Where I live, they’re called “one-bowlers,” which might sound like a cricket term, but in fact describes a family of recipes that feature a whole meal (meat, veg, starch) in one pot or bowl.
Most ride the line between hearty soups and stews, but they are universally worker’s food – easy to transport, almost always easy to cook (throw everything into a single pot on the stove or cauldron over the fire and let’er rip), you can eat them with just a spoon, and they provide all the nourishment and energy you need, without being fiddly.
Many of these dishes are relations of the Perpetual Stew or pottage, described as a staple of medieval inns – whatever was available was thrown into a cauldron full of water which hung over the fire all day. Those coming to eat would spoon out a portion, and when the innkeeper could, more ingredients were added … and on and on.
You can keep your fancy recipes for another time: here are 14 one-pot dishes from around the world.
It has been called the most quintessential of French dishes, for its simplicity and ubiquity, on tables grand and meager. A variety of root vegetables and an inexpensive cut of meat (heavy on cartilage, which thickens the broth as it cooks out over time) are cooked for a long time, sometimes all day.
Whatever was available could be thrown in the pot-au-feu, which literally means “pot over the fire”. This might be considered the core recipe for a one-pot, one-bowl meal, since it is so basic, and could be riffed upon with altered ingredients and spices.
Many of the dishes here can be made on the go, in the labourer’s field or at the hunter’s camp, and that is what makes them so popular. We could have chosen from many things described as “hunter’s stew,” but why not this Polish meal, which combines pickled cabbage (sauerkraut) with shredded fresh cabbage and chopped pieces of any kind of meat that you happen to have to hand?
In the South of France (and also in the far north-east, in Alsace) you can find a tastier alternative to pot-au-feu, with a base of white beans and an assortment of meats (goose or duck confit and sometimes mutton, as well as sausages) cooked traditionally in an earthenware pot that doubles as the bowl in which the dish is served.
Where I live, in Slovenia, enolončice are the most popular, inexpensive malica, a holdover from Socialist days when a hearty brunch-time meal would be served to factory workers during a break around 10 or 11am (work days began at 6am and went until 2pm normally, so the main meal of the day was a very late lunch, eaten at home around 3pm). This barley-rich pot of vegetables, potatoes and cured pork is just the ticket for a winter brunch.
When you started this article, pho might have been the first dish that came to mind. Like Japanese ramen and all manner of variations of Asian noodle soups, spicy broth is studded with vegetables, meat or fish, egg and legumes.
Korea’s popular meal in a stone bowl features rice, egg, meat, vegetables and sauce all laid out photogenically—until you mix it all up to eat, and let the egg, cracked over the surface when served, cook as you mix it with your chopsticks through the swirled ingredients.
Breton Kig Ha Farz
This specialty of Leon in Brittany combines meat, veg and even a sort of stuffing in one, simmering not only the meat and veg but also a buckwheat flour (farz) that absorbs moisture and flavour and becomes a sort of cross between polenta, stuffing and pudding.
South African Potjiekos
An ideal addition to our list, as the name means “small pot food,” this is a category of stew made outdoors, in a small cast-iron cauldron (preferably with three legs), an African descendent of a Dutch oven. Meat and veg, rice or potatoes are stewed over water, but if you’re getting fancy, you can include beer or even dessert wine. The traditional meat is venison, but in practice whatever outdoorsman can catch can be thrown in.
This thick vegetable soup is based on a meaty broth (though some argue that the original used a broth derived from borlotti beans) and can be enriched with meat itself, but is otherwise a fine example of a filling, meat-light bowl of goodness, made more filling with the addition of pasta, not as the focal point but as one of many components.
This stew of meat, barley, vegetables and potato is simmered overnight, for at least twelve hours, and is a special meal for the Sabbath, when observant Jews are not permitted to work (which means no cooking). A long-simmering stew like this allows a cook to prep the night before, leave on the fire overnight, and eat the result on the Sabbath without actually cooking on that day.
An odds-and-ends stew once made by slaves using whatever they could find that had been leftover or discarded from their master’s meal, thrown into a cauldron and allowed to boil away. Arab Mujaddara: a stew of lentils with groats (usually rice), meat and lots of sautéed onions, but often seasoned in exotic ways, with coriander, mint and cumin. A saying goes “A hungry man would sell his soul for a bowl of mujaddara.” The same might be said for any of the one-pot-wonders on our list.
The list of don dishes is long, but the core is that you’re getting a big, filling bowl of rice, with various meats, vegetables and sauces thrown in. My favorite is unadon, as I’m crazy about unagi (grilled eel, usually lacquered with a caramelised soy sauce).
Macedonian Tavče Gravče
Baked beans, but with a difference. A version of this can be found throughout the Balkans, and essentially it is baked beans prepared in a clay vessel and served out of it, as well as spiced with paprika. But the best stuff is slicked with cooking grease from various meats, and it becomes a meal unto itself when you slap a smoked sausage on top.
As much fun to say as it is to eat, this is actually a Christmas favorite in Guyana. A meat stew flavoured with hot Caribbean peppers, cassareep (an exotic sauce made from cassava root which is an antiseptic – not only is it delicious, but it can be used to treat eye diseases!) and cinnamon.
As England gets ready to reopen its restaurants on 12 April for outdoor dining after the lockdowns, restaurateurs and bar owners respond to the new legislation with some exciting pop-ups and creative al fresco dining solutions. Find out more.