Local chefs offer up hearty one-pot meal suggestions for cooler days: Andrew Coppolino
'One pot really helps you elevate the taste of food,' says chef Rob Hillier
Many pre-pandemics routines have returned with kids back to school, sports activities ramping up and music lessons in effect while parents may be returning to the office again at least in some capacity.
That often means busier nights and weekends when it comes to preparing meals. Coupled with colder, drizzly weather, it's a good time to think about one-pot meals that are tasty and nutritious.
Here are a few suggestions from local cooks, along with some pro cooking tips they can offer.
This dish from Rob Hillier, chef at TWB Brewery and Kitchener Market, is packed with cumin, smoked paprika, adobo sauce and chipotle pepper for smokiness — and the chili's foundation comes from red kidney beans and pinto beans. (Hillier's vegan chili recipe is below.)
While one-pot cooking is easy and saves time at cleanup, making sure you give the ingredients some time to cook properly for flavours to build is important.
"When people talk one-pot [recipes] they're always talking about not having a big mess. But one pot really helps you elevate the taste of food. So it's really about not just throwing everything into the pot at once and cooking it, but actually slowing down and cooking the ingredients," Hillier says.
He describes adding ingredients in layers to achieve a richer tasting result.
"It brings up the flavour of the dish," he says.
Pro tip: "When you're toasting or blooming your spices, heating them up and bringing out the flavours, get in the habit of taking the pot off the heat. Leaving it on the heat could scorch the spices and they become bitter."
Goat meat Jollof rice
While this dish from Derek Hines, chef at Columbus Conference Centre in Waterloo, can be prepared as vegetarian, goat meat Jollof rice has a long and interesting history, according to Hines, who adds the flavours of his Jamaican background when he cooks it.
The dish originated in West Africa around Senegal and Gambia, where rice was grown: the Jollof Empire ruled the area from roughly 1350 to 1549, hence the eponymously named dish.
Hines says there are many iterations of Jollof rice with many regions and countries, including Ghana, vying to claim it as their own.
"While it can have chicken or beef, it's basically tomato-based rice," says Hines. "It uses what you would call an African soffritto, onion, green and red pepper and tomato. Peppers and tomatoes get puréed and cooked into the sauce for the rice. Oddly enough, this version is Nigerian, although, like tabbouleh, many countries claim it for their own."
The meat is seared off and the rice is cooked slowly until just tender in the sauce. Hines adds a bit of Scotch bonnet and seasons with thyme. He also refers to the dish as "party" rice: "You put it together and then join your guests and the rice gets a bit smoky and crispy on the bottom. That draws your attention from the party and you head back to the kitchen."
Jollof rice may be a dish included in Kwanzaa celebrations that take place Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.
Pro tip: "Use parboiled rice. It's easier to get the texture right. Add the rice to cold liquid, and never let the water boil when using parboiled rice for dishes."
This dish from Rouaida Almadrmani and Naranj Blossom at the Kitchener Market is eaten in a wide range of Middle Eastern countries and features a delicious tomato-and-egg combination.
"It's a vegetarian dish with tomato, onion, garlic, hot peppers or sweet peppers as you like, herbs, olive oil and eggs," Almadrmani says.
It comes together easily and can be eaten at any time of the day.
Pro tip: "Make big portions and keep some in the fridge for several days or make small portions and freeze," she says. "One day before you want it, thaw it, warm it and put in the eggs and enjoy."
From Shiri's Kitchen in Waterloo, this is a wonderful one-pot dish that can be made with or without chicken. But it does take a bit advanced planning to marinate the chicken with green chilies, mint and cilantro for at least six hours — if not overnight, according to chef and co-owner Shiri Madireddy.
"We add ginger-garlic paste, garam masala, turmeric and lime. Fry onion in oil until it is just brown, add the chicken and cook it to three-quarters done with the lid on," she says.
Then you add three cups of water and about two cups of pre-soaked basmati rice.
"Season the pot with salt and stir a few minutes on medium heat. When the water is gone, fluff the rice gently and cook on very low heat with the lid on," Madireddy says. "You can also add carrots, peas, potatoes and chickpeas to make it a vegan dish."
Pro tip: "If using chicken, use bone-in. Without the bones, there's less juice and therefore less flavour," Madireddy says.
This dish from La Lola Catering in Cambridge is similar to Newfoundland Jigg's Dinner. In a large pot, combine carrots, cabbage, turnip, celery, potatoes, chicken, beef shank, chickpeas, salted bacon, chorizo sausage, blood pudding and the bones of cured ham.
Vanessa Stankiewicz says while the dish is cooked in one pot, it's eaten in two steps: first the sopa with short thin noodles added to the broth; and then la pringá.
"The remainder of what was in the pot, the veggies and meat, is put together on a plate along with the chickpeas, and tomato sauce with cumin and pickled guindillas, Basque chili pepper, on the side to complement. It's a hearty meal for a very cold winter," she says.
Pro tip: "Use good quality ingredients, and you can also make this dish with a pressure cooker if time is tight."
For my part, I'm adding a Sicilian dish of simple vegetables to eat with a hunk of good bread, toasted, rubbed with a garlic clove and drizzled with olive oil: caponata.
The dish's origin may be Sicilian fishers who threw into a pot any bits and scraps of the day's catch (perhaps including "cappone," a pollock-like fish from whence the dish's name is drawn) that didn't sell for a quick supper. Along with some vegetables, it was hearty and economical.
Over time, the fish was eventually dropped from the list of ingredients, and it became a vegetable-only dish. However, its unique flavour profile comes from the addition of raisins, pine nuts and almonds that are part of Sicilian cookery.
Pro tip: Have occasional sips of Sicilian wine.
2 medium yellow peppers, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
1 adobe pepper in chipotle sauce, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chili powder
1½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2½ cups TWB America brown ale, or similar
3½ cans diced tomatoes
2¼ cups kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2¼ cups pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
In a large Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil and sauté the onions and green peppers for 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds. Add adobe pepper and garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove the pot from the stove and stir in all the spices and cook for 30 seconds. Add the beer to the deglaze the pot.
Return the pot to the heat and allow it the beer to reduce by half. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil and then turn heat to simmer. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot with shredded cheese, if desired.
While they do have buttermilk and egg, southwest cornbread muffins can make a good accompaniment to chili.
1 cup cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup yellow corn kernels
½ cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
Set oven to 400 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Using a spatula, mix in the remaining ingredients until combined. Pour batter into a greased muffin tin. Bake until cooked, approximately 25 minutes.