Sometimes I choose recipe books because of their pretty photos or catchy titles. I chose this one because I’d just bought a new microwave.

As I flipped through a stack of books waiting to be reviewed, “Mug Meals” by Dina Cheney caught my interest right away, and not just because of the appealing cover photo of a gooey, cheesy mug of chili. Finally, I thought, I’ll be able to make something other than popcorn in my microwave.

“Mug Meals” certainly has no shortage of ideas. I expected it to be full of suggestions for scrambled eggs and microwave “cakes” like the ones I see posted on Pinterest, but was pleasantly surprised by the diversity and complexity of Cheney’s recipes. Think spring fried rice with asparagus, spicy Korean meatballs, chocolate truffles with dried apricots and pistachios, and warm cereal topped with fruit compote.

Instant noodles and movie theater-style popcorn this is not.

Cheney’s book includes 125 recipes she describes as ideal for breakfast on busy mornings, after-school snacks, lunch at the office, simple dinners or a dessert to satisfy a craving. Most use pantry staples or things you’d find in your fridge, including leftovers. Many of the lunch and dinner recipes call for precooked pasta, rice or meat.

The downside: You need a 16-ounce mug for some of the recipes and that’s about twice the size of most of my mugs. Luckily, I found a giant mug stashed away in the back of my cupboard, but an ordinary bowl would have been an easy substitute. All the recipes in the book yield one serving.

As I flipped through the book, I found myself coming back to the recipe for Moroccan Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew. I was hoping to find a quick and easy soup I could assemble at the office for lunch (confession: I ate it for breakfast and will do so again).

I mixed the vegetable stock, pumpkin puree, honey and spices in a jar, then added the spinach and chickpeas once I was ready to warm it up in the microwave. The result: a savory soup that made the whole office smell like autumn.

This book – which I was going to give to my sister, who’s in graduate school, but have selfishly decided to keep – is great for anyone who is busy, looking to add a little fun to their kitchen or cooking with limited access to a full kitchen. College students headed back to the dorms might find it especially useful for quick meals during late-night study sessions.



To make it vegan, use agave nectar in place of the honey.

Serves 1

3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable stock

1/2 cup canned pumpkin or butternut squash puree

1/2 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup fresh spinach leaves, washed and patted dry

1 teaspoon honey

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Toasted country bread, optional

Combine the stock, pumpkin or squash, chickpeas, spinach, honey, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl, then pour into a 16-ounce mug. Cover and microwave until hot and the spinach is cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with bread.

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