Darina Allen, Irish chef, teacher, and cookbook author, cooks to nourish.
“Our food should be our medicine,” she said. “It’s so important, the food we feed ourselves and our family. It gives us energy, vitality; it helps us cope with anxiety; it helps us concentrate. So it needs to be a much higher priority, really.”
Too often, modern busyness gets in the way. But now, as people are spending more time at home and in the kitchen, Allen noted, many are slowing down and reevaluating their priorities—and cooking has emerged among the top, both for necessity and for comfort.
Allen has long been a champion of home cooking and traditional kitchen skills. She’s the founder of Ireland’s famed Ballymaloe Cookery School, located in the middle of a 100-acre organic farm in Shanagarry, County Cork, and has been writing cookbooks for 30 years; her latest, her 19th, is “One Pot Feeds All,” a collection of beginner-friendly one-dish recipes.
“The main thing is for people to realize that it’s not rocket science to be able to cook,” Allen said.
Here, she offers a few tips and recipes from her book.
Start With Wholesome Ingredients
When you’re shopping for ingredients, be mindful. “Look at each food that you’re choosing and think about, ‘Is this nourishing, really nutrient-dense, or not?’” Allen said.
She prescribes fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies, and nutritious building blocks such as onions and garlic (“very good antivirals”), olive oil and butter (“incredibly important to boost your immune system”), and organic eggs (“a complete food, pretty much”). For the pantry, she also recommends wholesome staples such as rice and oats, whole-grain flour, canned tomatoes, beans and lentils, and honey.
“Don’t forget the potatoes,” she added—they’re hardy, versatile, and “much more nutritious than pasta or rice.”
Get a Big Pot
“Buy yourself one great big pot,” Allen counseled, and for many dishes—from comforting bean stews to hearty skillet bakes—that’s all you’ll need to lean on.
For “One Pot Feeds All,” Allen also developed a number of one-pot pastas and rice dishes. For her coconut curry chicken and rice, for instance, she cooks the basmati rice, soaked and drained, directly in the pot of curry—one less pot to cook with means one less pot to clean. Get the timing and amount of liquid right, and you can try the same with other grains of your choice.
And you remembered those potatoes, right? Allen offers another easy one-pot hack: “If you’re making a stew, you could cover the whole top of it with potatoes, and then you’d have one full meal in one pot.”
Take Your Daily Bread
Unless a special diet forbids it, “you need some good bread every day,” Allen said. She pointed to Irish soda bread, which is leavened with baking soda and needs no kneading or resting, as an incredibly easy option: “You just stir and pop it into the oven.”
In “One Pot Feeds All,” Allen uses soda bread as a base for a versatile pan pizza. Toppings can be as simple or complicated as you like, but Allen’s go-to starts with tomato fondue, a “really brilliant thing” made from tomatoes, either fresh or canned, cooked down with onions and spices into a thick, concentrated sauce.
Batch Cook for Later
Make a big batch of that tomato fondue, and you’ll have the beginnings of many more dishes ready to go: a sauce to toss with vegetables or meat, a filling for an omelet, or a base for a bean stew or pasta sauce.
“Every time you cook something, make a great big batch of it,” Allen said. That could be a big pot of dry beans or lentils, to use in all manner of salads and soups and dips, or extra servings of a full-on dish, to stash in your freezer for later.
When you’re freezing meals for later, Allen suggests freezing them in small quantities—one or two portions—for easier defrosting. “If you freeze enough for eight people in one tub, it’s like trying to defrost an iceberg.”
RECIPE: Coconut Curry Chicken and Rice