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My Favorite Garlicky Chicken, The Best $9 Trader Joe's Dinner, And 10 Other Low-Effort Meals I Swear By (That Only Need 4 Or 5 Ingredients Each)

I try over 100 new recipes every year to find the most delicious meals on the internet. These are arguably the best low-effort recipes I've cooked in my own kitchen, and they only require five ingredients — or fewer.

Hi, friends! It's Ross. I'm a food writer and recipe developer, but truth be told, getting to point people in the direction of exceptionally delicious, must-cook recipes from across the internet is what gives me the biggest hit of serotonin. Case in point: I update my annual recipe tracker on a weekly basis so I can document the delicious (and not-so-delicious) recipes I cook, just so I can report back on the Must-Make Meals for all of you.

various recipes on a google spreadsheet, with a screenshot of a reminder to update the tracker overtop the spreadsheet

Lately, I've been finding that a substantial part of my weekly cooking has become minimal-ingredient dishes. Maybe it's because the ingredients themselves are just more expensive these days, or perhaps I'm just not feeling like grabbing every single food item and spice in my kitchen when I want to sit down for a quick dinner. Either way, it turns out that I've assembled quite the collection of *actually* delicious, five-ingredient or fewer dishes over the years. And trust me, they're the real deal.

First, one important ground rule to define the "five-ingredient meal" for the purposes of this post...before the comments become a battleground:

the following ingredients are not included in the five or fewer required for each recipe: one cooking fat, basic pantry seasonings and spices, salt and pepper, optional garnishes

Now that that's out of the way: recipes. Enjoy, and as always, feel free to comment below or DM me with any five-ingredient recipes you come back to over and over again.

(And most importantly, be sure to let me know if you try any of these recipes for yourself.)

1. Teriyaki Chicken — With very little effort required on your part, you can have a steaming hot bowl of crisp-yet-tender teriyaki chicken that easily rivals anything you could get via delivery, takeout, or even in-person dining.

the ingredients: boneless skinless chicken thighs, soy sauce, broccoli, brown sugar, jasmine rice

Tasty's recipe for teriyaki chicken is truly magical — the chicken itself only requires three ingredients to toss together, though I like to add some steamed white rice and broccoli just to round things out. The two-ingredient sauce of brown sugar and soy sauce thickens gorgeously as the chicken finishes cooking, and you end up with a meal that's the definition of sweet and savory goodness. There are "easy weeknight dinners," and then there's this meal, which is simplicity at its most delicious.

teriyaki chicken that's better than a restaurant, in the author's humble opinion

2. Eggs in Purgatory — You could certainly make this dish the traditional way by using whole or canned tomatoes and a plethora of other ingredients. But in my humble opinion, the five-ingredient version, starring your favorite jarred marinara sauce, tastes best.

the ingredients: parmesan cheese, spicy jarred marinara, eggs, scallions, crusty bread

Think of eggs in purgatory as the Southern Italian version of the popular North African and Middle Eastern shakshuka. To prepare it, it's as simple as bringing a tomato sauce to a gentle simmer and then allowing it to poach eggs to yolky, runny goodness. Served with a hunk of crusty bread, it's a one-skillet, low-maintenance meal that's equally as delicious for breakfast as it is a full-blown dinner.

runny poached eggs in a tomato sauce in cast iron skillet, topped with scallions and parmesan cheese

Using jarred marinara sauce — ideally a spicy variety, given the "purgatory" of it all — adds a ton of flavor to the dish without needing to add any other aromatics or seasonings. Rao's Arrabiata sauce is easily my #1 pick (not sponsored, just obsessed), since it packs a perfect punch of heat, but you could also start with non-spicy marinara and add crushed red pepper to your preferred spice level, if you'd like.

runny egg yolk in the getting poked by a spoon serving

3. "Braised" Rotisserie Chicken Skillet with Garlicky Kale — There are zillions of ways to turn a humble rotisserie chicken into dinner, but this recipe is the only one I know that could trick someone into thinking they were eating something 100% homemade.

the ingredients: rotisserie chicken, kale, fire roasted diced tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, garlic

This meal can turn even the saddest, soggiest, days-old rotisserie chicken into a showstopper. Swear to god! That's because you'll reheat the chicken in two very purposeful steps. First, the quartered chicken pieces "braise" in a sauce of wilted kale and canned fire-roasted tomatoes. I put braise in quotes because a five-minute braise is an oxymoron in and of itself, but whatever. Then, you broil everything until the chicken skin turns as golden brown as the second it came off the rotisserie.

