Just One Pot (2007) is a handsome, coffee table-style cookbook from the good folks at Readers’ Digest. I am a sucker for pretty pictures and picked this one up at one of those cheap book warehouse emporiums. My only cultural touchpoint for Readers’ Digest comes from the bookshelf in the bathroom of my childhood home. If you knew my mother this would not seem odd to you. The bathroom was home to a small selection of Family Circus books, a few sci-fi paperbacks, and a dozen or so Readers’ Digests. I usually just read the jokes, which were plentiful and spread throughout the book, but occasionally found a story worth reading. I never once saw a recipe, and have no idea what business Readers’ Digest has publishing a cookbook.
The theme of the cookbook, as you might surmise from the title, is dishes that can be cooked in just one pot. With the exception of a few side dishes, each of the three hundred-odd recipes can be cooked with a single pot, though the definition of a pot is quite loose. There are dedicated chapters on soups and stews, as well as chapters dedicated to a specific cooking styles such as “Fry Pot” or “Boiling Pot” (which also include a variety of soups and stews). The final chapter, called “Tabletop Pot”, contains a variety of hot pot, fondue, and slow cooker recipes (including even more soups and stews).
Since the book is arranged by “how” rather than “where” you’ll often find recipes from different parts of the world on the same back. The stew chapter includes conventional beef and lamb stews, as well as fruit-filled tagines, spicy curries, and chili. The Fry Pot chapter has dozens of stir-fries. but also risottos and frittatas. Recipes range from dutifully authentic, such as Indonesian Nasi Goreng to weirdly Americanized, such as a chicken soup flavored with curry powder and canned corn.
Which makes this a great book to turn to when I can’t figure out what to make for dinner. In the years I’ve owned it I’ve cooked maybe a dozen of the three hundred recipes, mostly Mediterranean dishes but a couple of the South American or regional Italian soups. What I have cooked is quite good, but I think this is largely a function of recipe selection. I’m a restless soul and always looking for something with a little bit of pizzazz, but to find those recipes in this book I have to skip past dozens of variants on meat + veggies + herbs in a pot. I’ve been around the block enough times to make a basic stew or soup by feel and taste; I’m sure the stew recipes in Just One Pot are fine, but they don’t necessarily spark joy in me.
There are helpful factoids scattered here and there, like a short paragraph on why such-and-such soup is popular during Hungarian winters, or why certain herbs are used in a certain region of France. There are also short spotlights on less-familiar ingredients like spelt and whole fennel. They are few and far between, not enough to make this a “readable” cookbook, but enough add a little bit of color and context.
A recipe that captures the scattershot spirit of Just One Pot is Chicken with Tabasco and Indian Spices. The version in the original cookbook is called Chicken with Mushrooms, Tomatoes, and Olives but the clickbait marketer in my soul just didn’t think that captured the whimsy of the ingredient list. The key seasonings are Tabasco sauce (a lot of it), Indian garam masala, and Asian chili oil, tossed with vegetables that seem better suited for a pizza. If we just threw in some Fudge Stripe Cookies we’d have an episode of Chopped. Now I realize that spicy peppers and Indian food go hand in hand, but Tabasco sauce has a distinct, fermented, vinegary character; it’s not exactly a one for one substitution for a kashmiri chili.
But turns out this isn’t a copyright trap or some kind of prank by the authors – this recipe is great. It’s an unexpected pairing, like the time I had tikka masala served over French fries, but it works better than it ought to. I’ve made a few adjustments to balance the flavors, with a smidge more garam masala and some salt and pepper for good measure. I also recommend sticking with a Louisiana style hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Crystal brand. Not all hot sauces are created equal, and as much as I love a good habanero sauce it’s just not going to be the same here.
And resist the temptation to add more liquid, even though it seems like there’s not near enough. This is a long cook and the mushrooms and onions will give up plenty of liquid during the cooking process. I prefer to serve it over basmati rice, with lightly vinegared cucumber salad, but it would also work fine with couscous or even egg noodles. The recipe’s original authors certainly felt unconstrained by convention or cuisine. Why should you?
For the sauce:
- 1 15 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tabasco sauce (or other Louisiana-style hot sauce)
- 4 cups sliced mushrooms (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 2 red onions (finely chopped)
- 1/4 cup Asian chili oil
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (trimmed of excess fat)
- Open the can of tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes into small pieces with kitchen shears, with the tomatoes still in the can.
- Add the tomatoes, tabasco sauce, mushrooms, garam masala, garlic, lime juice, and onions to a saucepan over medium heat. Season with salt to taste, then stir in the chili oil.
- Slice chicken breast into 1/2 inch cutlets and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the chicken, layer by layer to the
- Reduce heat slightly, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes. Flip chicken over, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes more under chicken is fully cooked and slightly tender.
- Serve over desired starch, and garnish with cilantro, tomatoes, and olives.