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Leah Koenig Freezer Dives for Dinner Inspiration

The cookbook author’s strategy for weeknight cooking revolves around the ‘pure chaos’ of family life

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Leah Koenig sits at her dinner table with her family. Illustration. Daniela Jordan-Villaveces

We all could use a little dinner inspiration — even Ali Slagle, who dreams of dinner. In “Dinner Is Served,” she asks colleagues about one night when they somehow transformed ingredients into dinner with all this life going on.

This month’s installment: Leah Koenig is a food journalist and cookbook author — most recently of Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen — who also impulsively grabs a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store.

I was cleaning out my freezer and noticed that I had some chicken stock from awhile ago, so that’s where this meal started. It was raining in New York so I made a pho-inspired soup, if you could even call it that, for me and my husband. It was really good and really quick.

I was already going grocery shopping for work, so I picked up a rotisserie chicken too, which lots of moms who work end up doing. We keep a kosher kitchen for my in-laws’ sake basically. We live in Midwood, Brooklyn, which is a really cool neighborhood because there’s little Pakistan and a lot of Orthodox Jews. I’m able to buy a kosher rotisserie chicken easily.

Between 5 and 6 p.m., my kids [ages nine and four] will get to watch something and that’s when I prep dinner. I put on my podcast, they’re not bothering me, it’s kind of nice. My daughter does like to help sometimes. She won’t eat any of it but she’ll help stir things.

Last night, I put the thawed chicken stock in a soup pot and just heated it up, shredded the rotisserie chicken, cooked some rice noodles. That’s all the cooking that was required.

Then I have this arsenal of spice mixes that I put on the table to season the soup: hawaij from NY Shuk, a rosy harissa with rose petals in it, and the Ajika blend from Trade Joe’s. Plus chopped scallions, lime wedges, and roasted green beans from the other night. Then everyone, well except my daughter, could make what they wanted. My kids are super picky, which kind of sucks but it is what it is.

My philosophy used to be that I’m never going to make separate meals, but the Jewish mom in me took over. I’m like, please eat something, have nourishment in your body. Eat and thrive.

My son ate a modified version of the soup: just the chicken and green beans and noodles, minus soup and spices. My daughter had tuna salad, grapes, and pickle-spiced potato chips. Otherwise she wouldn’t have eaten anything.

We eat dinner as a family almost every night and that’s more important than if we’re all eating the same thing.

My strategy for weeknight cooking? It’s pure chaos. I love reading cookbooks and always get ideas from them and Instagram. But that’s not our stage of life right now because we always have to feed other humans.

That said, there are a couple of recipes from Portico that I do like to make for us often. I make the roast chicken with rosemary, garlic, and potatoes for Shabbat and then have leftovers for weeknights. We make the pomodori a mezzo (roasted tomato halves) in the summer to dress up dishes without a lot of extra work. The tomatoes roast until they have a super concentrated, jammy tomato flavor and are good on fried chicken cutlets, or as a sauce or side for anything, really. They’re really good on top of mac and cheese.

There’s also a flourless chocolate cake. It’s unusual because you start by pulsing whole almonds with dark chocolate and sugar. The result is brownie-esque. I love having it around for snack and coffee, and it has so many almonds in it so I feel like my daughter is getting some fiber.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ali Slagle is a recipe developer, stylist, and — most important of all — home cook. She’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Washington Post, and her cookbook is called I Dream of Dinner (So You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes.
Daniela Jordan-Villaveces is a creative director and illustrator. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and raised between Colombia, the Netherlands, and the U.S. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles with her husband, their son, Lou, two kittens, and a pup.

The cover of the cookbook, ‘Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes.’

‘Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes’

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Introducing Eater’s debut cookbook: Sourced from the best street carts to pillars of fine dining and everywhere in between, this diverse, powerhouse collection features recipes that have been carefully adapted for home cooks. Packed with expert advice from chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers on easy ways to level up your meals at home, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes is a must-have for anyone who loves to dine out and wants to bring that magic home.