Simplify Dinner with a One-Pot Meal

One-pot meals are like the footie pajamas of the family table; cozy, familiar, and easy to throw on. They offer the pleasure of home cooking assembled with little fuss and minimal clean-up, and nearly always contain a starch, protein and vegetable all rolled into one happy dish.

One-pot meal defined

Most cultures have their version of the one-pot meal. The Italians stir up creamy risotto, the Spanish steam fragrant paella and the French serve a perfect cassoulet, to name but just a few. Versions of this dish span the globe from nearly every ethnicity, the defining factor is in its name: it requires only one pot. That pot may be a wok, a Dutch Oven, a skillet or tagine, but everything is prepared in that one vessel and the melded flavors combine to produce something extraordinary.

Hard-core one-pot devotees insist that a true one-pot meal must contain every element to the meal IN the pot and serving bread on the side is ‘cheating’. Personally, I think that most one-pot meals pair splendidly with warm rolls, naan, or buttermilk biscuits, however that decision is entirely up to you!

Why it simplifies

  • Not everyone has time to prepare three different dishes- a starch, protein and vegetable- every night. The one pot meal allows for diversity, while keeping things simple.
  • While every dish many not religiously contain a perfectly balanced meal, its all-in-one preparation lends itself to sneaking a vegetable or two into the pot or pan.
  • Clean-up is kept to a minimum, with most meals requiring not much more than a cutting board and knife; beside the requisite pot, of course!
  • One-pot meals are ideal dishes for batch cooking. Recipes can be doubled and a portion frozen for a later date.

More than just Pot Roast

Here in North America, the term one-pot meal is almost synonymous with crock-pot dinner, with hearty stews and pot roasts leading the charge; however there are plenty of lighter and faster variations to the familiar meat & potatoes duo.

A one-pot meal need not require hours & hours of cooking, but may also be a stir-fried noodle dish or a summery pasta with vegetables and seafood.

Here is a recipe that falls into that category. Not only does it only dirty one pan, but lends itself well to a good fridge purge. It is as comforting as it is convenient and can be easily adapted to be vegetarian, meat-lovers, or the seafood special, depending on what you add in.

Recipe: Malaysian Shrimp Fried Rice

Ever since a backpacking trip through South-East Asia in my late-teens, Nasi Goreng, or Fried Rice, has rotated on my dinner repertoire. I’ll toss anything that needs to be used up into the mix of spicy rice and my picky eaters gobble it up. I’ll credit the soy sauce for that, because we all know how my boys feel about my cooking. Enjoy!

  • 3 green onions, washed, white parts chopped, green tops reserved
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 fresh hot red chillies, seeded and chopped (optional, depending on who’s eating)
  • 1 inch lemongrass bulb, chopped (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons each fish sauce and sweet soy sauce
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon Siracha chilli sauce
  • 3 cups  cooked long-grain brown rice, cold
  • 4 tablespoons  canola or peanut oil
  • 2 cups  diced napa cabbage
  • 1/2 lb peeled raw shrimp (or prawns), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon mirin (may substitute water)
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas

In a mortar, combine the chopped whites of the green onion, garlic, chillies, lemongrass and ginger and grind together with a pestle, gradually adding 2 tablespoons water as you work to form a paste. Alternatively, combine the ingredients in a mini food processor and process to a paste. Set the chilli paste aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the fish sauce, sweet soy sauce, lime juice, and chilli sauce. Set the sauce mixture aside. Beat eggs together with mirin in a bowl and reserve.

In a large wok or sauté pan over high heat, heat 3 tablespoons of the canola oil until almost smoking. Add the chilli paste and fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the cabbage and stir-fry until the cabbage begins to wilt, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and continue to stir-fry until they just turn opaque, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Return the pan to high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. When it is hot, add the eggs and scramble until just set, about 1 minute. Add the rice and peas and return the cabbage mixture to the pan. Stir-fry until the rice is heated through, 5-7 minutes.

Pour in the sauce mixture and continue to sauté until the rice is well seasoned, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer the rice mixture to a warmed bowl and serve with chopped green onion tops.

Add-in options:

  • Cooked, shredded chicken
  • Green onion
  • Diced ham
  • Cooked carrots, diced
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Mushrooms
  • Bean sprouts
  • Tofu

Let’s hear it! Does your family have a ‘go-to’ one-pot meal?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Taco soup, chilli, and chicken and vegetable curry are our one-pot family favorites. This meal looks delicious and like something new for us. I am definitely going to have to give it a try. Thanks!

