Winning recipes found through experimentation

When you are in a cooking slump, rather than succumb to the temptation of ordering takeout, recreate your favorite restaurant dishes using ingredients you already have on hand. To gain inspiration, I recommend incorporating subtle influences from different ethnic cuisines. This method gives you a basic flavor template to work with but enough flexibility to make changes based on personal preferences.

This week’s recipes provide the satisfaction of an Asian-inspired dinner without the greasiness and guilt of most fast food. Since you control the overall amount of sodium, spice and sweetness that goes into your meal, the end result is infinitely healthier than its premade counterpart.

My tofu and vegetable stir-fry is a back-pocket recipe that every college student can easily execute. The entire dish comes together in minutes and can be adapted using a variety of proteins and vegetables. To prevent soggy vegetables, get the oil super hot before starting the cooking process. While I serve the finished product with quinoa and peanut sauce, it would be just as delicious over a bed of brown rice or with a fried egg.

I developed the quinoa bowl recipe purely through experimentation. Though each component is tasty on its own, the luxurious peanut sauce binds them together into a cohesive whole. From now on, I plan to keep a batch of the sauce in my refrigerator at all times. A drizzle adds bold flavor to any meal (think fried rice, kale salad, sesame noodles), without being heavy or overpowering.

Once you try this recipe, you can apply the same technique using Italian or Middle Eastern flavors. All you need are a few key ingredients — grains, greens and protein — and smart condiments to transform a boring salad into something truly spectacular.

So, on those occasions when you lack the inspiration and energy to cook, let ingredients guide you. Remember that cooking is about instinct rather than precision, and the best recipes often emerge when you least expect them to. Through experimentation, you will develop a natural feel for cooking and discover creative flavor pairings that you never imagined before.

Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry 

• 1½ tablespoons vegetable or other neutral tasting oil

• 1 tablespoon finely diced ginger

• 1 medium garlic clove, minced

• 1 cup asparagus spears

• 1 cup white mushrooms, sliced ¼-inch thick

• 1 cup broccoli florets, from about half of a small head of broccoli

• 1 tablespoon soy sauce

• 1 cup firm tofu, pat dry and cut into cubes

Total: 15 min. Serves 2-3.

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. The oil should be very hot and steaming.

2. Add the ginger and minced garlic to the skillet and stir until slightly browned and fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add vegetables, stir to coat in oil and cook until the vegetables are tender, stirring frequently, about 3-4 minutes. Mix in soy sauce and tofu and cook until the tofu is warmed through and the vegetables have absorbed the soy sauce, about 2 more minutes. Remove the pan from the burner and serve.

Vegetarian Quinoa Bowl with Peanut Sauce 

• 1½ cups cooked quinoa

• Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry

• 1 cup mixed greens

• Sesame seeds, for sprinkling

For the peanut sauce:

• 2 tablespoons unsalted creamy peanut butter

• 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar

• 1 tablespoon lemon juice

• 1 teaspoon soy sauce

• 1 teaspoon honey

• 1 tablespoon water

Total: 25 min. Serves 2.

1. To make the peanut sauce, whisk together all of the ingredients until smooth in a small bowl. If the mixture is too thick, add more water a few drops at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. The peanut sauce can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.

2.To assemble, place ¾ cup quinoa in a bowl with 1 heaping cup of the tofu and vegetable stir-fry and ½ cup of mixed greens. Sprinkle with a pinch of sesame seeds and drizzle with about 2 tablespoons peanut sauce. Serve.

Maral Tavitian is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “The Epicurean Dorm,” runs Tuesdays.