Tag Archives: One-Pot Meal

Chicken, chard, and cranberry bean stew

When life hands you lemons, make preserved lemons. And then put some in this stew.

This came about as a happy accident. I found a very old bag of cranberry beans in my cupboard, and was feeling in the mood for a one-pot meal. I had my trusty jar of preserved lemons, and a strong craving for something with greens. We’d gone to a local meat market and deli earlier in the day for lunch, and they had a terrific price on chicken legs. And so dinner took shape: a bubbling braise of beans, chicken, and chard, flavored like a classic north African tagine.

The result was a little more brothy than a tagine, and so I’m calling it a stew. But whatever you call it, it’s a wonderful winter meal: warm and soothing, rich with spices and starch. The preserved lemon adds a pop of brightness and a salty depth, and the beans thickened the broth to a lightly saucy consistency. As Audrey said, it felt like the perfect meal to eat if you were feeling under the weather; it tasted like it could cure a lot of ills.

Another reason I love this meal is because it uses meat as a flavoring, rather than the main attraction. For six people, I could have easily bought three pounds of meat; but I decided to go with just a pound of bone-in, skin-on legs, and stretch them a bit. I browned the pieces in oil, then simmered them in the pot along with the beans; then, when the flesh was lush and tender, I pulled the chicken from the pan and shredded the meat to be stirred in at the end. The bones and browned skin contributed flavor to the braising liquid, as if it were a stock; the meat provided little pockets of chew in between the creamy beans and slippery greens.

I said this was a one-pot meal, and it easily could be. But there’s a fair amount of rich liquid involved, and for my money you really need something to soak it up. I made a quick whole-wheat flatbread to dunk in the bowls, which was a real treat. But I could also imagine putting a heap of warm couscous in the bottom of each bowl and ladling the stew over that. Either way, you’ll be looking at dreamy faces and full bellies by the time this meal’s over.

chicken chard preserved lemon stew flatbread

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Spanish chickpea gratin

One of the things I love most about creative pursuits is how a kernel of an idea, picked up from elsewhere, can take root in my body and morph, almost of its own volition, into something new. It happens to me in my writing, and even more so in my cooking. Sometimes the idea twists and warps in the process, emerging partly-formed and disappointing; but other times it’s charmed right from the get-go, and that’s what really keeps me going.

This was one of the charmed ones. It began as I was casting about for a Spanish-inflected vegetarian main course to serve for my mother’s birthday, a headliner for the opening act of those glorious clams and artichokes. From somewhere in the dusty crannies of my brain came a vague memory of a Minimalist recipe for chickpeas with spinach and sherry. I went looking for it, and in the process found another Minimalist recipe for rack of lamb with pimenton-flavored rye breadcrumbs. I seized on a sentence in the accompanying write-up: “[these breadcrumbs] could turn the simplest vegetable gratin into something truly special.” And suddenly the two recipes began to meld and harmonize into one: a chickpea and spinach gratin, flavored with sherry and topped with those incredible breadcrumbs. From there it was just a matter of finding a good chickpea gratin recipe to riff on, and then putting everything together as best I knew how.

From the minute I sent the gratin into the oven, I knew I had a winner. Just the carnival-clutter appearance of it made me smile, with purple-red onions and sandy-colored chickpeas and grassy spinach and that gorgeous brick-red breadcrumb blanket. From the oven I could smell smokiness and garlic and the sweet mustiness of Amontillado sherry. It came out bubbling, deep crackling brown on top, and almost luscious underneath. The onions–a whole mountain of them–melted into filmy ribbons in the oven, and the spinach turned dark and silky. The breadcrumbs themselves were richly smoky, crisp, almost meaty, like a strange vegan hybrid of bacon bits and chorizo. We devoured our portions and swabbed our plates with bread to mop up every last bit of the sherry-infused gravy.

My one possibly-unnecessary step was to mash half the chickpeas before adding them to the gratin, hoping that the mix of pureed, chunky, and whole chickpeas would lend contrast and interest to the gratin. But the mashed chickpeas just dissolved into the sauce, while the whole ones stayed whole, becoming lush and soft in the oven. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably keep all the chickpeas whole, for more creamy texture interruptions throughout the gratin. Call the mash an optional step. Do it if you want a slightly thicker filling, or don’t if you want a greater texture contrast.

This could serve nicely as a vegetarian or vegan entree, or as a side dish for chicken or light-fleshed fish. And the leftovers are just made to be reheated for breakfast with a fried egg on top. It’s a good one, this gratin; I’m proud of it. It’s the kind of success that keeps me cooking.

spanish chickpea gratin

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Mushroom barley soup with kale

I’ll be honest. I don’t really get the whole kale thing. Yes, it’s dark and leafy and pulsing with iron. Yes, kale chips are tasty (although, so is almost anything else, if you toss with oil and salt and roast it to a crisp). But I’m really not convinced that kale is the hot, trendy, it-girl food of the moment. I’m just not a huge fan, no matter how delicately it’s sauteed or how vigorously it’s massaged.  Eating a kale salad, to me, is like chewing the rough end of a bottle brush.

