One-Pot Meals: Less Mess, Less Stress!

Posted: May 29, 2013
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One-pot meals are a blessing for busy working women in India who need quick weeknight dinners. Some delicious ideas for you!

By Anne John

If there is one household chore that I completely abhor it has to cleaning up in the kitchen. There can be nothing more frustrating than being greeted by a pile of dirty dishes after a long and tiring day. Many an evening has been spent bickering with my husband as to whose turn it is to wash the dishes. Often, the thought of washing dishes alone puts me off cooking.

Further, after a hectic day, most working women in India have neither the interest nor the energy to even think about creating multiple dishes that complement each other. Take for instance, the common Indian staples: Rice + curry + side dish or roti + sabji. Couldn’t we just make one dish which serves as a complete meal and be done with it? Enter, one-pot meals!

One-pot meals: A life-saver for working women in India

One-pot meals, as the name implies, are basically dishes that are cooked using minimal number of vessels, mostly just one. Everything cooks together in the same pot, a quick, weeknight dinner is ready in a snap and washing up is limited – what’s not to love, right? You can save time, energy and water spent in the kitchen – perfect!

Quick weeknight dinner: Veg Biryani

Quick weeknight dinner: Veg Biryani

I know many working women in India, myself included, who turn to our trusted companion Maggi for a tasty one-pot meal. By adding some vegetables or eggs to instant noodles, we convince ourselves that we are eating healthy. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the truth. While Maggi is fine for an occasional indulgence, there are far better one-pot meals available.

A simple vegetable biryani makes a great one-pot meal. Sure, there are several different types of biryanis where you cook the rice separately and the meat/veggies separately and go the whole nine yards of layering and stuff, but I reserve such elaborate practices for special occasions.

On normal days, I simply make it as a quick weeknight dinner using a single pot – sautéing whole garam masala first, followed by onions, tomatoes, ginger-garlic paste, green chillies, mint and coriander leaves and chopped up vegetables. Then, in go the masala powders, the soaked rice and once they get a little toasty, I add the required amount of water and close the lid. Let it cook on a slow flame and finish up with some lemon juice. Okay, so maybe the Mughals are turning in their marble tombs but no need for frills when you are chasing the clock. Done!

Quick weeknight dinner: Paella

Quick weeknight dinner: Paella

On a related note, have you tried a Spanish version of biryani? Yes, I am talking about Paella; which by the way tastes nothing like a biryani and, as a side note, the ls are silent. (What? Don’t tell me I’m the only one who ever pronounced tortilla as tor-till-a!)

Paella is a lovely one-pot rice dish which can satisfy non-vegetarian palates. Note: If you don’t eat pork, skip the sausage and if you can’t find Arborio rice, substitute with Basmati rice. Granted, it won’t be “authentic” paella, but I’m not judging!

Alternatively, for a quick weeknight dinner which is light and refreshing, whip up some filling soups. Soups are so simple. Plus, not only do they help up your intake of vegetables but they are also a great tool to clean out the last few vegetables hanging around in your refrigerator! Chinese noodle soup, Italian Minestrone or Manipuri Kangsoi are all interesting recipes to check out.

Eggs: Your best bet for quick weeknight dinners

Quick weeknight dinner: Minestrone

Quick weeknight dinner: Minestrone

One item that is always on my grocery shopping list is eggs. Eggs are really versatile. They lend themselves well to a variety of dishes, are affordable, nutritious and come in quite handy to the harried cook. Apart from the usual boiled, poached and omelette varieties, one of my favourite dishes to make with eggs are Mexican Scrambled Eggs.

Although I was inspired by Nigella Lawson’s recipe, I went ahead and customised it to suit my preferences. For instance, her recipe calls for corn tortillas but I’ve tried this with flour tortillas too and they work fine. Also, I don’t deep fry the tortilla strips, just lightly toast them. And I bulk up the dish by throwing in sliced mushrooms, chopped bell pepper and corn. I add chilly flakes for some kick and finish it off with a sprinkling of cheese. Because cheese makes all things taste heavenly! Agree? Tip: You could also substitute the tortillas with leftover rotis for an Indianised version.

