The No-Recipe Recipes That Helped Influencer Chefs Get Through School

These are the foolproof dishes that some of our favorite chefs turn to when they’re tight on time.

September 12, 2021


Photo by: Tatiana/Getty


From instant ramen and Pop-Tarts to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and frozen pizza, the average college student isn’t exactly cooking up gourmet dishes. And no wonder: It can be a daunting challenge to make satisfying, fresh meals in a tiny, shared kitchen between classes. That’s why it helps to have a few simple recipes up your sleeve — the fewer ingredients and equipment required, the better. We asked some of our favorite cooks what delicious, foolproof recipes they turn to when they’re short on time.


Photo by: Karl Tapales/Getty

Karl Tapales/Getty

“My favorite recipe I made while in school was Puerto Rican stewed beans over white rice topped with a runny fried egg. I’d heat up a ready rice pack in the microwave since we had limited space in the shared kitchenette of the dorm floor hallway. I then topped the rice with the stewed beans (one can of pinto beans seasoned with a fresh sofrito ice cube kept in the mini fridge freezer and sazon) and the egg for an easy and comforting meal that reminded me of home. Growing up, we’d always have rice and beans as a side dish for our dinners and since I was off in school, I turned it into a meal. In Puerto Rico, the dish is lovingly referred to as ‘arroz a caballo’ or un matrimono (a marriage).”

–Reina Gascon-Lopez (@thesofritoproject), chef and founder of The Sofrito Project

“Ok this is mildly embarrassing, but in college I’d make this thing that was like a corn dog in a bowl. I’d mash up pre-cooked polenta (the kind that comes in a tube) and cook it with a bunch of butter, milk, salt and pepper so that it was nice and creamy, and then brown a chicken sausage and put it on top with a ton of hot sauce. It really tasted like a corn dog that you could eat out of a bowl! If you want to add some veggies, sauté some spinach or other sturdy greens to plop on top as well!”

–Molly Yeh (@mollyyeh), host of Girl Meets Farm

“I’d say my go-to no-recipe recipe is a kickass quesadilla. The reason I love this quick meal is because you can actually make it rather authentically with very little effort, few supplies and no kitchen prep. Buy a good quality corn tortilla, a variety of shredded cheeses, some canned or jarred peppers — and my all-time must-have — an amazing hot sauce. (Keep this around at all times, not just for quesadillas). These simple meals remind me of Mexican street food and some incredible trips I’ve taken down there. It’s hard to screw up a quesadilla, and as you make them more frequently, they’ll continue to get even better.”

–Rōze Traore (@rozetraore), chef and entrepreneur

“My go-to simple lunch or dinner back at university used to be savory gluten-free crepes with all sorts of fillings. I love them because while I usually tend to weigh all my ingredients down to the gram, it’s very easy to just eyeball everything when it comes to crepes. So long as you get the right batter consistency, you’re pretty much good to go — and you only need your usual pantry staples (eggs, gluten-free flour blend, xanthan gum, a pinch of salt and milk, plus a bit of butter or oil to fry them on) and whatever fillings you fancy. I could basically live off hummus, so my go-to fillings are almost-too-much hummus and fresh veggies, like thinly sliced red peppers, shaved cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and maybe some salad leaves, rocket or avocado.”

–Katarina Cermelj (@theloopywhisk), baker and food writer

“Of course, you can cook ramen and boil eggs in your standard kettle, but my favorite cooking tool in college was a ~1.5L electric hot pot with adjustable temperature settings. The flat bottom works for basic stir-fries, while the tall walls allow you to boil, stew and braise. You can even keep broth from readymade seasoning packets simmering for easy shabu shabu or hot pot sessions. Most importantly, you don't have to turn around and use it for coffee the next day.”

–Lucas Sin (@lucas.sin), chef and co-founder of Junzi Kitchen

"I went to culinary school and worked at a bakery on weekends so fortunately, there was always a lot to eat! But whenever I was in a pinch, my go-to recipe was a dish my dad always made at home: Buttery toasted breadcrumbs over noodles. Cook the noodle of your choice that crumbs will cling to (he always used macaroni, fusilli or egg noodles). While they are cooking, heat a generous amount of butter in a frying pan until it browns, then add breadcrumbs. Sautée until all the crumbs are coated and toasty. He taught me to add a dash of Maggi seasoning just as they were bubbling up at the finish. Top your noodles and there you have it. I still love this dish, but I have never succeeded in making it as good as my dad did.”

–Yolanda Gampp (@yolanda_gampp), baker and co-founder of How to Cake It

“I've been a student for seven years in NYC, so quick, easy and food-coma free was always something I was looking for in my dorm-cooking. One go-to recipe was what I call an avo-warm bowl: A bowl with rice seasoned with furikake, topped with sliced avocado, chopped romaine and shredded smoked salmon, drizzled with sesame oil. When you're ready to eat, you just mix it all up and eat it with a spoon. Add a soft-boiled egg, and it can also easily turn into a hearty breakfast. The best part about this meal was that I could swap out the smoked salmon with any kind of protein and that I could eat it cold and it would still taste great. Plus, I didn't get a food coma from this, so I could continue studying at the library after a quick, delicious lunch. I actually still pack myself this exact rice bowl for my work lunch, so it's stuck with me throughout the years.”

–Madeline Park (@cafemaddy), food blogger

“A simple mango cucumber salad goes well with chicken, pork or seafood or I love it as a quick, light meal on its own. The tropical fruits are great in the winter when you crave something fresh and crunchy. Heat from the chile keeps it from tasting too sweet. In a large serving bowl, combine lime juice, red onion and chile. Season with salt and let sit to pickle for five minutes or so. Add mango, cucumber and avocado and drizzle with olive oil. Toss well to combine. Sprinkle it with the cilantro and serve immediately.”

–Hawa Hassan (@hawahassan), host of Spice of Life and founder of BasBaas

“My absolute favorite no-recipe recipe is the legendary Marcella Hazan's Tomato Butter Sauce. There is just no better ratio of zero effort to maximum reward in any other recipe. A can of tomatoes, a stick of butter and an onion. That's it. You don't even have to stir. The result is an absolute bowl of comfort. It has gotten me through the best times and the worst times of my life.”

–Dan Pelosi (@grossypelosi), home cook and food blogger

“I lived off sincronizadas during high school, late night studying during college and after having my first baby — so good, so satisfying and so EASY to make. Take two corn or flour tortillas, brush each side with a little oil, heat in a skillet or comal, place sliced ham on top of one tortilla, and top with cheese. Cover with a second tortilla and heat in a comal until lightly toasted. Remove from heat, fold over, and enjoy. You can add salsa and avocado. I would fold it over, stuff it in a paper towel, and eat it as I studied for exams.”

–Vianney Rodriguez (@sweetlifebake), cookbook author and food blogger

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