Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, but in the olden days, one had to have a renewable fuel source, such as wood, to keep the stove going. In many countries, cooking fuel was, and in some cases still is, either scarce or expensive. Clever (and hungry) cooks devised savory fuel-efficient solutions to this problem, namely one-pot cooking.
Though most of us don’t scrounge for cooking fuel these days, one-pot cooking still holds some advantages for modern cooks. One-pot recipes work when you want to eat a hot, hearty meal without having to clean every pot in the kitchen. Furthermore, many one-pot meals are not particularly ‘sensitive,’ meaning you don’t have to stand over them to ensure they cook ‘just so.’
Your kitchen is probably well-prepared for one-pot cooking. Equipment requirements are simple. A sturdy pot (well, maybe two or three pots) and a heat source are all that are required. Crock-Pot® slow cookers and the like are optional but certainly work for one-pot meals.
Many of the ingredients necessary to make these creations are probably already in your pantry or refrigerator. Soy sauce, fresh ginger, fresh garlic, fresh cilantro, green onions, soy bean sprouts, chopped peanuts, and chopped mushrooms are popular flavoring ingredients, especially if you’d like your meal to have an Asian flare. If you want to have more diverse ingredients on hand, you can purchase miso paste, extra-firm tofu to cut into small cubes, Chinese and Japanese vinegar, hoisin sauce, sesame and peanut oil, and a variety of soy sauces, including reduced-sodium varieties.
To serve your one-pot wonders, you’ll want bowls large enough to hold at least a pint of liquid and all the goodies you’ve included. Hot pots are generally served with condiments, such as fresh soy sprouts, chilies, or fresh herbs, so your dishes will require room to stir.
"One-pot recipes work when you want to eat a hot, hearty meal without having to clean every pot in the kitchen."
Most Asian countries seem to have at least one approach, if not several, for making one-pot meals. For example, the widely used Clay Pot Seitan and Vegetables incorporates sautéing and stewing in one pot. Seitan pieces are marinated in soy sauce and sautéed with thin slices of sweet potatoes, onions, and mushrooms. Ingredients are sautéed until soft, mixed with a small amount of flour to thicken, and simmered in vegetable or mushroom broth until tender. The flavor of this dish improves if made a day or two ahead of time. Then, serve it with freshly steamed brown or white rice.
Coconut Vegetable Curry is one of Indonesia’s answers to one-pot cooking. Onions, garlic, and fresh chilies are sautéed with miso in a large pot until soft. Coconut milk, bay leaves, and tamarind are added and allowed to simmer to combine flavors. Diced carrots, potatoes, and pumpkin or winter squash are added and simmered until soft, and then green beans and zucchini are added.
Another vegetarian one-pot dish from Indonesia combines seasonal vegetables, such as cabbage, spinach, onions, corn, potatoes, and squash, with vegetable broth and is flavored with tamarind, cinnamon, bay leaf, garlic, and ginger. This is allowed to simmer until all the vegetables are tender and the flavors combined.
Tom Kha Gai is a heavenly one-pot dish from Thailand. Coconut milk and ginger are brought to a boil and then allowed to simmer until slightly reduced. Vegetable broth, tofu cubes, red chili, soy sauce, and a touch of sweetener are added, and the mixture is allowed to stew until everything is hot. Fresh cilantro is used as a garnish.
Green Curry follows the general directions for Tom Kha Gai but adds green beans and excludes the green chili and sweetener. Lime juice and green curry paste, which is available commercially, act as flavoring for this powerful curry. Another variation is Red Vegetable Curry. Coconut milk and red curry paste are simmered together; when slightly reduced, diced potatoes, cauliflower, green beans, red bell peppers, and baby corn are added and allowed to simmer until tender. Additional seasonings are green peppercorns and lime juice.
Pumpkin Stew, from Laos, requires some slightly exotic ingredients. Fresh turmeric, which resembles miniature ginger and gives a slightly bitter flavor and bright orange color to dishes; green papaya, a sour cousin of the usual orange papaya; and galangal, a cousin to ginger, are all used.
This stew is an oven-cooked dish, unusual for a one-pot meal. Uncooked rice is spread in the bottom of a heavy pot and allowed to toast in a hot oven. The toasted rice is ground and mixed with a small amount of oil, or you could take a short cut and use Cream of Rice cereal. The rice mixture is combined with turmeric, galangal, garlic, and onions. Seitan pieces are coated with the rice mixture, and stock, pumpkin, and green papaya are added. The pot is returned to the oven and allowed to simmer until everything is tender.
Sukiyaki is the traditional Japanese beef and vegetable hot pot. Served to the table in a miniature cauldron, this hearty dish is a four-course meal in one dish. For a meatless version, simmer thin slices of vegan ‘fish’ or ‘chicken’ with onions, carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and tofu. Add a sauce made of Japanese soy sauce, vegetable broth, sake (Japanese rice wine), and sugar to the broth for flavor.
Pho restaurants are found throughout Vietnam and are becoming quite popular in the United States. Pho, or soup, is eaten as a hearty breakfast, as a light lunch or dinner, or as a midnight snack. Phos have got to be the trendiest one-pot on today’s restaurant scene.
Variety in one bowl is hard to do, but phos succeed. The customer has a choice of several broths, including vegetable, onion, or mushroom flavors. Chopped veggies, such as scallions, white onions, and carrots, flavor the broth, which will be served containing rice or rice noodles, depending on customer preference. Beef is the most popular ingredient, but a vegan version is easily done with sliced smoked tofu. Pho condiment plates include large servings of bean sprouts, lime slices, Asian basil, fresh chilies, and shredded lettuce. On the table, you’ll generally find vinegar, soy sauce, and chili paste.
Phos are easy to prepare. To make an authentically flavored pho broth, begin with vegetable or mushroom stock and add black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, coriander seeds, and fresh ginger as the broth simmers. Add some rice or noodles and lightly sautéed onions. Then, toss in green peas or snow peas, minced ginger and garlic, and shaved carrots for flavor and color. Assemble a condiments plate that will please your palate, including sprouts, fresh bell peppers and chilies, lemon or lime slices, and soy sauce. Now, you have an authentic pho meal.
Many of my older friends tell me about a Depression-era dish called a “Five-Dump Casserole.” Thrifty homemakers would open their pantry, take out five different cans of food, dump them into a casserole dish, and bake them. This must have made for some very interesting creations!
You can prepare your own, more calculated “dump” casserole with some of the following combinations. Take five 8-ounce cans, combine their contents into an 8" square casserole dish, and cook for 30 minutes in a 375-degree oven. This should make approximately six servings, depending on the combinations:
Black beans (drained), kidney beans (drained), corn, salsa, and a small can of chopped chilies
Corn, diced tomatoes (drained), tomato purée, mushrooms (drained), and chickpeas
Chickpeas, canned potatoes (drained), green beans, black olives (drained), and tomato sauce
Canned lentils (drained), mushrooms (drained), diced tomatoes, mixed vegetables (drained), and tomato purée
Sliced beets (drained), crushed pineapple, mandarin orange segments (drained), chickpeas (really!), and a 4-ounce can of orange juice
White beans, waxed beans (drained), mixed veggies (drained), diced canned potatoes (drained), and canned sauerkraut
Canned hominy (drained), kidney beans (drained), canned vegetable soup, canned vegetable broth, and corn (drained)
Canned kidney beans (drained), black beans (drained), black-eyed peas, diced tomatoes, and salsa
The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone who wishes to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.
Thanks to volunteer Stephanie Schueler for converting this article to HTML.
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