One-pot Winter Warmer

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One-pot meals are brimming with possibility, and offer a huge range of flavours and textures. You can start a slow cooker in the morning to let flavours marry, but if you’re short on time you can make a meal in less than an hour with most of the time hands off. Once you have made a few from recipes (here are some to try from BBC), you’ll find you can start improvising more and more. Here are our suggestions to help your experiment succeed.

 Protein

It’s not absolutely necessary to include a protein in your one-pot meal, but protein-rich foods provide longer-lasting energy and can help replenish your stores after a big day.  For the slow-cooker method, use pre-soaked beans or collagen-rich cuts of meat (like chicken thighs or shoulder cuts).  If you’re using a slow cooker and forgot to soak, you can add acidic ingredients to keep the beans from getting too soft, or choose beans like aduki or garbanzo that stand up  better to prolonged cooking. For a quick one-pot meal, use canned or frozen beans and tender cuts like chicken breasts or flap steak. Tofu and tempeh are also good plant-based protein options that will work in either the slow-cooker or the quick meal options.

Veggies

Pretty much anything can go into your one-pot meal. Take advantage of the opportunity to use up what’s in your crisper or what’s on sale. Potatoes and squash add body with their plentiful starch, while green vegetables contribute nutrients, fibre, and a bit of bitterness. More dense vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and squash need cooking time to soften, so add them to your quick meal at the beginning. More tender veggies can go in toward the end, or can be added on top for a burst of freshness.

Liquid Base

Water, broth, or stock provide the liquid needed to help your ingredients cook thoroughly, and provide the sauce that will tie your dish together. More liquid will make your dish more akin to a delicious soup, less liquid and you’ll have a stew. Generally, you want to include enough liquid to just cover your ingredients.

Seasoning

If you add nothing but veggies, protein, and liquid, you’ll have an edible but uninspiring dish. There are a million options, from Indian curry to Chinese 5-spice to classic Italian to Greek oregano and lemon. Consider your ingredients and experiment with a flavour profile that appeals to your taste. There are also spice mixes from Iron Skillet, Thai Kitchen, Indian Life, and other companies that you can pour from a jar or packet. Be careful about adding too much salt, especially if you are using bullion cubes.

Ingredients high in naturally-occurring glutamates will help your meal have a satisfying flavour. Soy sauce, anchovies, parmesan cheese, tomatoes, sea vegetables, fermented vegetables or grains, molasses, mushrooms, and nuts are all good choices.

Flavour enhancers

Once you have your basic flavour profile, you may want to add a few other elements to keep your dish interesting: bites of especially sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or spicy ingredients help add variety from mouthful to mouthful. Dried fruit is traditional in middle-eastern and north African cuisines. Preserved lemon, sundried tomatoes, olives, pickled cabbage, or capers can add a salty kick. Frozen or fresh peas or corn make a great sweet addition to spicy chili. Bitter greens or citrus peel can add a pleasant contrast. Whatever you choose, add it sparingly!

If you find your dish is too salty, spicy, sweet, sour, or bitter your only solution is to ramp up one of the other flavours.

Chili photo courtesy of www.sprouted-health.com