crispy chicken pieces of wilted kale and tomatoes in a skillet, where the crispy chicken skin truly tastes like you roasted it yourself

4. Shortcut Carnitas Tacos — This recipe is proof that Trader Joe's carnitas are one of the most delicious pre-made items you can grab at everyone's favorite grocery chain.

the ingredients: slaw mix, lime, trader joe's traditional carnitas, tortillas

I was first introduced to this recipe in a roundup of three-ingredient Trader Joe's meals written by fellow BuzzFeed writer Hannah Loewentheil. And y'all, I swear I've been hooked ever since — it's just so rare that something this easy is also indescribably delicious. It starts with one pouch of Trader Joe's traditional carnitas, which has become a must-purchase item whenever I make a TJ's run. The pork in the pouch is pre-cooked, so all you have to do is shred it up into bite-sized pieces...

shredding the pre-cooked carnitas on a cutting board

...and fry in a skillet until super crispy. Optional but recommended, I also like to toast my tortillas directly in the rendered pork fat before building each taco. It's impossible to replicate the chewy goodness of a fresh tortilla using anything store-bought, but tortillas prepared using this trick come pretty darn close.

shredded pork next to a crispy tortilla in the skillet

For the slaw, you can either doctor up a bag of shredded cabbage like I did: olive oil, lime juice, and salt will do the trick. Or you can grab a bag of coleslaw mix — dressing included. When it's time to serve, plate 'em with lime wedges for squeezing and your hot sauce of choice for a lazy weeknight meal that tastes as if it took you hours to put together.

plated carnitas tacos with slaw, hot sauce, and lime wedges next to the plate, for squeezing

5. 5-Minute Miso Chili Crisp Udon Noodles — Relying on only three ingredients, these creamy, slurpable noodles are the easiest speedy lunch or dinner.

the ingredients: white miso, chili crisp, frozen udon noodles

I've raved about these three-ingredient noodles several times now, so I'll be brief. They're cheap, extraordinarily savory, and yes, they only take five minutes to prepare. Once the frozen noodles are thawed, you'll whisk some white miso and chili crisp into a bit of the reserved cooking liquid until it thickens. Coat your noodles in the luscious sauce, and you've got one of the most low-effort, high-flavor meals I've ever tried.

udon noodles in a bowl with scallion and sesame seed garnish

6. Maple Sheet Pan Sausage With Butternut and Brussels — In the Venn diagram of "actually delicious five-ingredient meals" vs. "sheet pan meals," I'd imagine this is one of only a few recipes that land entirely in the middle.

the ingredients: pre cooked sausage, garlic, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, maple syrup

I find sheet pan meals to be surprisingly (and frustratingly) hands-on every now and then. The promise of tossing a bunch of ingredients into the oven and having a complete dinner 30 minutes later often becomes a seemingly never-ending process of adding various ingredients sequentially — since different ingredients have different cook times. But in this recipe from How Sweet Eats, it's as one-and-done as it gets.

sausage, squash, and brussels sprouts all lined up and seasoned on a sheet pan

As evidenced by the photo below, three events will all occur at the same time, approximately 25 minutes after you place your sheet pan of ingredients into the oven. Your Brussels sprouts will become tender with crisp outer leaves, the butternut squash will get soft and creamy, and your sausage of choice will turn into sticky sweet, caramelized perfection.

sausage, squash, and brussels sprouts on the sheet pan, after they're done cooking and golden brown

7. David Chang-Inspired Salmon Rice Bowls — Please don't panic when you read the following sentence. This salmon is cooked in your microwave. And you know what? It's iconic.

the ingredients: salmon, agave nectar, soy sauce, seasoned salt, rice

I turn to this five-ingredient meal whenever I'm mere moments away from splurging on some delivery. It's satisfying, ready in a matter of minutes, and boasts a ton of savory goodness for a dish that doesn't require any marinating in advance. Basically, you make a quick sauce and slather the mixture all over a filet of salmon. Microwave the whole thing for 3:30–4:00, and you'll have one of the flakiest, most tender pieces of fish you've ever tried.

