Time is a precious commodity, so if someone offers me a shortcut, I’m all ears.
Reynolds, a trained chef, has a knack for offering efficient guidance that I admire. In this book, she lists essential equipment and pantry items, but it is her smattering of cooking tips — ones less experienced cooks need to hear, and experienced cooks always need to be reminded of — that had me turning page after page. A few examples:
- Gather everything you need before you start cooking. (I love this because nothing is more frustrating than realizing you need an ingredient or a tool midway through a recipe.)
- Make sure meat is “not fridge-cold,” by removing it 20 to 30 minutes before you will cook it. (I’ve done this often now, after realizing that taking the chill off makes for more even and faster cooking.)
- Keep your knives sharp. (This makes slicing and chopping faster, neater and safer.)
- Taste when you’re cooking, as long as it is safe to do so. (Sometimes my palate is different from the recipe developer’s; maybe I want more spice, less salt …)
One tip I haven’t tried yet: “For washing away stuck-on grime, use a little laundry washing powder — the detergent breaks down grease effectively and quickly.”
Also, she throws no shade for using a microwave or supplementing with store-bought ingredients in her recipes for brunches, soups, salads, meats and fish. She devotes chapters to meat-free entrees and desserts, too.
The dish I selected from the cookbook, Spicy Pork Loin With Vegetables and Noodles, came together in less than 30 minutes. I made it once the way she has it in the book, but then made it again with a couple of changes: She recommends using instant vermicelli rice noodles, but I subbed in soba because I prefer them. I subbed in bell pepper for carrot, too, and added a bit of crushed red pepper flakes for spice.
Either kind of noodle can be boiled, rinsed with cold water, drizzled with a little oil and then refrigerated for up to two days. The pork can be cooked a couple of days ahead as well, if you like.
The quick-as-a-flash dressing for this noodle dish is made with items including a sweet chili sauce, soy sauce and fish sauce, and finished with a splash of lime.
And another piece of advice Reynolds doles out is to consider whether a recipe ticks all the boxes you want to tick: taste, texture, appearance and serving presentation. This one does that for me. The dressing is sweet and salty, with a bit of kick from the pepper flakes I added. I love the crisp, cool cucumber and bell pepper in the same forkful of warm pork and tender noodles. The fresh mint and cilantro add springy freshness and the peanuts a bit of crunch in every bite. Next time? Maybe a little grated ginger in that dressing?
Spicy Pork With Vegetables and Soba Noodles
This dish requires a bit of vegetable prep, but the boneless pork chops cook very quickly. Sliced steak or chicken are good alternatives to pork. Or, skip the meat and add more vegetables, such as sliced carrots or squash.
Notes: Remove the pork chops from the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before cooking to take the chill off the meat. This will allow them to cook more quickly and evenly.
If you don’t have soba noodles, try another thin noodle, such as 7 ounces of instant vermicelli rice noodles or 1 pound of angel hair pasta.
Make Ahead: Each element of this dish can be made in advance and refrigerated: The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. The chops, for up to 2 days. The noodles can be cooked, refreshed with cold water and tossed with a bit of neutral oil, and then refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Storage Notes: The leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. If you do not plan to eat this all at once, you can store the pork separately and reheat it before serving it over the cold noodles.
Where to Buy: Sweet chili sauce and fish sauce can be found in well-stocked supermarkets or Asian markets.
For the dressing
- 1/4 cup sweet chili sauce, such as Ka-Me brand
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
- 2 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, plus more as needed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more as needed
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
For the pork and noodles
- 9 ounces soba noodles (see NOTES)
- 4 boneless pork chops (about 5 to 6 ounces each) (see NOTES)
- Finely ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as canola
- 4 scallions, sliced
- 1/2 cucumber (about 7 ounces), cut into matchsticks or bite-size pieces
- 1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper (about 4 ounces), cut into matchsticks or bite-size pieces
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus whole leaves for serving
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves, plus whole leaves for serving
- 1/2 cup (about 2 1/2 ounces) salted peanuts, roughly chopped
- 1 lime, quartered
Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the chili sauce, lime, soy sauce, fish sauce and crushed red pepper. Taste, and season with a little more soy or fish sauce, if needed.
Make the pork and noodles: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the soba noodles according to the package instructions; do not overcook. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold running water to stop the cooking. Thoroughly drain again. Transfer the noodles to a large serving bowl and toss with half of the dressing.
Pat the pork dry and generously sprinkle both sides with pepper. In a large, nonstick skillet over high heat, add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the pork chops, cooking until golden brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes per side depending on thickness. (For thicker chops, test the interior temperature to ensure it is at least 145 degrees.) Transfer the pork to a plate, spoon a little of the remaining dressing over, cover with another plate or foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
Add the scallions, cucumber, bell pepper and the chopped cilantro and mint to the noodles and toss with the remaining dressing to combine.
Thinly slice the pork against the grain and arrange the meat on top of the noodles. Drizzle any juices or dressing from the plate onto the dish as well.
Scatter the peanuts and a few cilantro and mint leaves on top, tuck the lime wedges onto the side of the dish, and serve family-style.
(Based on about 1 1/2 cups)
Calories: 391; Total Fat: 12 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 62 mg; Sodium: 1,205 mg; Carbohydrates: 43 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 7 g; Protein: 31 g.
Adapted from “The Shortcut Cook” by Rosie Reynolds (Hardie Grant, 2021).
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