25 Super Customizable and Adaptable Recipes
Lots of factors get in the way of preparing a recipe by the book: ingredients that are difficult to locate, picky eaters, limited supply at grocery stores, and pantries that aren’t as well-stocked as you thought. That’s why one of the most important skills you can learn in the kitchen is adaptability.
Rather than sending you off on a quest for substitutions, however, we’ve rounded up a number of recipes that allow, and even encourage, improvising. Because let’s face it—when you’re trying to get food on the table, it’s not always about the details. As long as you know basic cooking skills, you can switch around, substitute, and even omit certain ingredients in these recipes. And who knows? An adaptation on one of these dishes might just become your new go-to meal.
Pantry Beans and Greens
If it’s a cold-weather, feel-good meal you want, Pantry Beans and Greens is everything you need. This hearty yet healthy dish is both easy on your wallet and incredibly easy to pull together. But don’t be fooled—just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s not one of the most satisfying meals you’ll eat this winter. (It is.) And the best part is, while this pantry meal is delicious as is, it’s also endlessly customizable. Swap in a different, heartier green if you like; ditch the Parmesan to make it vegan; add bacon or ground meat to bulk up the protein; transform it into a pasta or soup—it’s really up to you. Enjoy the base recipe and then try changing it up with one of the variations written below.
Sheet Pan Honey-Mustard Sausages
These simple Sheet Pan Honey-Mustard Sausages are about to become a staple in your kitchen. There’s minimal prep and cleanup, and everything comes together in less than an hour, so so it’s perfect for a weeknight. The crisp, creamy potatoes and charred peppers and onions make a perfect pairing for the sweet-yet-savory sausages, and adding parsley at the end provides just the right amount of freshness. You can find fresh bratwursts in the meat section of your grocery store, over by the proportioned burgers. You can also use fresh Italian sausages instead. Stirring the veggies together on the sheet pan means you use one less dish and also lets you grease the pan more efficiently. Pair with a green salad, a wedge of toasted sourdough bread, and a beer or glass of merlot or pinot noir for a well-rounded meal.
Butternut Squash Tacos
All that separates you from these Butternut Squash Tacos is a sheet pan, a blender, and one hour. Thanks to the chickpeas, these vegetarian tacos are packed with protein (i.e. super filling). The tender butternut squash and every-so-slightly crisp chickpeas get earthiness and some spice from turmeric and curry powder, while the creamy avocado-cilantro sauce provides zest and tanginess that complements the spices. Finally, crumbled feta provides extra tang and salt, while radish slices bring in a nice crunch. If you’re not a fan of butternut squash, feel free to sub in sweet potatoes. Repurpose any leftover filling into a hash or scramble the next morning.
Weeknight Hummus Bowl
Our Weeknight Hummus Bowl makes a perfect healthy, bright, feel-good dinner that’s still super satisfying. Plus, the leftovers make a great lunch or savory breakfast. Using pre-made hummus shaves off some time. We like Ithaca’s hummus, but you can use your preferred brand or even make your own hummus. For less jammy yolk, cook the eggs for 8 to 10 minutes instead of 6. You can add, substitute, or omit toppings to your liking, depending on what’s in season and whether you’d like to make a more protein-rich meal with meat, beans, or feta. Go ahead and cook some extra eggs for breakfast or a snack, and eat leftover hummus with crudité or chips.
Best Basic Granola
Fact: Homemade granola beats the pants off of anything you can buy at the store. And luckily, it’s also just about the easiest baking project that there is. Stir everything together, bake, and boom—you have the toastiest, most munchable granola your morning yogurt has ever seen. The other big perk to our Best Basic Granola recipe (A.K.A. Any-Way-You-Want-It Granola) is that it's completely customizable. Don’t have pumpkin seeds? No worries, you can leave them out. Or hey, throw in some shredded coconut. Mix up the spices according to what you have/like or leave them out altogether. Use melted coconut oil for a little extra flavor. The dry milk powder called for in the ingredient list really helps to promote “clumping,” but if you don’t already have some in the pantry, there’s no need to run out to the grocery store. (You should still get some nice clusters in your granola.) One ingredient you don’t wan to skip out on, however, is the egg white—this helps to create a perfectly crunchy, shellacked coating for your granola. For more tips on making our Best Basic Granola and advice for substitutions, be sure to check out this guide.