salmon in a glass dish with sauce and seasoned salt sprinkled overtop

To turn the perfectly cooked salmon into a full meal, I serve it flaked overtop some steamed white rice for a true five-ingredient meal — just drizzle the remaining sauce over the salmon and dig in. Or you can top it with any garnishes hanging around your fridge or pantry. I added a generous sprinkling of sliced scallion and furikake this time around, but it would be equally delicious with a drizzle of mayo and sriracha, or even some toasted sesame seeds and a squeeze of lime.

flaked salmon over rice with scallions and furikake as garnish

8. Kale Sauce Pasta — Make this four-ingredient pasta because it's a) gorgeously green, b) costs less than $2 per serving, and c) a reaaaaally great way to get kids to eat their veggies.

the ingredients: kale, parmesan cheese, garlic, pasta

I don't have kids, yet I do know this recipe from Joshua McFadden (adapted by Home Cooking Collective) is, apparently, remarkably kid-friendly. How? Because whenever I post about it on social media, my DMs are filled with messages from parents that swear it's the only way they can get their kids to eat a green vegetable. And as a formerly picky eater in my childhood, I totally get it.

rigatoni pasta coated in a vibrant green sauce with parmesan cheese and black pepper

9. Chicken Soup with Fennel & Toasted Orzo — You've never had orzo that tastes like this stuff. Seriously.

the ingredients: orzo, chicken bouillon, fennel, chicken thighs

To make a minimal-ingredient recipe delicious, it's crucial to think about how the flavors of each and every ingredient will build on one another. Here, I start with bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, which render all their fat as they sear in a dutch oven. The orzo then toasts in that delicious fat until it turns brown and nutty, and it's hard to describe just how much of a difference that tiny step makes when tasting the final product.

to be honest, toasted orzo is 10x more flavorful

Beyond the toasted orzo, there's the fennel. Oddly enough, I don't really love raw fennel. Actually, I don't like it at all. But when sautéed until soft and succulent, it adds a sweet-savory note to this soup that an onion (and/or garlic) could never compete with.

plated bowl of soup with brown, toasted orzo, shredded chicken, and fennel pieces in chicken broth

10. Pasta Carbonara — A creamy bowl of classic carbonara might just be the ultimate five-ingredient or fewer recipe, and with one helpful hack, it's actually a lot more foolproof than you'd think.

the ingredients: pasta, parmesan cheese, eggs, guanciale or bacon

Growing up, I always thought of carbonara as that restaurant pasta dish with a ridiculously rich cream sauce, bacon, and peas. Anyone else? In my early 20s, I learned that that version of carbonara is actually as Americanized as it gets — the traditional Roman version requires very few ingredients and there's no cream involved whatsoever. The "creamy" sauce is mostly comprised of egg yolks, which turn luxuriously silky and smooth as they heat up with the pasta.

creamy looking carbonara topped with crispy guanciale and parmesan cheese

11. Spinach & Halloumi Salad — In this vibrant salad, oranges work overtime, which means that it's a perfect meal for gloomy winter days when citrus is in season (and you just want a bite of something fresh).

baby spinach, oranges, halloumi, paneer, or any non-melting cheese, and fresh mint

Pan-fried cheese is my love language, but TBH, I think oranges are the star of the show in this vegetarian salad from BBC Good Food. Their inclusion in this recipe has dual purposes: Orange segments add a pop of juicy brightness to each bite, and fresh juice serves as the base for a refreshing, perfectly balanced vinaigrette.

bowl of baby spinach salad topped with the pan fried cheese with diagonal grill marks, and orange segments

12. Pineapple Pork with Coconut Rice — The pork and rice that make up this recipe are so obscenely delicious that I simply could never choose a favorite. As my partner once said after his first bite: "instant keeper."

the ingredients: rice, teriyaki sauce, pork tenderloin, pineapple, coconut milk

President of the pork tenderloin fan club, here. And with that self-declared title, let me also assure you that this might be the most delicious pork tenderloin recipe I've ever tasted. Between the melt-in-your-mouth meat and the fluffy coconut rice, it's perfection in a bowl.

bowl with coconut rice, the cooked pork and pineapple, and garnished with thinly sliced jalapenos

What's a minimal-ingredient recipe that you swear by in your own kitchen? Drop a link or describe it below — or DM me! I'm always looking to expand my culinary horizons!

And for more recipe inspo, you can check out my previous roundups of Must-Make Meals:

Best Budget-Friendly Recipes

Best of 2022

Best of 2021