It seems like a modern trend, but one-pot cooking has been happening for thousands of years

Yasmin Fahr

THE WASHINGTON POST – The idea of one-pot cooking is irresistible: We’re all drawn to the prospect of a speedy, less-messy meal during the busy work week.

Despite its new wave of popularity and perhaps gimmicky appeal, though, it is no fad. Cooking in one vessel might seem tailor-made for today, but these dishes have been made for thousands of years in different cuisines and cultures throughout the world.

Today, “one pot” is an umbrella term for dishes made in a single skillet, sheet pan or roasting pan.

For our ancestors, the technique was a favourite because it met essential survival needs. “It saved time, water and firewood, three of the most important elements in the food preparation in the past,” said Michael Twitty, food historian and author of The Cooking Gene.

In Medieval Europe, a large cast-iron pot was always on the back of the hearth, the source of warmth for a room, according to Amy Bentley, New York University professor and food historian.

Za’atar salmon with charred broccoli. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Cooks constantly added vegetables, grains, maybe meat (though the latter was expensive) to the pot, and served it in bowls. This allowed them to stretch food for many meals while staying free for other activities.

Porridge, also a one-pot meal, is found in many forms, such as oatmeal, congee in China, and, according to food historian Julia Skinner, uji in Kenya and ogi in Nigeria, both of which have existed since grains became part of the diet in those areas.

Other cooking vessels, such as the Japanese clay donabe, were found in primitive form more than 10,000 years ago, according to Naoko Takei Moore, founder of Toiro cookware.

The current style of donabe has been used for hundreds of years, Moore said, to make hot pot, soups, stews and rice, all of which are served directly from the pot.

For cooks who always seem to feel short on time, cooking in one pot helps meet the need of getting an interesting meal on the table quickly without ending up with a sink full of dishes.

But it can also be immensely satisfying to stir a big pot and inhale the mingling scents of spices, fat and vegetables as you watch it slowly take shape, moving from various pieces and colours into something unified. Even a sheet-pan supper like my Za’atar Salmon With Charred Broccolini warms a household, drawing people together and fostering memories.

ZA’ATAR SALMON WITH CHARRED BROCCOLINI

A quick marinade of yogurt, lemon and cumin creates a seal around the salmon fillets, keeping them moist while cooking. Food writer Yasmin Fahr likes to slather the salmon in the yogurt slurry first, so it can marinate while she cuts the broccolini and lemon. Don’t skip eating the softened lemon rinds for a bright burst of flavour. This salmon makes great leftovers in a salad, mixed with grains or hearty greens.

Make Ahead: The salmon and broccolini can be refrigerated for up to three days.

Ingredients

Half cup thick-style plain yogurt

Two lemons (One juiced/about two tablespoons; one sliced)

One teaspoon ground cumin, divided

Kosher salt

Four salmon fillets, skin removed

Freshly ground black pepper

One bunch broccolini, ends trimmed and thick pieces cut lengthwise

Three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Quarter teaspoon crushed red pepper

One tablespoon za’atar

Half cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley, leaves and fine stems, for garnish (optional)

Steps

Position one rack in the middle of the oven and another six inches under the broiler heat source, and preheat to 400 degrees.

In a shallow medium bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, half teaspoon cumin and season to taste with salt. Liberally season the salmon with salt and pepper, then add it to the bowl and coat the fish with the yogurt mixture.

On a large, rimmed baking sheet, toss the broccolini and lemon slices with the olive oil, remaining half teaspoon cumin, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper until all the broccolini pieces have a light sheen to them. Push the vegetables to the side so the salmon has direct contact with the pan. Place the salmon in the centre.

Roast for about 10 minutes, until the broccolini and lemon are lightly browned at the edges.

Using tongs, flip the broccolini. Sprinkle the za’atar over the salmon, then return to the oven (rotating the baking sheet front to back) and roast for an additional six minutes, until the salmon is opaque.

Turn on the broiler and roast for two minutes more for medium-rare. Transfer the baking sheet to a counter and let the salmon rest for two minutes.

Divide the salmon, broccolini and lemon rounds on plates. Garnish with parsley, if using, and serve.

Nutrition

Calories per serving: 150; Total Fat: 12g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 4mg; Sodium: 110mg; Total Carbohydrates: 8g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugar: 3g; Protein: 3g.