The ancient method of feeding many mouths with one pot is as old as cooking itself.
"That's the way most people ate way back when," said Paula Wolfert of Sonoma, author of "The Food of Morocco" and an expert on Mediterranean cooking. "Everything was one-pot cooking in the beginning, and they were lucky if they had one fire going."
Thrifty and efficient in terms of fuel and utensils, one-pot cooking has roots in almost every culture, from Spain's piquant Chicken Marbella to Japan's brothy Nebemono stews.
These time-saving dishes are especially popular during the winter months, when a cut of tough meat, a little stock and a few root vegetables can magically transform into a hearty, rib-sticking feast. Whether braised in a Dutch oven, sauteed in a skillet or steamed gently in a clay pot, the humble stews and ragus of winter provide a welcome return to simplicity after all the rich foods and treats of the holidays.
At the Worlds of Flavor conference in November, chefs from around the world demonstrated a wide range of one-pot dishes during the international symposium held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.
As part of its "Arc of Flavors" theme, the conference explored the culinary connections along the great spice and silk trade routes, from the Mediterranean through the Middle East into Asia.
Anissa Helou, a native of Lebanon, and Yotam Ottolenghi, a native of Israel, both offered some interesting, one-pot dishes boasting unusual flavor combination.
Helou, a cookbook author who owns a cooking school in London, shared a recipe for a traditional dish ideal for the winter kitchen: Citrusy Stew of Lamb, Carrots and Peas. The seasoning includes warm spices like ground cinnamon and allspice, along with the peels of oranges and lemons.
"Most stews are tomato-y, but this one has a citrusy flavor," Helou said. "The vegetables and the zest are dominant, and the spices lighten it up."
Ottolenghi, who is a cookbook author and co-owner of five popular restaurants in London, recently published an intriguing cookbook, "Jerusalem," with Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi.
Both men were born the same year in Jerusalem, one on the Arab east side and the other on the Jewish west side. Between its delicious food and its symbolic story, the cookbook is expected to rake in awards.
"Ottolenghi is the man of the moment," Wolfert said. "Everything in that book is fabulous. It's original and magnificent."
At the conference, Ottolenghi shared a simple one-pot dish that represents Jerusalem fusion food at its best: Braised eggs with lamb, tahini and sumac.
"The flavors are intense and the contrasting colors and textures are also pretty dramatic," he said. "You should really serve it on its own, with minimal distractions and just a piece of bread."
Using a cast-iron skillet, he sauteed the aromatics — onions, garlic and chili — then browned some ground lamb and threw in the spices, pine nuts, harissa paste and preserved onions.
To finish the dish, he added chicken stock and dug four small wells in the lamb mixture to cook the eggs. The dish was garnished with a dollop of yogurt sauce and cilantro.
Roasted Chicken with Jerusalem Artichoke and Lemon, another one-pot wonder, demonstrates how simple this ancient form of cooking can be.