A lot of families celebrate the Lunar New Year by having pen cai and steamboat. What other one-pot dishes are there in the world that are just as tasty and filling?
Cooking a meal does not have to involve the use of multiple pots and pans. One-dish cooking is an efficient way to make use of meat and vegetables available. It’s also a great way to bond over a meal.
One-pot meals are very much alive in other cultures as well. Many started out as peasant fare, created out of necessity with whatever ingredients that were on hand. Filling and nutritious, they have since evolved not only into cherished dishes around the family table, but some are also regarded as iconic fare of gourmet standards.
A stew cooked in one vessel with rice, jambalaya originated in southern Louisiana in the United States. There are two versions of the dish: one by the Cajuns and the other by the Creoles. The Cajuns are French Catholics from Canada who settled in the rural lands west of New Orleans, while the Creole culture is centred in New Orleans and embraces people of French and Spanish ancestry.
The Creole version of jambalaya uses tomatoes, considered one of the hallmarks of Creole cuisine, and tends to be more seafoodbased; the Cajun style is without tomatoes and includes ham, smoked sausage, chicken and even game. But both use the trinity of Louisiana cooking — onion, bell pepper and celery — as the base of the dish. Essentially, the seafood or meat is browned and then cooked with rice, onion, bell pepper and celery in a broth and hot sauce.
Although it has French and Spanish roots, the use of spices is reminiscent of what you’ll find in African and Caribbean cuisine. However, jambalaya traditions have mingled and borrowed from each other over time, and families have evolved their own recipes. The dish is still a firm favourite today in Louisiana and remains a part of big gatherings.
Kedgeree is a dish that used to be a breakfast staple during Victorian times, but is now served for lunch or supper. It started its life as khichari, a traditional Indian recipe of split yellow lentils and rice boiled with ginger, garlic and spices.
The British in colonial-era India found this lightly spiced dish easy on the stomach and adapted it to suit their tastes. They substituted the spices with curry powder and tossed flaked fish and boiled eggs into the frying pan along with boiled rice, added parsley, cress or marjoram and served it piping hot for breakfast. When this Anglo-Indian invention travelled back to the UK, kedgeree, as it had come to be known, became popular breakfast or brunch fare.
In the early days, fresh fish was the go-to choice for kedgeree; Scottish smoked haddock later became part of many kedgeree recipes, giving the dish its characteristic smoky flavour. There are numerous variations on the recipe. Haddock is sometimes substituted with tuna or salmon, and cream and butter added to the dish.
The most famous rice-based dish in Spain, paella can be traced to the region of Valencia, and gets its name from the receptacle in which it’s cooked, known as a paellera. The first paellas date back to the 15th century and are believed to have been made with a mixture of meats.
There are many variations of paella, but the basic ingredients are Spanish bomba rice, vegetables, meat, garlic and a variety of spices, including saffron, which gives it its distinctive colour. Traditionally, paella is cooked over an open fire.
Today paella remains a staple of the Spanish diet, with each household having its own recipe and tricks to making the best stock or getting the rice just right. A key feature of the dish is the crusty golden bottom layer of rice known as the socarrat — amateurs will discard it, thinking it’s burnt, but connoisseurs will scrape it out and savour each mouthful.
Given the time and effort required to prepare a decent paella, it’s no surprise that it is served in restaurants across the country. In Spain, the dish takes centre stage at the family table on Sundays and is also served on Thursdays — no one knows exactly why!
Cassoulet is a bean stew that gets its name from the cassole, the conical clay pot it’s slowcooked in. It is a classic dish from the south of France. Originally prepared by peasants using available ingredients, the specifics of the dish vary according to region.
In Castelnaudary, in the Occitanie region of southern France, cassoulet is prepared with duck confit, pork shoulder and sausage. In the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, in the Languedoc area, a cassoulet will typically have mutton, while the Toulouse version has duck confit and Toulouse sausage, and is breaded on top. In Auch, the historical capital of Gascony, only duck or goose meat is used, and crumbs are never added.
Even the type of bean used is a point of debate. In the southern areas, it is the Tarbais, a white bean that grows at the foot of the Pyrénées. Further north, flageolet beans are used. But during spring, fava beans are the universal favourite.
Cassoulet is so cherished in France that there is a brotherhood — the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet — that defends the quality of the dish in Castelnaudary, partly by conducting surprise taste tests of the cassoulets offered by local chefs. There is also an Académie Universelle du Cassoulet, whose members promote the cassoulet and its heritage.
Legend has it that goulash was invented by cowherds. These groups of men, who spent months at a time on the plains tending cattle, would cook in cauldrons slung from a pole over an open fire, using ingredients such as millet, lard, bacon, onions, salt and black pepper. If one of the cattle died, they would feast on a dish of fresh meat, a stew made by browning the meat in lard and onions, adding water and, if available, black pepper.
At some point, they began substituting coarsely ground dried red chillies — paprika — for the pepper. By the end of the 18th century, travellers were talking about this spicy dish that left a pleasant warmth in the stomach. Since the Hungarian term for herdsmen was ‘gulyás’, the travellers called this herdsmen’s meat, or ‘gulyás hús’. There are thousands of variations of goulash, with each family having its own twist on it.
In 1879, the renowned French chef Auguste Escoffier served Goulash à la Hongroise in Monte Carlo. When he included the recipe in his 1904 Le Guide Culinaire, a worldwide reference, he ensured its place in the fine-dining traditions of Europe. Károly Gundel, Hungary’s esteemed chef, included variations in his cookbooks and, by the end of the 19th century, goulash had found a place in the international lexicon of cooking.
Cholent was invented out of religious necessity.
The stew is rooted in the Jewish Sabbath, which forbids work from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. To adhere to this rule, Jewish cooks created meat-and-bean stews in heavy pots that would slowly simmer inside a low-heat oven overnight. They would prepare the stew on Friday before sunset, half-cook it and place it in the oven to cook through the night. This would eliminate the need to light a stove on Saturday, and the stew would be fully cooked by lunchtime.
In central Europe, Jewish women would carry their baking dish to the local baker instead of cooking it at home. Some women covered their dishes with fresh dough that sealed in the contents. The dough would turn into a crusty bread that added pizzazz to the dish.
The origin of cholent has been traced to the Middle East, after which it spread to North Africa, Spain and Eastern Europe. The story goes that the invention of the crock pot was inspired by cholent and is still used in some households to cook the dish. Traditionally, this best-preserved of Jewish culinary delights consists of meat (usually beef), potatoes, barley and beans. There are many versions now that include meatballs, tongue, sausages, meat loaf, chicken or lamb.