Ah, January. Holidays are over, New Years resolutions are knocking at the door, and spring is still on the very distant horizon. Despair not, the short cold days and long dark nights are a perfect setting for hearty, rib-sticking comfort food. And this type of fare lends itself well to one-pot preparations. From hearty veggie to chicken, beef or pork, the options are vast and with just a little up-front prep in the morning, a fabulous dinner awaits at the end of the day.
There are several vessels in which to prepare one-pot wonders. The best option for a mostly hands-off meal is your classic slow cooker. It’s amazing to see what appears a mere eight hours after plopping an assortment of ingredients into the cooking basin in the morning. You don’t even have to be precise; somehow it just works out, blending savory flavors in a delightful way. Slow cookers are available with timers so you can truly sit down to a perfectly cooked steaming bowl any time. Whether it’s the end of a long workday or end of a fabulous powder day, dinner is ready when you are.
Here’s some interesting terminology trivia: Crock-Pots are a type of slow cooker. People use the term ‘Crock-Pot’ as a generic, like Kleenex for facial tissue, when in fact the Crock-Pot is a brand that was introduced in 1970 as a bean cooker and eventually morphed into what we recognize today.
Slow cookers or Crock-Pots – take your pick – are incredibly versatile in that they easily adapt to the whims of the cook. The only caveat is that they work best with muscly meats and dense root vegetables. Seafood cooks too quickly and ends up like mush, as does grain, which also absorbs a lot of liquid. Avoid quick-cooking veggies too. Canned tomatoes and beans are ideal as they make the process easy while adding character and flavor over the prolonged cooking time.
Meatless Mondays beg for something that has girth, like a Pumpkin Red Lentil Chili, a thick, hearty vegetarian chili that is different enough to be special but tastes mainstream enough to appeal to most palates. And it’s loaded with fiber and plant-based protein from kidney beans and lentils, so it’s super healthy to boot. The chili powder and jalapeño give it an extra body-warming zing.
A Dutch oven is another option for versatile one-pot meals. Unlike a slow cooker, it is used on the stove top, or a combination of stove top and oven. As a result, recipes that utilize it, such as a Rich and Meaty Lamb Ragu, take a bit more supervision. Ingredients are braised and pre-cooked on the stove top, then placed inside the oven for slow cooking over three to four hours. It’s perfect for the home-office cook who can tend to the process from time to time, or to prep in advance for Sunday afternoon football when you want to do other things around the house during the day but don’t want to slave over a hot stove at kick off. Served over thick pasta, such as bowtie, and paired with a green salad and dense crusty bread, this Ragu is a winner. It can also be made with half lamb meat and half beef stew meat.
Chicken is a perfect fit for one-pot feasts and economical for larger groups. Use bone-in pieces for best results, as the chicken cooks more slowly, tending to stay moist. Properly slow-cooked chicken literally falls off the bone. A Slow Cooker Garlic Parmesan Chicken is super simple, featuring chicken thighs, small red potatoes (or purple potatoes for a change-up) and some spices. Grate a handful of Parmesan cheese or pecorino over the top and you’ve got a rich, flavorful and even guest-worthy meal with no last minute fuss. For sides, roast some Brussels sprouts or throw together a simple green salad.
A large copper pot works similarly to a Dutch Oven. In fact, any heavy-bottomed pot that can be transferred to an oven or sit stove top for an extended time works, so no need to dish out big bucks for fancy cookware. Flimsy aluminum cookware just doesn’t have the brawn to sustain hours on a stove or in an oven, so if you love the hands-off one-pot methods, invest in one great piece of cookware and you’ll be set for life. They truly don’t wear out.
Any of these aforementioned recipes call for a side of crusty bread – Italian, French, Sourdough or a hearty Multi Grain – you can be sure there will be leftover juices to mop off the plate or bowl. And, for an extra touch, keep a bottle of high quality olive oil handy to drizzle.
But say you don’t have a slow cooker or a heavy-bottomed pot. You may be a student or simply stocked with just a few basics in the kitchen. You can still pull together a fabulous one-pot meal – provided you have one pot – in minutes as opposed to hours. Thai Green Curry really brings up the heat on a cold day. Use canned coconut milk and frozen vegetables, plus either frozen shrimp or pre-cooked chicken, dished over brown rice or soba or udon noodles, and within 15 minutes, you have yourself a gourmet feast.
