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How Long Does it Actually Take to Cook These 3 Quick Lunch Recipes?

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As much as I enjoy cooking, I have to admit that food does taste better when someone else cooks it. A simple hot cocoa drink is so much more delightful when my grandmother makes it! I believe this is because the more you expose yourself to the food during the cooking process, the more you anticipate the taste.
 
That’s why I love quick recipes. There’s less time spent cooking, so that first bite packs a surprising and flavorful punch. My go-to quick recipe has always been a two-ingredient cheese quesadilla, but that lunch lacked nutrients and savor. That's why I wanted to add more flavor-packed yet still easy to make recipes into my weekly menu. So, I decided to do just that and test how long these popular "quick lunch recipes" would actually take to make. 
 
For this recipe test, I picked three of my favorite Mexican-inspired meals – one vegan, one vegetarian, and one pescatarian. Quite a step up from my regular cheese quesadilla, right? This also made it easy to compare the time required for each recipe. The best part? I got to eat Mexican food for a whole week! Keep scrolling for the recipes. 

1. Pescatarian Fish Tacos

 

Ingredients: 
  • ¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, halved lengthwise
  • 2 ½ cups shredded red cabbage
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound tilapia fillets, cut into strips 
  • 8 (6 inches) flour tortillas
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Directions:
  1. Mix sour cream and lime juice in a large bowl; season with salt and black pepper. Reserve about half the mixture in another bowl for serving. Mince half the jalapeno pepper; save the other half for later. Toss cabbage, green onions, and minced jalapeno half in remaining sour cream mixture until slaw is well mixed.
  2. Heat olive oil and remaining jalapeno half in a large skillet over medium heat; swirl oil to coat skillet evenly. Season tilapia fillets with salt and pepper. Pan-fry fish strips in the skillet in 2 batches until fish is golden brown and easily flaked with a fork, 5 to 6 minutes. Discard jalapeno half.
  3. Heat tortillas in the microwave on high until warm, 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Serve fish in warmed tortillas topped with cabbage slaw, reserved sour cream mixture, and cilantro.

Predicted Time Spent Cooking, according to the recipe: 35 minutes

Actual Time Spent Cooking: 25 minutes

  • How did I cut back 5 minutes from the total time the recipe would take to cook? I cooked the fish first, and while one side of that fish was getting toasty, I put together the slaw. 
  • The only seasoning for the fish is salt, pepper, and jalapeno, making its prep time relatively fast. 
  • The only mincing and dicing required were for the green onions. Small tip: cutting the green onion with scissors is way faster than dicing it with a knife. Overall the prep time for the slaw was quick and easy.

Is this a QUICK recipe?

  • Yes, this is a relatively quick recipe for a fish taco, which requires thorough cooking of the meat.  It’s not a 5-minute recipe, but the medley of sour cream, lime, green onions, and pepper in the slaw packed a flavorful punch in the first bite, for only a half-hour cook time.
  • Set aside at least 30 minutes for a smooth cooking experience.

2. Vegetarian Mexican Rice Casserole

 
Ingredients:
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
  • 1 (4 ounces) can dice green chilies, drained (or 1 jalapeno, diced)
  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen and defrosted
  • 1 (15 ounces) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 12 ounces salsa or enchilada sauce
  • 1 and 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • serving suggestions: fresh cilantro, diced green onions, avocado

Directions:

  1. Start by warming the oil in a large skillet (mine is 3 quarts) over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes, then add the spices (cumin to oregano) and stir together. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  2. Next, add the red pepper and the green chilies and stir together. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Then add the drained and rinsed beans, corn, salsa, and rice. Stir everything until well-combined.
  3. Turn the oven to broil. Then top the mixture in the skillet with the shredded cheese. Place the skillet in the oven and cook for about 3-4 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbly on top. Serve warm with diced green onions, cilantro, and/or avocado.

Predicted Time Spent Cooking (according to the recipe): 25 minutes

Actual Time Spent Cooking: 35 minutes

  • Since this was a one-skillet recipe, there was only a short clean up time. 
  • The one-skillet factor also made the cooking experience faster. I could toss any ingredients directly into the pot. 
  • This recipe involved a lot of dicing, so if you’re a bit slower at dicing, like me, this recipe might take longer for you to make.

Is this QUICK?

  • No, because it took more attention and care to make. That's what made this dish warm and comforting, though. There were more spices and diced ingredients to keep track of, as well as gather. Also, I had to keep an eye on it while it was in the oven.
  • Set aside at least 40 minutes to have a smooth cooking experience. 

3. Vegan Chickpea Quesadilla

 
Ingredients:
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1-2 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 small hot peppers
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 4-5 mint leaves
  • handful arugula
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt to taste
  • ADDITIONALLY
  • 3-4 tortillas
  • olive oil to toast
  • tomato sauce
  • Guacamole
Directions:
  1. Place the ingredients for the filling in a food processor and pulse until combined, but not smooth. Spread enough mixture on half tortilla and fold.
  2. Cover the surface of a pan with olive oil and toast the tortilla on each side at medium/medium-high for 2 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. Serve with your favorite sauces - I chose fresh tomato sauce and guacamole with cucumbers.

Predicted Time Spent Cooking (according to the recipe): 15 minutes

Actual Time Spent Cooking: 15 minutes

  • Throwing the filling ingredients into a food processor made this recipe incredibly quick to make. However, this also meant clean-up time.
  • Although this quesadilla recipe had more ingredients, some of them weren’t part of my pantry staples (mint leaves, hot peppers).

Is it QUICK?

  • Yes! This quesadilla recipe is simpler and quicker than the fish tacos and rice casserole, but it does not fall short on flavor. You get the creamy chickpeas, tomatoes, garlic, spices, and more in just 15 minutes! I personally love this recipe because it’s an elevated version of my cheese + tortilla quesadilla. 
  • If you’re pressed for time, I’d recommend this recipe. You’d only need to set aside 15 minutes for a smooth cooking experience.

Which quick recipe are you going to try first? Let us know in the comments below!

Tiffany Marie Tran is currently a high school senior in San Jose, CA. She loves the challenge of writing: her poetry is in the Articulation is Power anthology, and she writes monthly activism articles as the Editor-In-Chief of Youth Art Magazine. Hoping to become a political journalist, she spends her time preparing for policy debate tournaments, organizing community events as a city council intern, and participating in the Santa Clara Office of Women's Policy Girls Advisory Team. To stay healthy during a busy week, Tiffany Marie enjoys figure skating or gardening.