Now. With all that said, I’ll be the first to admit that kale has its place in the world. Say, for example, in this soup.

Mushroom barley soup is a classic on its own–and with good reason. As in so many great Eastern European foodstuffs, the mix of hardy grain and earthy fungus is a source of comfort, a taste of home. But with a mess of kale leaves cut into ribbons and wilted into the pot, it becomes something else entirely. The broth softens the kale’s brushy edges, making it tender and supple. Suddenly, a stodgy old favorite becomes a hearty winter meal in a bowl, fortifying and warm without the attendant weight or guilt.

This is the kind of soup that demands a good gutsy broth. For the photographed batch, I raided my freezer for rich, chestnut-colored turkey stock, made from the carcass of my family’s Thanksgiving bird. If I didn’t have that, my first choice would probably be beef stock; normally I don’t go in for big cow flavor, but beef loves both mushrooms and barley so much that it seems like a natural. If you prefer a vegan soup, just swap out the stock for a strong vegetable broth–something dark and mushroomy, I would think.

Yes, kale has its place. Keep your massaged bottle-brush salads; I have my soup bowl.

mushroom barley kale soup

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Chana punjabi

Good things really do come to those who wait.

About three weeks ago, I had the flu. By about the third day, I was going out of my mind with boredom. I wasn’t yet well enough to leave my apartment, but I had to do something productive. I had canned chickpeas and tomatoes in the pantry, a jalapeno and an onion growing elderly in my fridge. So I found a recipe for chana punjabi–Indian chickpea and tomato stew–and set about making it.

I tasted as it was cooking, and it was…fine. Spicy. Indian. Warm. Generic. I was underwhelmed, and the flu had sapped me of my appetite anyway. So into the freezer it went, to wait patiently until I was well. Now I’m finally well–and very happy. After three weeks of sitting and flavor-melding, this chana punjabi is a flavor juggernaut.

I’m sitting and eating it now, as I type. It gets better with every spoonful. The chickpeas are nutty and tender, bound lightly in an velvety orange-red sauce of tomatoes, onions and aromatics. Unlike chana masala, which is turmeric-heavy and speckled with chunky vegetables, this is rich and smooth and surprisingly subtle. I can only imagine how much more stunning it would be with home-cooked chickpeas.

I will definitely be making this again. And absolutely letting it sit for a while before touching it. It’s worth the wait, believe me.

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The willy-nilly sandwich

I was a Theater major in college (playwright, not actor, don’t go all diva-shaming on me now).  One of the pieces of advice most pressed on us in our lessons on craft was the importance of research.  When you’re creating a character, you have to go as deep as possible into every nook and cranny you can find, and pull together all the context and factual evidence and analysis you can muster.  You have to create this fully-fleshed conception, right down to tattoos and breakfast cereal and all sorts of pieces that the audience may never hear of.

And then when it’s go time, you throw it all away.  You set aside all that exacting work, and leap into the unknown.

It’s not a stretch to say that I live my whole life this way.  I’m about the opposite of spontaneous.  I’m shy and neurotic, and I overthink everything.  I spend days planning what I might say in a phone conversation, and weeks thinking up a single night’s meal.  But more often than not, when the time comes for action, I end up ignoring all my well-laid mental plans and making it up as I go along.

Seems to have served me all right so far.

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The power of a dollop

It’s such a shameful cliche to say it’s all in the details. But cliches achieve their status for a reason: they’re most often true.

Back in college, I took pride in my lack of detail-orientedness. (Detail-orientation?) I was practically detail-averse. I’m an artist, I said. I don’t have brain-space for such things. But somewhere in the transition to the working world, something happened. I became…organized. I began obsessing over minutiae. I started color-coding things.

Well, maybe organized isn’t the right word. My bedroom floor is still blanketed with clothing, and my desk at work is shingled willy-nilly with paper. And truth is, I’ve always been a perfectionist of the highest order; I just didn’t always know which details to tweak to catapult my projects ever-closer to perfection. But now I’m figuring these things out. I’m zeroing in on the little things. I’m learning.

Which brings me to pesto.

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Pot π

This was supposed to be a St. Patrick’s Day post.  I was all jazzed to write about, y’know, green food.  I went to the store, and there were these adorable little tomatillos, nestled cheekily in their wrinkly skins.  I wanted so badly to turn them into a gorgeous salsa verde, all hot and sharp and bright jewel-green.  But then I tried, and somewhere along the line things went wrong, and the salsa turned out mouth-searingly spicy and sour and…beige.   I don’t really want to talk about it.

So instead, let us turn our attention to another holiday entirely, and a much more pleasant and comforting subject: pie.  Or pi, as it were.

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