Thank you to ALDI for sponsoring this post! And thank you to my readers for supporting the brands who help make my work possible.
It’s back to school (or work) season for many of us, and during these crazy busy times, there’s nothing better than easy meals you can get on the dinner table in in 20 minutes.
I’ll be the first to admit that I love tinkering with new flavors and cooking techniques and cooking gourmet recipes (it’s my job, after all!). But during my busiest periods, I appreciate fast and fuss-free dinners.
That said, I refuse to eat boring meals, meals that are haphazardly cobbled together with random ingredients, and anything remotely bland. Which is why I’m proud to share these vegan meals that take just 20 minutes to make but are flavor-packed and fun.
You can find all the groceries needed for these recipes at your local ALDI, which is my go-to for plant-based staples that don’t break the bank.
Tips for Saving Time in the Kitchen
Invest in time-saving kitchen tools
If you’re making a veggie-heavy dish, it can involve a lot of slicing, dicing, and chopping. Here are a few tools that speed up the prep work:
- A mandoline can shred, slice, and julienne vegetables in lightning speed, and it’s what I used to make the cabbage slaw in the first recipe. Just be sure to wear safety gloves to avoid any accidents!)
- A food processor is great for pureeing and blending, but if you swap the standard S-blade for the shredding or slicing disc, it’s a quick way to get those veggies prepped.
- A box grater is an underutilized kitchen tool IMO. While it’s most commonly associated with grating cheese, the slicing side is great for slicing vegetables like cabbage (or fruits like apples) and the large holes are perfect for grating vegetables like carrots.
- A garlic press is handy if you cook with a lot of garlic (like me). It usually minces the garlic a bit more finely than I normally would prefer, but if you’re in a rush, the time saved is worth it.
- A grater and/or microplane also makes grating fresh ginger and citrus zest much quicker.
- An Instant Pot is, of course, a huge time saver (obviously, I think so, I wrote a whole Instant Pot cookbook!). It enables you to batch cook beans, lentils, and grains with minimal to no prep, and you don’t have to spend more than a few minutes in the kitchen.
Get as much prep done whenever possible
Even if you’ve got just 15 or 30 minutes free on a Sunday afternoon, you can do a few things that will make getting Monday and Tuesday’s dinner on the table easier and quicker.
Use that time to make sauces and condiments ahead of time, as most of them will stay good in the fridge for at least a few days.
If you were making the Crispy Tofu with Peanut Sauce and Cabbage Slaw recipe below, for instance, you could make the peanut sauce ahead of time, as well as shred the carrots and cabbage for the slaw.
Get comfortable with multitasking
If you really want to shave time off your weeknight dinners, multitasking is essential.
Take the Crispy Tofu recipe below as an example. After the first side of the tofu hits the pan, it needs 6 to 8 minutes to get golden. Instead of mindlessly scrolling on Instagram, you can prepare the cabbage and carrot slaw (using one of those time-saving kitchen tools mentioned above). After flipping the tofu, you can make the peanut sauce.
Check out a video walkthrough of all the recipes here:
Recipe 1: Crispy Tofu Slabs with Peanut Sauce and Cabbage Slaw
Why you’ll love this recipe
- This recipe tastes indulgent, thanks to a creamy peanut sauce and crispy tofu, but is actually pretty wholesome and packed with nutrients and antioxidants from the carrots, cabbage, and cilantro.
- Tofu recipes usually require some sort of pressing, which adds to prep time. But with this recipe, you can get incredibly crispy tofu without any pressing! It’s all about how you slice and fry the tofu.
- The peanut sauce is so simple and quick to make and ridiculously tasty that you’ll want to make it all the time: dress it with noodles, use it as a dipping sauce, or pour it over a stir-fry.
- Peanut butter: This magical peanut sauce is made with Simply Nature Organic Creamy Peanut Butter, which is one of my favorite finds from ALDI. It’s made with just organic peanuts and sea salt and is perfectly creamy, smooth, and drippy.
- Earth Grown Extra-Firm Tofu: To get crispy tofu without pressing, you need the extra-firm variety of tofu. After it’s fried, it’s crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside, the perfect combination of textures. Another favorite organic product at ALDI that is really well-priced.
- Cabbage: Cabbage is one of the most underrated vegetables. It’s so inexpensive, versatile, and packed with health benefits antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, and anti-inflammatory compounds. Feel free to use green or red cabbage.
Tips for this recipe
- When you’re frying the tofu, don’t stand too closely to the pan or wear long sleeves, as the oil might splatter a bit. It’s not going to seriously injure you but always better to be safe.
- To get this meal on the table in 20 minutes, use a mandoline, box grater, or the shredding disc on your food processor to make the cabbage carrot slaw.
