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Life Is Too Short to Count Ingredients

Do you skip recipes that have too many ingredients?

And how many is too many?

Over the past few weeks, we have heard a couple of people say they don’t make any recipes with long ingredient lists.  These recipes seem too intimidating, and the perception is they will take way too much time and effort.

We can relate because this used to be us!  We would look through recipes and a mouth-watering photo would jump out and we just had to have it!  We would read on and suddenly be disappointed because it had over 15 ingredients…


…this was a deal killer!


Long ingredient lists can be intimidating…but they don’t have to be.


Freedom from the constraint of “five-ingredient meals!”

Believe it or not, many recipes with long ingredient lists are neither complicated nor time consuming, and the flavor that results can be absolutely amazing.

Skipping over recipes with “long” ingredient lists means you could be missing out on some fantastic meals…perhaps one that could become an all-time favorite.  Often, what appears to be a lot of ingredients is just a combination of herbs or spices, which combine to achieve some “flavor-popping” results!

And, sometimes, ingredient lists can appear lengthy when a pesto or dressing is involved, but these come together quickly because the ingredients are often just thrown together in a food processor or mason jar (and in many cases they can be made ahead of time).  Keep in mind, the right pesto or dressing is super-easy and adds great flavor to a meal!  And, ethnic dishes can also have long ingredient lists, but can be easy to prepare too and…(are we sounding like a broken record yet?)…taste incredible!

We tried an experiment:

At the same time we were hearing these comments, we stumbled upon Jamie Oliver’s Quick & Easy television show.  We really love how Jamie embraces REAL food and his entertaining passion for preparing delicious and nutritious meals.  In this tv series, Jamie uses just five ingredients in every recipe.  And, technically, it is more than five ingredients because he doesn’t include staples like olive oil and red wine vinegar in the ingredient list.  We decided to make a couple of these recipes to see if we could come up with some new flavor-loaded meal ideas with short ingredient lists.

The first meal we made was what Jamie called a “Super Green Spaghetti,” which included spaghetti, kale, garlic and a couple kinds of cheese.  Just cook the pasta, kale and garlic in the same pot, and then remove the kale and garlic and blend them with some olive oil and cheese into a vibrant green sauce.  Add the sauce to the pasta, and then serve topped with cheese.  We made it, and the result?  Honestly, “meh.”  It was ok, but it wasn’t so flavorful we would be craving it again.  And, it didn’t compare to the flavor of something like the Roasted Vegetable Pesto Pasta.  We decided the Super Green Spaghetti wasn’t “website worthy.”

Another meal we made was a “One-Pan Fabulous Fish,” which simply included rice, cherry tomatoes, basil, white fish and green olive tapenade.  Everything cooks in a large skillet, and it comes together in less than 20 minutes.  The result?  The mixture from the skillet was a little bland, but once we added some additional green olive tapenade on top, the dish came to life and was delicious!

Here’s the thing.  Tapenade is not an ingredient that is easy to find in many stores – we actually made our own using green olives, almonds, anchovies, capers, fresh herbs, garlic, lemon and olive oil.  It was super-easy to make, but now we are up to 12 ingredients total for the dish.  With a few adjustments, we do think it’s website worthy, although you probably won’t see it in the meal ideas until cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs are in-season.

This experiment reinforced to us that there are some exceptional five-ingredient meals, but if we limit ourselves to a short ingredient list, our meals won’t have the flavor-popping results that we are after.

Food for thought…

The great news is one of the best ways to enjoy flavorful meals with short ingredients lists is to embrace in-season, simple meals!  In-season produce and herbs are bursting with flavor and are excellent when prepared simply with a small number of ingredients.  Roasted and grilled veggies are always delicious with just a handful of ingredients.

There are MANY recipes on Eat REAL America with only 5 to 7 ingredients, such as:

Curry Roasted Cauliflower & Carrots

Stuffed Sweet Potato with Dates, Walnuts & Gorgonzola

Pan con Tomate

Prosciutto Wrapped Jalapenos

Caprese Grilled Steak

Apple Peanut Butter Quesadillas

Butternut Squash Fries

Rustic Roasted Pears, and so many more!