Crock-Pot Pumpkin Red Lentil ChiliStart to Finish: prep: 10 minutes; Cook: 8 hours; Total: 8 hours, 10 minutes
INGREDIENTS:2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained2 cups vegetable broth2 (15-ounce) cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes1 cup dry red lentils1 cup pumpkin puree1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1/2 a medium onion)1 medium jalapeño pepper, minced (taste pepper for heat and add another pepper if you like. If you prefer a milder chili, scrape out the seeds before mincing)1 tablespoon cocoa powder1 tablespoon chili powder2 teaspoons cumin1/2 teaspoon cinnamon1/8 teaspoon cloves1 teaspoon kosher saltToppings:Diced tomatoesDiced onionsSour cream (or vegan sour cream)Shredded cheddar or gruyere (if not vegan)DIRECTIONS:Combine all ingredients in a 3-quart or larger slow cooker and stir.
Cook 8 to 10 hours on low or 4 to 5 hours on high. Lentils should be tender and the chili should be thick. Add toppings.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 285 Calories; Total Fat: 2g; Sodium: 671mg; Carbohydrates: 50.6g; Fiber: 18.6g; Sugar: 7.5g; Protein: 19.1g
Rich and Meaty Lamb RagùServings: 8
Ingredients:2 pounds stew lamb, cut in chunksSalt and freshly ground black pepper 2 onions4 sprigs fresh rosemary3 tablespoons fresh sage8 cloves garlic1 big carrot, peeledOlive oil2 cups red wine 1 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoesMethod:Dry the lamb chunks by patting them with a paper towel. Coat the chunks with salt and pepper and place them aside. Peel the onions, and then coarsely chop them and the garlic. Chop the carrot thinly.
Place a Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium-high heat, and thinly coat the bottom with olive oil. When the oil becomes hot, add the lamb and brown deeply. If needed, this can be done over several batches. The meat should be browned darkly good flavor. (Brown each batch for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to crowd the pan.)
After the meat has browned thoroughly, add the onions. Lower the heat, and cook slowly over medium heat until the onions are golden (or about 10 minutes). Add the carrots, garlic, rosemary and sage. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté for about 5 minutes until vegetables become soft.
Add wine and simmer about 10 minutes, or until liquid has reduced by half. Crush the tomatoes in the can before adding them and their juices to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cover and place in a 275-degree oven for 3 to 4 hours. Alternatively, put everything in a slow cooker and cook at least 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Cooking it longer will increase the tenderness of the meat. Shred any remaining chunks of meat with forks before serving. Taste and add salt and pepper to season if necessary.
Serve over pasta with Parmesan cheese.
Slow Cooker Garlic-Parmesan ChickenIngredients:1/3 c. plus 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil2 lb. bone-in chicken thighsKosher saltFreshly ground black pepper1 lb. baby red potatoes, quartered5 cloves Garlic, Chopped2 tbsp. chopped fresh thymeGrated Parmesan, for servingChopped fresh parsley, for servingMethod:Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, season with salt and pepper and sear 3 to 4 minutes until golden. Flip the chicken and sear for another 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine potatoes with olive oil, garlic and thyme in a 6-quart slow-cooker. Season with salt and pepper. Add chicken to slow cooker and toss gently, then cover and cook for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Chicken should be fully cooked and potatoes should be tender.
Garnish with parsley and Parmesan and serve.
Thai Green CurryServings: One or two, easily doubled or tripled depending on number
For one serving:Ingredients:One 15 oz. can lite or regular coconut milk (you can’t tell the lite is low calorie, by the way)1 tsp. green curry paste1 cup frozen broccoli or other assorted vegetables½ cup shredded chicken or frozen shrimp1 cup cooked brown rice, udon or soba noodles1 tbsp. cilantro1 lime, quarteredMethod:Combine coconut milk and green curry paste in a medium pot. Taste the mixture and adjust depending on desired spice.
Warm to medium heat.
Add frozen vegetables, cook on low until vegetables are tender.
Add chicken or shrimp.
Serve over noodles or rice, add chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
Source: Pamela B. Stewart