paprika, combined with other toppings like cherry tomatoes and black beans, and all laid onto supermarket pizza dough: voilà, Tex-Mex Confetti Pizza, a crowd-pleaser.

View Recipe: Tex-Mex Confetti Pizza

Grape Tomatoes

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Grape Tomatoes

Grape tomatoes add a quick splash of color and flavor.

Use for: pasta tosses, salads, garnish

Bow Ties with Tomatoes, Feta, and Balsamic Dressing Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Grape Tomatoes Recipe: Bow Ties with Tomatoes, Feta, and Balsamic Dressing

You're reading the recipe correctly: There are green grapes in this dish. Their juicy, crisp, and bright sweetness complements the tomatoes and provides a nice contrast to feta's creamy tang. Besides the pan-grilled asparagus shown, any green vegetable sautéed or grilled with a little garlic, salt, and pepper makes a good side―try spinach, broccoli, or even kale.

View Recipe: Bow Ties with Tomatoes, Feta, and Balsamic Dressing

Fresh Pasta

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Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta cooks in half the time it takes to cook dried. Here we focused on fresh ravioli.

Use for: soups, baked casseroles, appetizers

Quick Crisp Ravioli with Roasted Tomato Sauce Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Fresh Pasta Recipe: Quick Crisp Ravioli with Roasted Tomato Sauce

We're suckers for a bit of pan-fried goodness, and panko plus ravioli delivers. Use your favorite ravioli—we like cheese or spinach filling. Serve with garlicky broccoli rabe or wilted greens, such as chard or kale.

View Recipe: Quick Crisp Ravioli with Roasted Tomato Sauce

Large Eggs

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Large Eggs

Large eggs: There's simply no quicker protein, and they're just so versatile.

Use for: binder in patties and meatballs, salad topper, thickening and enriching sauces and salad dressings, or bulking up fried rice

Quick Garden Omelet Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Eggs Recipe: Quick Garden Omelet

The simplest supermarket ingredients make a Garden Omelet that works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Even faster: Buy presliced mushrooms.

View Recipe: Quick Garden Omelet

Plain Greek-Style Yogurt

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Plain Greek-Style Yogurt

Plain 2% reduced-fat Greek-style yogurt is luscious, smooth, and rich, not chalky like traditional plain yogurt.

Use for: dips, sauces, marinades

Greek-Style Pork Chops Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Plain Greek-Style Yogurt Recipe: Greek-Style Pork Chops

Make your own tzatziki sauce out of Greek-style yogurt, fresh dill, and red wine vinegar to accompany grilled pork chops. Serve with pita wedges: Cut two pita rounds in half, and cut each half into quarters and toast.

View Recipe: Greek-Style Pork Chops

Pitted Kalamata Olives

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Pitted Kalamata Olives

Pitted kalamata olives add a rich, meaty, and unique flavor to any dish they grace.

Use for: tapenade, pasta dishes, roast with chicken or vegetables

Niçoise-Style Couscous Salad Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Pitted Kalamata Olives Recipe: Niçoise-Style Couscous Salad

This dish uses components of the classic salade niçoise—tuna, olives, and green beans. By using two of our top quick ingredients, pitted olives and couscous, the one-dish meal comes together in no time.

View Recipe: Niçoise-Style Couscous Salad

Refrigerated Potato Wedges

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Refrigerated Potato Wedges

Refrigerated red potato wedges are ready to cook straight out of the bag.

Use for: potato salad, roasted potato sides, soup

Quick Corn and Edamame Chowder Recipes

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Refrigerated Potato Wedges Recipe: Quick Corn and Edamame Chowder

Thanks to a bevy of frozen and refrigerated veggies, this chowder comes together quickly but has fresh flavor and is packed with nutrition. The go-to ingredients here are refrigerated red potato wedges (ready to cook straight out of the bag), frozen corn kernels (saves you from shucking and cutting corn from the cob), and frozen shelled edamame (which add color, texture, and protein to this dish). Blending half the corn with chicken broth creates a creamy base so you need less half-and-half.

View Recipe: Quick Corn and Edamame Chowder

Bagged Baby Spinach

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Bagged Baby Spinach

Bagged baby spinach saves you the time and trouble of removing the stems.

Use for: pizza topping, pasta dishes, wilted for a green side dish or salad

Summer Farfalle Salad with Smoked Salmon Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Bagged Baby Spinach Recipe: Summer Farfalle Salad with Smoked Salmon

Bagged baby spinach helps this main-dish salad come together in a flash. Substitute leftover cooked salmon for the sliced smoked salmon, if you prefer.

View Recipe: Summer Farfalle Salad with Smoked Salmon

Panko

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Panko

Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) is every bit as convenient but tastes better than bland dry breadcrumbs. Panko also gives foods a supercrisp crust.

Use for: filler for meatballs, crab cakes, and the like; breading for oven-fried shrimp or fish fillets; casserole toppings

Quick Pan-Fried Chicken Breasts Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Panko Recipe: Quick Pan-Fried Chicken Breasts

The tang of soy and spice of chile combine to yield a tasty, quick Pan-Fried Chicken Breasts. The creamy mayo helps panko crumbs cling to the chicken while you pan-fry it to a crispy finish.

View Recipe: Quick Pan-Fried Chicken Breasts

Presliced Cremini Mushrooms

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Presliced Cremini Mushrooms

Presliced fresh cremini mushrooms allow you to simply dump and stir.

Use for: sauces, casseroles, stuffings, or fillings

Beef Stroganoff Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Presliced Cremini Mushrooms Recipe: Beef Stroganoff

We made over this classic beef-and-noodles dish by cutting 30% of the calories and more than half the total fat. Presliced mushrooms saves you time at the cutting board.

View Recipe: Beef Stroganoff

Lower-Sodium Soy Sauce

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Lower-Sodium Soy Sauce

Lower-sodium soy sauce adds depth and flavor to a wide range of dishes, not just Asian foods.

Use for: fajita and other marinades, roasting veggies, dipping sauces

Pork Fajitas with Mango Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Soy Sauce Recipe: Pork Fajitas with Mango

Adding just a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce to the pork at the end of cooking gives the dish just enough of that salty, savory "umami" flavor to balance the sweet mango. Enjoy these fajitas with lime wedges and Mexican beer.

View Recipe: Pork Fajitas with Mango

Chile Paste

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Chile Paste

Chile paste (sambal oelek) is an all-purpose hot sauce.

Use for: marinades, vinaigrettes for steamed vegetables, scrambled or poached eggs

Roast Leg of Lamb with Chile-Garlic Sauce Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Chile Paste Recipe: Roast Leg of Lamb with Chile-Garlic Sauce

The base of the sauce, a simplified version of harissa, is sambal oelek chile paste combined with cumin, coriander, and minced garlic. Serve with green beans and potato wedges.

View Recipe: Roast Leg of Lamb with Chile-Garlic Sauce

Chicken Broth

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Chicken Broth

Fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth is indispensable for fast cooking.

Use for: poaching liquid, sauces, braising and stewing liquid

Couscous Chicken Salad Recipes

Photo: Karry Hosford

Chicken Broth Recipe: Couscous Chicken Salad

Poaching the chicken in broth makes the chicken juicy and tender. It also deepens the flavor of the broth, which is then used to cook the couscous for this healthful and easy one-pot meal.

View Recipe: Couscous Chicken Salad

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