Dinner for Two: Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice Noodles

Dinner for Two

Quick recipes for you and your dinner mate.


[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

Two weeks ago, sitting on a wooden bench under a leafy tree in a breezy London park, my boyfriend, known affectionately on Serious Eats as Mr. English, turned to me and said, "Will you marry me?"

I knew it was time for a new column.

Everywhere I look, I see the same thing: couples living together, both working hard, coming home tired and hungry. We all want to eat well, especially in a time when good, creative, local, special food has become part of our daily zeitgeist, but we don't always have time to do it. That is my life. And so, I'm writing a new Friday column called Dinner for Two.

It's all about dinners that are fast but sophisticated, simple but delicious. All the recipes are done in a matter of minutes, using just a handful of easily found ingredients, prepared simply but inventively, most of the time in a single skillet or pot. Recipes meant for those of us with very little time but a lot of ambition. You don't need much skill in the kitchen, a ton of space in your fridge for leftovers, or a lot of patience for washing dishes. You just need a hearty appetite.

Cooking for two is really my favorite way to cook. You have someone to cook for, to share with, but nothing is too arduous, and you can keep it fun. In the coming weeks, we'll be making pork loin roasted in sweet, spicy ginger preserves and thyme. Salmon crisped under mustard-spiked breadcrumbs. Fiery sliced steak tacos with cool avocado cream. And scallops broiled in a dish with ruby-red Spanish chorizo. None of these dishes takes more than 30 minutes or 1 pot. We (you, me, and Mr. English) are in for a feast.

To start things off, try these Coconutty Mussels. I make a quick a broth from coconut milk, sliced ginger, fresh lime, cilantro, chilies, and lemongrass. Sounds exotic, but you can get all those ingredients in the produce aisle of almost any supermarket. Then, I use that fresh, tangy, spicy, creamy broth to steam open a couple of pounds of mussels. They cook in less than five minutes, and are just about the most inexpensive seafood you can get—I bought enough for the both of us for under five dollars.

Plus, you get to eat with your hands, and I don't think there's anything more romantic than a steaming pot of hot mussels to share. Very twenty-first century Lady and the Tramp. Again, 30 minutes, one pot, and seven easy-to-find ingredients. A little bundle of pre-cooked rice noodles nestled underneath the mussels will help suck up all the coconutty broth, and I can fish them out with some of the takeout chopsticks that accumulate in my silverware drawer. If your supermarket doesn't sell them precooked, all you have to do is soak the dry version, easily found in your supermarket's Asian aisle, in some hot water for a few minutes.

Simple as that. Of course, if you're not the noodle type, a loaf of crusty bread is always a good sauce-soaking tool.

This recipe is pretty great, if I do say so myself. Happy cooking, and happy eating, to you and your very lucky plus one.