One-pot cooking used to be the exclusive domain of bachelors, campers, and college students who just left from home. Throw meat or beans, vegetables, rice or pasta into a pot, and cook and eat. The concept was great: just one pot to wash.
I imagine that one-dish meals may have originated in pre-historic times. Whatever foods were available were thrown into a pot and cooked for the tribes, resulting in stews made from harvested vegetables and hunted animals.
As cooking styles progressed from open fire to gas stoves, to microwaves to convection ovens, one-dish meals have nevertheless survived and thrived, and are a great boon for the busy cook.
Different cultures have their own unique one-pot dishes. Lasagna from Italy has pasta sheets layered with cheese and meat or tomato sauce. An American potpie typically includes a filling of meat, gravy, and mixed vegetables like potatoes, carrots, green beans, and peas. Paella, a traditional dish from Spain, is made of rice, seafood, and vegetables.
In India, popular one-pot meals include kitchadi (a mix of mung dal and rice),bisebele bhaath (the traditional South Indian rice, dal, and vegetable stew) and pav bhaji, the mixed vegetable medley on bread, from Mumbai.
The charm of the one-pot meal is that various leftovers can be thrown into a pot to create a meal for a family without much fuss. Since most meals are prepared by simply combining ingredients, one-dish meals are a good way to introduce children to cooking. One-pot meals can be warmed up in minutes and are a popular way to introduce yourself to new neighbors, or to give a gift for new mothers. A heavy-bottomed pot is a must for cooking one-pot meals as it prevents the food from being burnt at the bottom.
Creativity is the key to bringing any one-pot meal alive. Spices and herbs play a pivotal role in adding flavor. Be careful not to overcook and make a mush of the whole meal, and the textures of different foods should be respected. You can vary the ingredients to suit your taste. Indeed, the possibilities are endless, yet the procedure is pretty much the same for each meal.
Here are three simple one-pot meal prototypes, followed by two of my favorite recipes:
Rice-based meals: Combine rice with vegetables, dal, meat, or tofu.
Pasta-based meals: Combine pasta with vegetarian or meat-based sauce and grilled vegetables.
Potato-based meals: Combine large chunks of potato with vegetables, meat, or beans.
I have adapted this recipe by adding tofu. The tofu is frozen and then thawed to give a unique texture.
1 cup long grain rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 onion, chopped finely
½ medium carrot, halved and sliced
1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch length pieces
1 zucchini, halved and sliced
½ red pepper, cut into 1-inch length slices
1 large tomato, diced
¼ cup spinach, chopped (fresh or frozen spinach)
2 cups tofu, diced
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon saffron
1 teaspoon whole cumin
½ teaspoon salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon pepper, to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
Use a big pan with a tight fitting lid instead of a pot for this recipe. Rinse rice with water and drain.
In a pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil under medium heat and toss in a clove of crushed garlic. Add rice into the pan and sauté until the rice become dry and grains are slightly translucent. This will take about 8-10 minutes. Pour the toasted rice in a bowl. Keep aside.
Using the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the onions, garlic, bay leaf, and carrot for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, peppers, tofu, and green beans and sauté for another 2 minutes.
Add rice into the vegetable mixture, as well as all the spices. Stir until all is well combined. Pour in the vegetable broth. Let the pan come to a slight simmer (about 7-8 minutes) and cover it with the lid. Let it cook under medium heat for 10 minutes.
Open lid quickly, toss in your spinach, cover the lid again and then turn off the heat. Let the pan sit for another 15-20 minutes. Do not open the lid. This ensures that all moisture and flavor is absorbed completely into the rice. After 15-20 minutes, stir the rice and serve hot.
Hema’s Hints: 1) You may substitute tofu with ½ cup chopped almonds. 2) Vegetable broth gives a unique flavor to this recipe; do not substitute it with water.
Couscous with Chickpeas, Tomatoes, and Edamame
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup fresh or frozen shelled edamame (soybeans)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 ¼ cups water
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 can chickpeas (16 oz.), drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz), undrained
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked couscous (whole wheat)
1 cup coarsely chopped green onions (about a bunch)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add edamame, red pepper, black pepper and garlic; cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in ½ cup water, basil, chickpeas, and tomatoes; simmer for 15 minutes. Add 1 ¾ cups water and salt, then bring to a boil. Gradually stir in the couscous.
Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in onions and feta; toss well. Serve immediately
Hema’s Hint: You may substitute cooked brown rice for couscous in this recipe.
This article was first published in the March 2009 issue of the magazine.
|Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of the television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet (DVDs now available at the Sunnyvale and Cupertino libraries in Northern California). Visit her website at www.massala.com|