Photo: Jonathan Lovekin © 2012

Israel: Don't Toss That Stale Pita
While the famous Italian panzanella—a salad made from day-old crusty bread—must sit for a half hour or more so the bread can soften up, Israeli cooks have a faster version, say Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, coauthors of Jerusalem: A Cookbook. The trick is to use leftover pita, flatbread or naan, which is much thinner. Soak torn pieces of the pita in buttermilk while you chop tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. Toss everything into a bowl, drizzle it with oil, and you've got a fresh, filling and frugal dinner.

Get the recipe: Na'ama's Fattoush
Broccoli and pork

Photo: Richard Jung

Burma: Go Light on the Meat for a Speedier Meal
While Western main courses often focus on meat and add a vegetable as a side dish, Eastern entrees tend to combine the two. Naomi Duguid, author of Burma: Rivers of Flavor, has found that members of the Shan ethnic group are especially adept at the pairing. When you cook this way, you wind up using less meat, which means dinner comes together quickly, such as in this combination of bitter broccoli rabe and slightly sweet pork tenderloin (just a quarter pound for 4 servings), which is ready in about 20 minutes.

Get the recipe: Broccoli Rabe with a Hint of Pork

Photo: Thinkstock

Brazil: Use Basic Ingredients for Non-Boring Rice
We've come to rely on white rice, but the trusty side can taste awfully bland. Brazilians prefer their rice to have a flavor of its own, so they sauté the uncooked grains first in some oil with garlic, onion and a bay leaf. It's a small step that won't take long but will add a delicious depth to your basic grilled chicken, salad and rice dinner.

Get the recipe: Simple Pilaf, Brazilian-Style
Spicy Peanut Paint

Photo: Marcus Nilsson

Thailand: Marinate If You Must, but Not for Long
Although the overnight marinade can be a lifesaver, it does require planning. Not so with chicken satay, the popular Thai skewered chicken dish. It turns out that marinating the meat (boneless thighs cut into chunks works best) in the traditional peanut dressing for as little as five minutes is all you need. In fact, if it sits for more than an hour, it can become mushy. Just cook the meat slowly (at least 10 minutes on the grill or under the broiler) so the sauce has time to caramelize.

Get the recipe: Spicy Peanut Paint
Pan bagnat

Photo: Thinkstock

France: Let the Fridge Do the Work
Soggy white bread may be the nemesis of many a ham-and-cheese sandwich, but as Julia Child and Jacques Pepin demonstrate in this classic video, there's a way to make a sandwich ahead of time and actually have it taste better than if you ate it right away. Pan bagnat, built on sturdy baguette, lets red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil work their magic on fennel, red peppers, hard-boiled egg, tuna, black olives, capers and plum tomato. Take Julia and Jacques' advice and wrap the parcel tightly in plastic and weight it with a heavy pot so the ingredients have no choice but to intermingle.

Get the recipe: Pan Bagnat
Quinoa cakes

Photo: Michael Natkin

Peru: Keep an Emergency Stash of Cooked Grains
Long a staple grain in the Andes, quinoa, with its nutty flavor and high nutritional value, has become very popular in the U.S. If you're in the habit of serving it alongside chicken or fish as a healthy side, make a double batch next time and refrigerate half, says Michael Natkin, author of Herbivoracious. When it's time for your next dinner, mix the cooked quinoa with spices and eggs. Form the dough into balls, flatten it into pancakes and brown each one in a skillet until golden-brown. With simply prepared vegetables, the cakes make a wholesome 20-minute meal.

Get the recipe: Quinoa Cakes

Next: Dinner shortcuts from the freezer aisle