Crowdsourcing Recipes During A Pandemic


Open the refrigerator. Close the refrigerator. Sigh. Repeat. Before starting culinary school, I was one of those people that opened and closed a fully stocked refrigerator, defeatedly thinking there was nothing to eat. I’d look through backlit shelves brimming with fresh greens, eggs, herbs, and chicken thighs, and feel overwhelmed. The ingredients were useless to me without a recipe to follow.

Many home cooks suffer the same fate. That’s part of the reason why sodium-heavy “dinner in a bag” products from the freezer section, which often sacrifice nutrition for quick and easy prep times, are household staples in the U.S. Due to COVID-19, social distancing, school closures, and the necessary forced closure of all bars and restaurants (except for takeout), more people are cooking at home now than ever.

As a culinary student whose school was forced to close during the pandemic, I found myself with a sudden abundance of free time. I needed a way to keep my mind busy and my culinary education going. Inspired by a surge of virtual community togetherness, I set out to help other home cooks see the possibilities in front of them when they opened their refrigerators.

I posted a “Menu Challenge” on my social media handles asking followers to send me pictures of the ingredients in their fridge and pantries, promising to reply with original recipes I’d create based on what they had on hand. Within minutes, replies started pouring in.

Facebook post asking for followers to send photos of their refrigerators and pantries in return for original recipes.

In all, nearly 400 people responded and were excited for me to write them an original recipe to help pass the time in social isolation. So I got to work doing what I love most—feeding people—but in a way a young chef may never have imagined before a global pandemic.

Here are a few of those recipes, many of which include ingredients you might already have on hand:

1. Cherry Tomato & Kale Pasta

Serves 4

Reader Pantry Items

Yellow lentils, quinoa, Arborio rice, many dried pasta boxes and yellow onions, cherry tomatoes, kale, shallots, garlic, parsley, vegetable and chicken stock, and lots of dried spices.


  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 bunch kale, de-stemmed
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • Pinch red pepper flake
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound short pasta, such as penne


  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Saute shallot and garlic until aromatic.
  2. Add red pepper flakes and tomatoes. Lower heat to medium and continue to saute until tomatoes begin to break down and release their juices.
  3. In a separate pot, cook pasta according to package instructions, minus one minute. Drain, and reserve ½ cup pasta water to add to sauce.
  4. While pasta cooks, add de-stemmed kale to tomatoes, stir to wilt. Add zest of one lemon and continue to stir.
  5. Add pasta water to sauce, bring to a simmer and stir until thickened. Season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.
  6. Add cooked pasta to the pan with sauce and toss, cooking an additional minute.
  7. Serve immediately and enjoy.

2. Mediterranean Braised Chicken Thighs with Vegetable Couscous

Serves 4

Reader Pantry Items

Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, red pepper, Anaheim chili, different kinds of chicken (boneless breast sliced thin, skinless boneless thighs), ground beef, rice and couscous, homemade chicken stock, every kind of salt/spice (both fresh and dried).


  • 4-6 chicken thighs (boneless, or bone in, skinless or skin on—it’s up to you!)
  • ½ head of medium cauliflower, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Brussels sprouts, quartered
  • 1 box of low sodium chicken stock (or 1 quart of homemade)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder (or 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced)
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine all seasonings in a small bowl. Season chicken thighs generously on all sides with salt and pepper. Toss chicken thighs in spice mixture.
  3. In a deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat and sear chicken (skin side down first, if using skin-on thighs) on all sides. Add remaining chicken stock (it should come more than halfway up the side of the chicken—do not fully submerge the chicken). Cover pot and place into the oven for 12-15 minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees and juices run clear.
  4. While the chicken cooks, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Saute all veggies in a large skillet over medium high heat (if you’re using fresh garlic, add the garlic in this step) until al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  5. Cook couscous according to package instructions, substituting chicken stock for water. Season the couscous while it rehydrates. Once couscous is cooked, combine in a pan with sauteed vegetables. Stir, set aside, uncovered.
  6. Serve chicken thighs over veggie couscous mix and enjoy!

