5 Mess- and Smell-Free Recipes for Apartment Kitchens

Erin Tarectecan

By Erin Tarectecan

Jan 05, 2024

There are a ton of benefits to cooking at home, from saving cash to creating healthier habits, but there can also be one big downside: the kitchen smell. Certain foods can create lingering odors in your apartment. I spent years working in restaurants, which meant my love of cooking knew no bounds and I was always bringing home unusual ingredients to try. Unfortunately, hosting a dinner party — or even cooking for a date — in my small studio apartment was a challenge when food smells would continue to overstay their welcome.  

Fortunately, after a few years of trial and error, I learned there are plenty of ways to combat unwanted house smells. And most importantly, I found that getting rid of cooking smells is actually harder than just avoiding them in the first place. So, I'm here to share my best ways of preventing cooking odors to help you up your game in the kitchen without having to light every candle in your studio apartment (or open windows to let in fresh air).  

What ingredients are odorless?  

First, a quick primer on scent-free ingredients, which are the true hero of a seamless cooking and cleanup experience. Most cold fruits and vegetables are odorless, so hearty salads and smoothies have a real advantage. Certain veggies in particular are mildly scented when cooked and dissipate quickly, like red bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, and spinach. 

While fish is typically thought of as a smelly food, a few proteins, like sushi-grade tuna and salmon, can be prepared and eaten raw and are virtually scentless when fresh. Pre-cooked shrimp can be found in the freezer aisle, making for an awesome ingredient in pasta salads, shrimp cocktails, or ceviche. This is an excellent option for seafood lovers, since cooking fish can often be a big perpetrator for smells and feel unfeasible in an apartment kitchen. As a final step, always remember to dispose of your food scraps quickly and clean out your trash can regularly to avoid creating odors and attracting mice to your apartment.

Hard-boiled eggs are another great way to add protein and flavor without filling the kitchen with eggy funk. Once boiled, cool the eggs down entirely before peeling, then store them covered in the refrigerator. If you want to add bold, punchy flavors like garlic or onion to your meals, try substituting garlic powder or onion powder for the fresh stuff. Fried crispy onions (like the ones that top your grandma's green bean casserole) are a great way to add that great allium flavor without any scent at all.  

How can you avoid creating lasting kitchen odors while cooking? 

Now that you're familiar with the ingredient MVPs, let's look at some preparation methods to keep your kitchen smelling fresh.  

Sautéing, as easy and delicious as it is, tends to release a lot of lingering aromas in many ingredients, mainly when cooked with oil. It unlocks those delicious but lingering smells.  

Steaming and boiling methods, on the other hand, are cooking methods that create much less scent intensity. Cook your food most of the way with either method, then brown with a final, quick sear in a pan on the stovetop to get all the benefits of golden-brown sauté without releasing any pesky aromatic compounds. 

5 Smell-Free Recipes to Try Cooking in Your Apartment 

Ready to enjoy a meal without cracking open any windows? Here are five easy, delicious, nutritious, and scent-free recipes to try the next time you're looking for a meal that won't stick around longer than dinnertime.  

Quick Miso Soup. Photo courtesy of Erin Tarectecan.Quick Miso Soup. Photo courtesy of Erin Tarectecan.

Quick Miso Soup

Easy to throw together, this umami-packed miso soup leaves your belly full, heart satisfied, and no other trace behind.   

In a bowl (or mug, no judgment here), place two tablespoons of grated carrot, one thinly sliced green onion, two tablespoons of cubed silken tofu, and one tablespoon of white miso paste.  

Pour eight ounces of boiling water over the mix and stir until miso is dissolved. Let sit for a few minutes before enjoying. Garnish with dried seaweed or furikake.  

Tuna Poke Bowl with Steamed Rice

This easy pescatarian or vegetarian and gluten-free recipe is straightforward and easy to throw together. It makes one serving but can be scaled for as many people as needed. Ask your local fish counter for sushi-grade fish; it's easy to find.  

To start, make an easy, go-to marinade for your fish by combining three tablespoons of tamari, one tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, one teaspoon of sesame oil, and a teaspoon of sugar. (If you like it spicy, add a dash of wasabi as well!)  

Cut a 4-ounce filet of sushi-grade fish (such as tuna, Hamachi, or salmon) or silken tofu into small cubes and toss in the marinade. Meanwhile, cut up a small cucumber, a mango, and a ripe avocado into cubes of the same size.   

Layer the fish and vegetables over a heap of steamed white rice and drizzle with sriracha (if you like it spicy) or tangy kewpie mayo. Feel free to garnish with chopped cilantro, green onion, sesame seed, or furikake to add some crunch.  

Hearty Quinoa, Spinach and Roasted Squash Salad

This hearty, filling salad is anything but boring. Roasted vegetables and sage make it perfect for winter, and quinoa is protein-packed with nutrition to keep you full and satisfied. It can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for up to three days.  

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut up half a butternut squash into one-inch cubes, and toss in olive oil, salt, lemon, sage, and a dash of garlic powder. Bake for 30 minutes or until tender with golden edges.  

Combine four tablespoons of olive oil with two tablespoons of lemon juice, one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Add half a cup of dried cranberries to the mix and let soak for a few minutes before tossing with two cups of cooked quinoa

Combine the quinoa, squash cubes, a cup of spinach, a cup of crumbled feta cheese, and a half cup of salted cashews. Toss to combine, season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.  

Pre-Cooked Shrimp Ceviche. Photo courtesy of Erin Tarectecan.Pre-Cooked Shrimp Ceviche. Photo courtesy of Erin Tarectecan.

Pre-Cooked Shrimp Ceviche

This delicious, fresh ceviche is quick to make and scent-free. You can defrost frozen shrimp or pick up some fresh from your local fish counter. 

Cut one pound of pre-cooked shrimp into small, bite-sized pieces and toss with half a cup of lemon juice and half a cup of lime juice. Marinate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cut up one shallot (used instead of its typical cousin, the pungent red onion), two Roma tomatoes, and a large avocado. Chop some fresh cilantro and stir everything together with the shrimp. Serve with tortilla chips or sesame crackers on the side.   

The Ultimate Mozzarella Red Pepper Italian Sandwich

Sandwiches are a great way to have a tasty meal without any odor at all since they require no cooking and only use cold ingredients. Add salami to this recipe if you'd like or leave it out altogether for a vegetarian alternative.  

Start with a long Italian sub roll, cut in half and drizzled with the highest-quality olive oil you've got. Gently squeeze a little red wine vinegar onto one side of the bread. Add slices of fresh mozzarella to one side, being generous. Sprinkle with salt. On the other side of the sandwich, layer jarred, roasted red pepper, a quarter pound of Genoa salami (if using), and a handful of fresh basil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roll tightly in parchment paper, then slice in half to behold the glory. Wrapped and refrigerated properly, it can last a full day or two — great for a make-ahead lunch. 

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