  2. Beef Burgundy – from the old Fannie Farmer cookbook – comforting, home-y and easy!

  3. Our favourite one pot meal is a chicken and wild rice soup with veggies. It’s thick and flavourful and has all the components of a meal in one dish. We also really, really like cassoulet. Great topic!
    .-= Jan (Family Bites)’s last blog: A Perfect Simple Weekend =-.

  4. For us it’s definitely our chicken and wild rice soup with lots of veggies. It’s thick, warm and comforting and offers all of the components of a meal in one pot. We also really, really love cassoulet. Great topic!
    .-= Jan (Family Bites)’s last blog: A Perfect Simple Weekend =-.

  5. So, is your rice recipe something that could be made in a double batch and frozen for later? I’ve never tried to freeze rice.

    • It IS possible to freeze rice; it does reconstitute slightly drier, though.
      I’ve never tried to freeze this recipe (there’s never any left!) but it would work OK, provided you omit the egg. No one wants to eat scrambled egg that has been frozen. Chicken would probably retain moisture better than the shrimp, also.

  6. Great recipe. My one pot “go-to” meal is usually a soup of some sort, or a stir-fry. I also have made skillet lasagna too…that’s a favorite. I made a goal for this year to start “making-up” more meals and this inspired me to think up some one-pot ideas. 🙂

  7. Stew for sure, although chili is a fav of min, I always serve it with a freshly baked loaf of crusty sourdough bread, so technically not one pot. Great post Aimée!
    .-= Elizabeth’s last blog: Warm Spinach Artichoke Dip =-.

  8. I love one pot meals! My go to is chicken curry served with rice or naan. It’s so easy and yummy! I also love chili, and meaty stews!
    .-= Vina’s last blog: 5 Simple Cookbooks to Build On =-.

  9. I like one pot meals, well most of them. Soup is my favorite for the winter time.

  10. Oooh that looks really yummy. I completely fell in love with Thai food when I did my backpacking tour in south-east Asia, especially the street food and spicy Som Tam (papaya salad).

    One-pot meals are so handy. Mine tend to be hearty soups or stews, but the one that ends up consistently on high rotation is a chickpea and potato curry that can be done in a Dutch oven, slow cooker or on the stove top.
    .-= Amanda S.’s last blog: Savory Chickpea Crepes =-.

    • I get these mad cravings for the Thai street foods still. Those flavors are hard to beat.

      We love curry too, especially with coconut, but there I go again with those SE Asia flavors.

  11. Ooo…we’ll try this next week. Thanks!
    .-= minneosta:madre | Sarah Jane’s last blog: this week i love =-.

  12. Such great inspiration! Our favourite’s would be my mom’s white chili and a one pot tuna casserole, where even the pasta is cooked in the same pot. Definitely doesn’t get much easier then that.
    .-= Cheri’s last blog: Chocolate Brown Monday =-.

  13. This looks delicious; I am making it this week! Is there a link (perhaps I’m not seeing it…) to a printable version of this recipe? Perhaps on a recipe card? Thank you, thank you for the dinner idea!

  14. Christine @ Lily of the Valley says

    I love Amish Skillet, Skillet Lasagna, and Chicken Stir fry as our one pot meals. I am always looking for new ideas! 🙂
    .-= Christine @ Lily of the Valley’s last blog: What Starts Natural Labor? =-.

  15. We like speedy red beans & rice that is made with leftover rice, kidney beans, onions/peppers/garlic/celery, tomato sauce & seasonings, and sliced smoked sausage: is not my recipe but I make it all the time… it’s true that these kinds of meals are really adaptable – I substitute things all the time, add in leftover meat, beans, veggies, and the family eats it up!

  16. I love one pot meals – great post!

    Our current favorites are a Kale/White Bean/Sausage stew with fresh parmesan and a Cashew Chicken Curry.

  17. Since I rarely bother with side dishes, almost everything I cook is a one-pot (or nearly one-pot) meal. Tonight’s dinner is pasta with pesto cream. “Nearly” one pot because you have to cook the noodles, but I’ll toss all the veggies I can find in the sauce.