Even things like the Cranberry Walnut Rustic Bread, Homemade Ice Creams, Roasted Stuffed Dates, and Simple Guacamole have just a handful of ingredients.

Besides these simple and delicious meals, we encourage you to discover meal ideas you may have previously avoided because of lengthy ingredient lists.  After all, life is too short to limit ourselves to a world of “5-ingredient meals.”


Here are some other strategies that may help:


  • Remember…a long ingredient list doesn’t always mean complicated or time-consuming!  For example, our Tuscan Minestrone has a whopping…are you ready…26 ingredients!  However, it is primarily just a combination of fresh herbs, vegetables and a sun-dried tomato pesto.  While this sounds like a lot of ingredients, it really is simple to prepare…just cook the veggies, throw in the rest of the ingredients, and make the pesto.  Anyone who made it is likely to agree the end result was worth it!


  • Stock that pantry!  Ingredient lists, in general, aren’t nearly as intimidating with a well-stocked pantry.  Because many of the ingredients are herbs or spices or oils or vinegars, a well-stocked pantry increases the chances you will have the ingredients on-hand.  We try to help by using the same groups of ingredients and avoiding recipes that call for unique, difficult-to-find, ingredients.  Check out our helpful pantry staple list.


  • Get it all out and ready!  Placing the recipe ingredients on your kitchen counter at the start will make it super-easy to measure and incorporate them into your meal.  As one of our Eat REAL America members says, “Remembering to do this one thing makes every recipe SO MUCH EASIER!”


  • Prepare spice mixes ahead of time!  For example, you can fill a mason jar with the “GO-TO” seasoning.  Then, when a recipe calls for 1 tsp each or dried garlic, onion, thyme and oregano, you can simply add 1 Tbsp of “GO-TO” seasoning.  You just took 4 ingredients down to 1!  You can do the same for common spice blends like taco, Cajun, ranch, jerk, garlic herb and others.  This is such an easy way to simplify recipes and reduce multiple ingredients down to one.  Check out our coaching tip, “Kick the Packet to the Curb,” for more about making your own seasoning mixes.


  • Save time-consuming meals for special occasions!  There are tons of recipes out there with long ingredients lists that ARE more time-consuming.  We try to weed these out for our Eat REAL America members.  Of course, there are times when some extra time and effort is well worth it.  For example, we sometimes crave a creamy risotto or a batch of the Butternut Squash Lasagna.  Given our busy lifestyles, these meals are typically best saved for a lazy weekend or a special occasion.  Or, of course, a visit to a local restaurant where your favorite chef does all the work!



There is no disputing that quick and easy meal ideas without a lot of ingredients are critically important,

but we shouldn’t sacrifice flavor!

And we shouldn’t sacrifice experiencing a variety of cuisines by limiting ourselves to a small number of ingredients.

Are there meals you shy away from because of long ingredient lists?  

Please let us know…maybe we can help!




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4 Responses to Life Is Too Short to Count Ingredients

  1. Funny story! I told one of my cooks one time to make Muligatawny Soup. I gave him one of my really old index cards from when I was coming up as a cook. The first thing he said to me was chef this has too many ingredients. I told him since there’s soo many ingredients then you don’t need a whole lot of any of them. He looked at me kind of puzzled. I said it slow and you have the time knock it out and let’s see how it turns out. When completed, so many of the associates and guests complimented him on how awesome the soup was. He was so proud of himself he started making it every other week. Every time I saw him make it, I would say I thought it had too many ingredients? He said, Chef I don’t need a whole lot of any of them! (an Ah-ha moment) Chef they keep asking me to make it they love it!

  2. I make a batch of the spices and put them in empty spice jars and label them. So I have one for your recipe for taco seasoning, blackened salmon seasoning, etc. Makes it pretty simple and the recipes are so tasty!!

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