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One-Pot Meals

May 30, 1985|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

There are times in every cook's life when casseroles or one-pot main dishes are the only solution to a mealtime dilemma. Not only can most be made ahead and cooked or reheated at the last moment, but many casseroles are content to go on "hold" for an hour or so when a Little League game or some other equally important late afternoon activity delays a normal dinner hour.

Unfortunately, in this day and age of slimmed down dining, casserole recipes often are shunted aside as too fattening and too complicated to bother with. It's easier to grab a piece of fish, saute it and serve it with a salad.

Granted such a menu does assuage the pangs of hunger, generally leaving one with that marvelous feeling that comes with not overeating. To my mind, however, a constant repetition of such a meal also leaves one with an equally marvelous sense of boredom. There is little adventure in sorting out a group of subtle flavors with a simple broiled fish. Instead, that comes when you break down and treat yourself and whoever else is around to a blend of meats and vegetables matched with a mixture of interesting seasonings.

One-pot meals also have been eschewed by those who have been subjected to them by a cook who sees a casserole as the only solution to using up leftovers--whether or not the leftovers are compatible in flavor and texture.

Only when they aren't created with the respect they merit should casseroles be rejected as a worthy dinner offering. After all, some of the great classic dishes of the world fall into this category of cookery. Two great French classics that come to mind right off are boeuf Bourguignon and a cassoulet. And who can resist the wonderful aromas and flavors found in a rich shepherd's pie or our own American contribution to superb one-pot meals, old-fashioned American beef stew.

Any and/or all of these dishes have one factor in common. When good ingredients are chosen and properly blended and cooked, the finished product is a total delight to eat.

There are, of course, casseroles and casseroles. A redolent cabbage-based casserole may not be exactly the perfect choice for a company dinner on a day when one has little last-minute time to devote to food preparation, but there are plenty of quite elegant-looking and tasting all-in-one main dishes that one need have no hesitancy to serve to guests. A luscious turkey and vegetable casserole with a sesame seed-laced lattice-work pie crust topping will find favor with any visiting diner. Or, if you're planning a weekend brunch, an old-fashioned cheese and egg strata that needs to sit for a few hours or overnight before being cooked is a great choice.

Casseroles, of course, require more preparation and usually more cooking time than your average broiled-fish-and-salad menu. But most can be made the night before or early in the day and then finished off at the last minute while the table is being set. So when you know you're going to be faced with a dinnertime time crunch, surprise everyone with a one-pot meal. We'll help out with a few suggestions.


1/4 cup olive oil

1 pound lean pork, cut in julienne strips

1 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 cup uncooked rice

1 cup chopped celery

1 green pepper, chopped

1 (1-pound 12-ounce) can whole tomatoes

1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground oregano

Salt, pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in Dutch oven or large skillet. Brown pork in oil with onion and garlic. Add 1 cup chicken broth. Cover and simmer until pork is almost tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove pork and any juice left in skillet.

Reheat Dutch oven over medium heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet. Saute rice in olive oil until golden. Stir in celery, green pepper and undrained tomatoes. With spoon cut tomatoes into pieces. Add remaining 1/2 cup broth, chili powder, sugar, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings to taste. Garnish with blanched green pepper strips, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Variation: 1/2 cup black olives or stuffed green olives, sliced or shredded cheese may be added to recipe at end. Also, mixture may be prepared on top of stove up to stage where rice and remaining ingredients are added, then baked, covered, at 350 degrees 30 to 35 minutes.


1 1/2 pounds ground beef

2 medium onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 quart water

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon vinegar

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Dash ground cinnamon

Cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon sugar


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