    Other than soups and stir fry, one of my favorites is a mexican chicken and rice where the rice is cooked in the skillet: Saute onions, garlic, and diced chicken; add 1 cup of uncooked rice and saute another 2 minutes; add a can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup frozen corn (or green peppers), chili powder, and 1 cup water; bring to a boil; cover and simmer until rice and chicken are cooked. So EASY!
    .-= Alissa’s last blog: Simple Living =-.

  18. Oh, and this is pretty close to the white chicken chili that we eat in gallons around our house. It’s the combo of the oregano, cumin, and cayenne – delicious!

    I made a great discovery the other day by freezing it in batches WITHOUT adding the beans. Now, I just add a can of beans when I’m reheating it on the stove. It takes up less freezer space, thaws faster, and the beans don’t get all mushy from the freeze/thaw process.

    I’m adding your fried rice to our menu for next week. I’m nursing a baby that doesn’t do well when I eat tomatoes, so finding one-pot, non-tomato meals is awesome!
    .-= Alissa’s last blog: Simple Living =-.

  19. One pot meals as the footie pajamas of the kitchen table – great analogy! 🙂
    .-= Kara’s last blog: More Than Words: Simple Ways to Show Your Kids You Love Them =-.

  20. This sounds delicious and a wonderful way to warm up a cold winter’s evening. Definitely trying this one. Anything with Srirachi chili sauce makes my husband happy!

    Christen’s last post: 5 Techniques to Inspire Healthy Food Choices in Your Child’s Diet

  21. Yes! I love one pot meals. And, I was so excited to see my Le Crueset pot in the picture. I love it, it’s so shiny and red. It makes me smile to cook in it. And, pretty to serve in too.

  22. Jenni @ My Web of Life says

    Our two favorites are beef stew and red beans and rice (with finely diced green peppers and celery to sneak those veggies in).

    We are a family of ‘dippers’ so bread on the side is essential!
    .-= Jenni @ My Web of Life’s last blog: Finding Balance =-.

  23. During the cooler months we eat one pot meals for at least half the week. Stews, soups, beef + cabbage, roasted chicken that is cooked over cabbage wedges, potatoes and carrots. With no dishwasher it is a must.

  24. Oh boy! I love one-pot meals!! Our new favorite is Almond Chicken and Rice (it’s a Kraft Food and Family Recipe). I’ve made it a couple of times, and we LOVE it. The rice has so much flavor (you don’t even have to cook it ahead of time!) and you can whip it up in no time!
    .-= jackie’s last blog: going.home =-.

  25. That looks fantastic, but The Monster won’t eat rice. I have, however, managed to get risotto past her. That’s my favourite one pot dinner, along with baked beans, chili, and chicken tagine. Hmm, that reminds me that I haven’t made tagine or risotto in ages!
    .-= Cheryl Arkison’s last blog: Chocolate And Friendship Day =-.

  26. I’m loving all the recipe ideas, folks. Really, I’m set for next week’s menu plan! Thanks for all the input.

  27. I don’t know why, but this time of year I crave Asian flavors. Maybe it’s because the freshness of cilantro and lemongrass are evocative of spring…, anyway, the “pot roast” idea has lost its charm by February! This sounds delicious, Aimee.

  28. I love one pot dishes – especially during the winter.
    Slow cookers are always good for one pot meals also – you can make them hours ahead and they come out wonderfully!

  29. Fried rice is a longstanding favorite of ours, not only for it’s tidy one-potness, but because it puts last night’s leftovers (rice) and pantry staples (chinese sausage, carrots, peas, edamame) to brilliant, delicious use.
    .-= molly’s last blog: short, sweet and spicy =-.

  30. I am from Malaysia and was quite surprise to see Nasi Goreng here. I have at least 1 one pot meal a week. My favourites are claypot chicken rice ( my version is with the rice cooker or in the micro wave rather than a claypot), stir fry pasta chinese/ Malaysian style and steam rice with mince pork/ lemon chicken on top.

  31. We love pizza casserole. Easy to make mainly/all vegetarian, uses leftover veggies out of the fridge and is easy! Oh, and it’s tasty too.

    Does anyone know the recipe for the one pot tuna? I’d love to try that, too.

  32. precious john says

    i find it very interesting that you all put up recipes from different cultures for people like me to learn and make different types of dishes from different cultures.
    thank you

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