Quick weeknight dinner: Shakshuka

Quick weeknight dinner: Shakshuka

Speaking of eggs, there is another interesting dish called Shakshuka if you’re in the Middle-East or Eggs In Purgatory (What an intriguing name!) if you’re in Italy or simply, eggs in tomato if you’re in my house.

Shakshuka is an uncomplicated and unpretentious dish which can be served with some bread to mop up the yummy sauce – or if you insist on cheating a bit and turning it into a two pots meal, then it goes well with rotis, rice or pasta.

I suspect they are called Eggs In Purgatory because the eggs are supposed to be slightly gooey – neither here nor there, a.k.a. in purgatory. If you want to add some more body to this dish, you could sauté some mushrooms before you add the tomatoes and you could also add some prepared soya granules for extra protein. Do try this dish at home and savour the rustic goodness in a quick weeknight dinner!

Do you have a favourite one-pot meal? Do share your recipe with me in the comments below!

*(All images used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Featured image credit: Nicole Abalde.
Veg Biryani photo credit: Gagandeep Sapra.
Paella photo credit: Waferboard.
Minestrone photo credit: Odonata98.
Shakshuka photo credit: Katherine Lim.

Anne John plays with words for a living and would probably do the same even

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12 Comments


  1. Not only women but men (like me) who have lived in multiple countries use the one pot mechanism to make good food. In addition to biryani (or biriyani?), Kichdi is a good one pot meal, tilting more towards nutrition than taste though.

    • Hi Sid! Thanks for commenting 🙂
      Just like the dish has several variants, its name too is spelled in many different ways!
      Yeah kichdi is a good one too – but I believe kichdi in Tamil Nadu is different from its north Indian counterpart, which is made with rice & dal. However we make kichdi with semolina & veggies thrown in – somewhat like a masala vegetable upma….

  2. Hip Grandma

    I think it makes sense to cook one pot meals. My son for instance prepared vegetable quinoa for lunch while I was sleeping away due to jet lag and I found it wholesome and much less messy. With minimum oil it is also healthy and heart friendly.

    • Yes veg quinoa is quite tasty! I was surprised at first because some of the new “health foods” fads taste totally weird but quinoa suits our Indian tastes quite nicely.

  3. Hip Grandma

    Dalia khichdi with lots of vegetables also suits me particularly because the vegetables can be diced into huge chunks and pressure cooked. It becomes shapeless anyway so the delicate South Indian way of dicing vegetables need not be followed.

  4. if you can make rice or any kind of bread, the oriya dalma is a wonderful one pot meal. its basically a dal with vegetables and a tempering. but the aroma is heavenly and it tastes as good as it is healthy – a rare combination.

  5. Gauri Trivedi

    The “green rice” is one of my favorites when it comes to one pot meals. It combines the nutrition of spinach with rice to make a complete meal. Here’s the recipe

    http://pastaandparatha.blogspot.com/2011/01/verde-arroz.html

  6. Good idea of bringing one pot meals here.But I was hoping to have more vegetarian one pot meals. Biryani is looking really good.

    • Just want to clear, vegetarian -no EGG too.

    • Ashwini, all the soups mentioned in the article can be made vegetarian – please click on the link on Manipuri Kangsoi to find out how. Plus other commentators above have also left some nice veggie ideas. Do check them out!

  7. Rina Mukherji -

    Our Bengali mungdal and rice khichdi with all the veggies thrown in is a favourite with us. My husband loves it, and I find it healthy and filling. If you are fond of continental stuff, a risotto is good too. The other favourite is the South Indian pongal with lots of buttermilk for a summer lunch.

  8. Loved ur articles Anne .. loved the recepie of “Shaksuka” never heard earluer … will surely try it. Keep doing the good work ..

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