Orange-Almond Chicken-and-Cabbage Bowls
Make these low-calorie, no-cook bowls ahead for an easy lunch or dinner when time is tight. Change up the fruit, nut, or protein for whatever you have on hand.
Sheet Pan Huevos Rancheros
This smart sheet pan twist on the classic huevos rancheros is the perfect meal for a crowd and is easily customizable to suit your preferences/use whatever ingredients you have on hand.
Thai Green Curry Chicken
Consider this your go-to recipe for curry in a hurry. Feel free to add whatever veggies you have on hand into the mix--this versatile recipe is great for mixing and matching to make your own custom dish.
Any Greens Sauté
Greens can be cooked in minutes over high heat, making it possible to serve collards on a busy weeknight. Try this recipe with whatever green you've got on hand, or mix a few varieties together.
Pasta with Miso Cream Sauce
This super creamy pasta dish gets nice umami depth from the miso. Cooking the grape tomatoes in a skillet and then stirring in the milk mixture gives the sauce the perfect texture, and the little bit of liquid that comes out of the spinach lightens it up. This recipe is quite flexible: Cavatappi, penne, or any whole-wheat version would work well. You could also substitute with mini mozzarella balls to save a step and time.
Cheesy Chicken and Pinto Bean Taco Skillet
If you’re in need of a simple, tasty dish that works for a weeknight meal, consider that need fulfilled. This skillet dish is effortless to throw together and super customizable—you can use black beans or kidney beans instead of pinto. If you’re not in the mood for chicken, try shredded pulled pork from your favorite BBQ place. You can tailor the toppings as you see fit, so keep an open imagination. Serving is simple: just put everything on the table and let everyone make their own tacos.
Easy Anytime Meat Sauce
This rich, meaty pasta sauce is full of bright tomato flavor and texture—it’s exactly the kind of thing you’ll want to stock in your freezer for the nights you absolutely do not want to cook. We used a mixture of ground turkey and turkey Italian sausage to keep things light, but feel free to use whatever ground meat you like best. If you’re using pork or beef, simply drain the excess fat before proceeding with the onions and garlic. Using a variety of tomatoes gives the sauce a little bit of sweetness and keeps things interesting texturally, while adding pesto provides some additional depth. Round it out with red wine for richness. Take your time with the final simmering step: This is where the sauce gets the most flavor. When adding the red wine, allow the mixture to come to a hard boil so the alcohol will burn off before proceeding. The sauce will have more of a red wine aroma rather than an alcoholic scent. This sauce works fantastically with your favorite pasta, but you can also layer it into lasagna or use it as a pizza sauce.
Our Taco Dip is cool, creamy and flavored with all the toppings on your favorite taco or taco salad. It’s not overly spiced or heavy, thanks to its lack of meat, which allows the vegetables and creamy base to shine. This worked great with Fritos Scoops, but it’d also be great on any tortilla chip or fresh veggie slices. Or, don’t use it as a dip at all and serve it as a side for grilled meat or topping for your next taco night. Make sure the cream cheese is well softened in order to mix together a smooth dip.
Carrot Cake "Brownies"
Inspired by the classic springtime confection, these Carrot Cake “Brownies” are the perfect treat to whip up for Easter. And, unlike a traditional multi-layered carrot cake, this recipe doesn’t require multiple bowls and mixing machinery; in fact, the batter comes together fairly effortlessly in a single saucepan. Beyond being approachable for bakers of any skill level, these blondies (i.e. brownies without chocolate) are infinitely adaptable. For example, we call for rice flour here—because rice flour does an exceptionally good job of absorbing excess moisture that comes with incorporating fresh carrot into the batter—however, if you would prefer to use all-purpose flour, go for it. Your blondies will simply have a slightly softer consistency. If you’d rather use butter over coconut oil, that’s absolutely OK. Have a bag of almonds in your freezer but no walnuts? No problem, use what you have! To get more details on how to make substitutions in this recipe, be sure to read this article on why we love Carrot Cake Brownies so much. Note: The Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting is also optional, as the blondies are decadent and delicious even without it, but it does provide a delightfully bright, tangy balance to the dense, sweet cookie bars.