3. Pancetta & Fig Pizza

Makes 2 14-inch pizzas

Reader Pantry Items

Dried figs, pancetta, whole cream, eggs, celery, basil, parsley, cilantro, halloumi, lemons and limes, small potatoes, couscous, tomatoes and all the basic pantry items.


For the topping:

  • 1 cup pancetta, cubed
  • 1 cup figs, roughly chopped
  • Cheese, (halloumi, feta, or mozzarella)
  • ¼ cup Parmesan, grated
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested

For the pizza dough:

  • 3 ½ -4 cups “00” flour (all purpose flour will work, but 00 helps create a more pizzeria-style pizza crust)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1 ½ cups warm water (around 110 degrees F)


  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Combine warm water, sugar, and yeast. Allow to bloom in a bowl till bubbly and creamy, about 10 minutes. Add salt and flour. Mix with hands to form dough into a ball—do not overmix! Once dough is formed, place in a well-oiled bowl covered with a clean dish towel for at least an hour in a warm place.
  3. While dough is proofing, saute pancetta in a medium skillet over medium heat until desired crispness, about 3-5 minutes. Do not drain. Combine with figs, lemon zest, set aside.
  4. When dough is ready (it has doubled in size) cut the dough in half and reserve for another time. Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll pizza into a 14-inch round, less than ¼ inch thick. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Arrange pancetta and fig mixture along with any cheese of your choosing and Parmesan. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the crust is bubbling and golden brown.

4. Asian-Inspired Simple Seafood Soup

Serves 4-6

Reader Pantry Items

Red pepper, onion, broccoli, garlic, ginger, jasmine rice, seafood stock, frozen raw tails-on shrimp, canned tuna, eggs, lots of dried herbs and spices.


  • ½ pound frozen or fresh shrimp
  • ½ medium head of broccoli, chopped (including stems)
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 quart seafood stock
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger (or ½ inch fresh ginger, minced)
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 lime, zested
  • 1 pound rice noodles (you may substitute plain rice)
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil (such as canola, avocado, grapeseed)


  1. Put oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onion, saute 2-3 minutes. Add red pepper, continue another 3-4 minutes, add broccoli, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. Deglaze with seafood stock. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cook off rice noodles according to package instructions (or rice!). Set aside.
  3. Add shrimp to soup, and continue to cook until shrimp is bright pink. Turn off heat and ladle soup over noodles (or rice). Enjoy!

5. Pan-Seared Halibut over White Bean & Tomato Sauce

Serves 2-4

Reader Pantry Items

Tomatoes, kale, potatoes, cilantro, red cabbage, lettuce, ginger root, shallots, turnips, onions, halibut, eggs, plain Greek yogurt, chipotle in sauce, honey, coconut milk, panang curry paste, all the noodles (spaghetti, rice noodles, somen), bonito flake and seaweed mix (seasoning), cans of all the types of beans, sugar, all normal baking components, and butter.


  • 2-4 halibut filets (about 1 pound)
  • 1 can white beans (cannellini), drained and rinsed
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 3-4 tomatoes, seeds removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch kale, de-stemmed
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


  1. In a deep skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon oil. Add shallot and garlic and sauce until aromatic. Add tomatoes and continue to cook until they begin to release their juices, about 7 minutes. Add beans and cook 4 minutes before reducing heat to a simmer.
  2. In a separate pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over high heat. Season filets on both sides with salt and pepper. Place filets in the pan skin side down while it’s scorching hot. Immediately remove the pan from heat. Do not move filets, this will release the skin from sticking to the pan. Reduce heat to medium and return pan to heat. Cook for about 3 minutes and then flip fillets. Cook until the flesh is no longer shiny or translucent. Remove fish from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add kale to sauce, stirring until leaves are wilted. Add paprika and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve fillet over a generous helping of the sauce.

For more health and wellness news and tips, visit The Well by Northwell at

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