- To save even more time on the night of cooking, shred the veggies the day before and/or make the peanut sauce 1-3 days in advance. · If keeping leftovers, don’t dress all of the slaw to avoid sogginess.
- 1 14-ounce block of Earth Grown Extra-Firm Tofu
- 2 tablespoons Simply Nature Avocado Oil
- ½ of a small green or red cabbage or ⅓ of a large cabbage (about 3 cups shredded, 180g)
- 2 to 3 medium carrots about 1 1/2 cups shredded, 120g
- ½ cup 6g cilantro, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons Simply Nature Creamy Peanut Butter
- 1 tablespoon agave nectar or maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce (use tamari for gluten-free)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 to 3 tablespoons water more as needed
- Pat dry the excess water from the block of tofu. Slice the tofu widthwise into ⅓ to ½-inch thick slices (about 10 slabs on a 14-ounce block). Dab with paper towels to get rid of some excess water.
- Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the tofu slices. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, gently moving them around the pan as needed to coat evenly in the oil, or until the bottom is golden browned. Stand back to avoid oil sputter. Using a spatula, flip the tofu and cook for 4 to 6 minutes on the other side.
- Note: I find it helpful to use a large spatula and a smaller offset spatula or butter knife to flip the tofu.
- Meanwhile, make the slaw. Shred the cabbage and carrots (using a mandoline, box grater, or food processor shredding disc). Transfer the cabbage and carrots to a large bowl, and add the cilantro. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, sesame oil, lime juice, ½ teaspoon sea salt, and black pepper to taste. Pour the vinaigrette on top of the slaw and toss well to coat. Add a final squeeze of lime juice or a sprinkle of salt and pepper, if needed.
- Meanwhile, make the peanut sauce. Add the peanut butter to a bowl, along with the agave, lime juice, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, and red pepper flakes. Whisk well to combine until smooth. Taste, adding the additional teaspoon of sesame oil, if desired. Stream in the water, a tablespoon at a time, and whisk until the sauce is pourable but still thick.
Recipe 2: Spiced Chickpea Tacos with Cilantro Pesto
Why you’ll love this recipe
- Taco night but made quick and easy, in just 20 minutes.
- The flavors are harmonious. The spices from the pan-fried chickpeas pair so nicely with the citrusy, earthy, spicy flavors of the cilantro pesto and the slightly smoky flavor from the charred corn tortillas.
- Easy to customize. Once you try this version, you can use this recipe as a template for your other easy taco nights. If you have some extra time, make your own salsa (the pico de gallo in my breakfast burrito recipe is fabulous!). Or, instead of the diced avocado, make your own guacamole. For a tangy crunch, add some pickled cabbage, red onions, or jalapeños. Or, swap the chickpeas for cannellini beans or pinto beans.
- Canned chickpeas: this recipe takes a can of chickpeas and jazzes them up with lots of flavor and texture. For more ideas on how to use a can of chickpeas, be sure to check out this post.
- Roasted cashews: The cilantro “pesto” (air quotes because it’s loosely inspired by pesto) features roasted cashews instead of raw cashews to add extra flavor. I used roasted cashews to save time, but you could easily use raw cashews and toast them yourself. I love the Simply Nature brand at ALDI (they sell both raw and roasted cashews).
- Avocado. The avocado really brings these tacos together, providing that creamy, buttery that makes these tacos feel a little more indulgent. While avocados can be pricy, at ALDI, they never break the bank!
Tips for this recipe
- To get this meal done in 20 minutes, as soon as you add the chickpeas to the skillet, start making the cilantro pesto. Keep your food processor near the stove so you can multitask efficiently without running back and forth between stations. Or, you can make the pesto 1 to 2 days ahead of time and store in the fridge
- When making the pan-fried chickpeas, a cast iron skillet will get you the best charring and crispiness, but a nonstick pan works fine too.
- 1 15-ounce/425g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 2 teaspoons Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Squeeze of lime juice
- 3 cups 36-40g loosely packed cilantro (leaves and tender stems, omit tough stems)
- 1/3 cup 44g Simply Nature Roasted Cashews
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder or 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 small jalapeño pepper or ½ of a jalapeño pepper, cut in half
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 4 to 5 tablespoons of Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1-3 tablespoons water only as needed
- 6 corn tortillas I used La Tortilla Factory Tortillas, handmade style
- 1 large avocado diced
- Salsa of choice I used Simply Nature Organic Thick & Chunky Hot Salsa
- Transfer the chickpeas to a clean dish towel or a layer of paper towels and gently pat dry as much as you can without smushing them.
- Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat with the 2 teaspoons of oil and spread the oil out with a paper towel to evenly distribute it. Once hot, add the chickpeas and spread out in a single layer. Cook undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes to allow some browning. Toss and cook for another 3 minutes, or until chickpeas are golden brown and blistered in spots.
- Add salt and spices, and toss well to coat the chickpeas. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes to allow flavors to blend, then take off the heat and hit with a squeeze of lime juice.
- Meanwhile, make the cilantro pesto. Add the roasted cashews to a food processor and blitz until in small pieces. Add the cilantro, garlic, pepper, 2 tablespoons of lime juice, and salt. Blend until a paste forms, scraping down the sides as you go along.
- With the motor running, stream in the olive oil to start to form a sauce. Scrape down the sides again, and stream in more oil as needed until you have a smooth yet thick texture. If the pesto is still not smooth enough but you don’t want to add more oil, add a spoon of water at a time until the sauce comes together. Taste the pesto, adding more lime juice as needed. Store the pesto in an airtight glass jar in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze up to 6 months.
- Lightly char the tortillas (optional). Turn on an oven burner (or multiple burners) on medium-low. Place a tortilla on the burner. Allow the tortillas to char for about 30 seconds. Use tongs to check if they are somewhat charred underneath, then flip the tortillas until charred on the second side, 15 to 30 seconds. Adjust the heat as needed.
- To assemble the tacos, spoon some cilantro pesto into the center of each tortilla. Add a handful of the spiced chickpeas. Top with diced avocado and salsa.
Recipe 3: Lemon Olive Oil Pasta with Green Beans
Why you’ll love this recipe
- Bright, refreshing, and zippy. It’s a perfect spring or summer pasta that won’t weigh you down.
- As with the tacos, this recipe is easy to customize. Once you try this version, you can use this recipe as a template for your easy pasta nights. Try replacing the green beans with asparagus, snap peas, or small broccoli florets. You can swap the scallions for shallots, or try folding in fresh herbs at the end. To bulk this pasta up, add some chickpeas or white beans.
- Convenient. You get to cook the pasta and vegetables at the same time in the same pot = save time and minimize cleanup.
- Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This is another ALDI staple in my kitchen that I love using for everyday cooking.
- Lemons: Another ingredient I always keep in my kitchen, and I love how reasonably priced they are at ALDI. For the most lemon flavor, this recipe uses both the zest and the juice. The zest brings bright floral citrus notes, and the juice adds a tart acidity that pairs perfectly with olive oil.
- Green beans: I used French green beans for this recipe (regular green beans work fine too), and cut them into 1-inch pieces so they take just 2 minutes to cook in the pasta water.
Tips for this recipe
- Don’t use too much water to cook the pasta and salt the pasta water generously. Since the olive oil and pasta water are the only ingredients that make this dish creamy, you need very starchy pasta water. This helps emulsify the sauce into a smooth, satin-like consistency. To achieve this, use a bit less water to cook the pasta than you might typically use. For 8 ounces of pasta, that translates to about 6.5 to 7 cups of water. Also, generously salt the pasta water – about 2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt (use less if using table salt or sea salt) to ensure the pasta itself has flavor from within.
- Don’t forget to save some pasta water! The pasta water is needed to help bring the sauce together, so ladle some out before draining.
I hope you’ll enjoy these quick yet flavor-packed 20-minute vegan meals! For the best prices on plant-based staples and produce, be sure to visit your local ALDI!
- 8 ounces 227g pasta of choice
- ½ pound French green beans cut into 1-inch pieces*
- 1/4 cup 56g Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 6 scallions sliced thinly**
- 4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes I use ½ teaspoon
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest plus more for the end
- 3 to 4 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ cup 32g walnuts, finely chopped
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta, but don’t use too much water (you want the pasta water to be starchy). For 8 ounces of pasta, I recommend 6 ½ to 7 cups of water (1.5-1.7 L). once the water is nearly boiling, add a generous amount of salt (2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt).
- Add the pasta and set a time for 2 minutes before the al dente cooking time listed on the package. Once the timer goes off, ladle out about ½ cup of pasta water and add the green beans to the pot. Cook for the remaining 2 minutes, until the pasta is al dente and the beans crisp-tender. Drain the pasta and beans.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Once warmed, add the green onions and garlic. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the garlic is just golden, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add the red pepper flakes and ¾ teaspoon kosher salt and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the pan and whisk to combine. Add in the hot cooked pasta and green beans, lemon zest, and 3 tablespoons lemon juice, tossing to combine with tongs. Add a bit more pasta water, as needed to bring the sauce together. Taste, adding more of the lemon juice as needed.
- Finish with the chopped walnuts and season with salt and pepper to taste, and add more lemon zest as desired.