Pork Paillards with Lemony Squash Salad
Paillard is a fancy-sounding word for a very easy cooking technique that transforms thick cuts of meat into thinner pieces. This recipe is surprisingly flexible—use boneless chicken instead of pork, swap in zucchini for the yellow squash, or substitute arugula for the spring mix. Keep a bottle of the easy 4-ingredient dressing in your refrigerator to use on all your summer salads.
Crunchy Romaine Salad with Cilantro Ranch
For a vibrant green dressing, whiz all the dressing ingredients in a blender instead of whisking together in a bowl. Feel free to use this dressing to top any combination of greens and crunchy vegetables. Double the recipe, and you’ll have extra dressing on hand for the week.
Loaded Greek Salad Nachos
Everything you love about a Greek salad—but way more fun! Delivering a perfect blend of flavor and texture in every bite, these loaded nachos are the perfect snack to throw together for your next at-home movie night or tailgate party. This recipe is an excellent way to give a new life to leftover rotisserie chicken and veggie scraps kicking around your fridge. Feel free to use store bought pita chips rather than baking your own.
Fiesta Bowls with Chipotle Lime Vinaigrette
Bookmark this one for your weekend meal prepping session, folks. Loaded with a variety of vibrant veggies and finished with a zippy chipotle-lime vinaigrette, these vegetarian-friendly rice bowls are the perfect make-ahead meal for packed lunches. We opted to go with brown rice for the base of our bowls, but feel free to use white rice or whatever grain you have on hand.
Green Frittata With Spinach and Herbs
This vibrant, nutritious fritatta from Manhattan Mediterranean bistro Shoo Shoo is a great way to get greens into your brunch, or just to use up whatever spare herbs you have in your fridge. You can make it with whatever greens you have on hand, but make sure to keep the ratio at about 70 percent herbs and 30 percent eggs.
Easy Taco Salad
Perfect for hectic weeknights, this easy taco salad recipe is something both kids and adults will love. The beauty of taco salad is that it’s entirely customizable to your favorite taco components, so feel free to stray from the recipe to accommodate whatever you’re craving and/or the ingredients you already have on hand. For example, you can easily swap in some diced avocado for the prepared guacamole. Pro-tip: Allowing the ground beef to sear before crumbling helps it to brown nicely without steaming.
Use this recipe as a template for any hearty vegetables and grains you have on hand, like broccoli and green beans or quinoa and farro.
Sheet Pan Beefy Bean Nachos
These Sheet Pan Beefy Bean Nachos are proof that a quick, effortless dinner can still be fun. They're loaded with pantry and freezer staples like taco seasoning and beans, but still customizeable enough to garnish with whatever fresh ingredients you have on hand.
These easy Beef Taquitos are super crunchy, salty, and tasty—basically everything you want in an appetizer. They’re great to serve the kids and their friends after school, or with a cold beer on the patio on a weekend. If you don’t care for beef, feel free to use ground turkey or pork instead. Warming the tortilla before wrapping helps it keep its structure and prevents ripping. Dip an extra tortilla in the oil before frying your first batch, and make sure the tortilla immediately sizzles to ensure that the temperature is high enough. Serve with salsa, guac, sour cream, and Mexican beer.
Chicken Asparagus Pasta
Our Chicken Asparagus Pasta celebrates spring flavors, but it still easy and comes together quickly. The creamy sauce is balanced by the lemon juice and zest, which cuts the fat and makes the dish feel a little lighter. Feel free to add other in-season produce, like chopped Brussels sprouts or garlic scapes. Plus, all those herbs and the asparagus add a freshness to the sauce. All ingredients are easy to source, but you can also utilize leftover chicken or veggies to make this even more economical.
Quick Ramen Pho
Using instant ramen as your base, the possibilities are endless. In fact, with a few additional ingredients to jazz the noodles up, you can create an ultra satisfying bowl of shortcut pho. Consider this recipe a template and use whatever you have on hand to make your own custom bowl.