Family-style dining is a universal trend in food. There are cultures whose every meal is shared, served in a communal pot with some sort of bread or grain as an accompaniment. With origins in leaner times, one-pot meals exist the world over, bringing families together in good times and in bad.
Grab a bowl as I dish out my favorite one-pot meals for you to stew over.
Like Cajun culture, gumbo is really a mix of French, Spanish, Creole and West African influences, all boiled down to a thick, rich stew of seafood, meat and veggies.
A good bowl of seafood gumbo is enough to cure most of what ails you, unless what ails you is something terminal, in which case, enjoy your gumbo and consult your medical practitioner immediately.
Classic Provençal French? Check.
Butt-load of seafood? Check.
That's about all I need. Bouillabaisse is a fish stew that highlights the unique Provençal style of cooking. Almost without fail, you can ask yourself a simple question and know if a particular food is good: Is it French? Yes? Then it's probably pretty good.
British author Norman Douglas probably put it best: "Bouillabaisse is only good because cooked by the French, who, if they cared to try, could produce an excellent and nutritious substitute out of cigar stumps and empty matchboxes."
3- Jjigae- Korean Stew
There are many different types of jjigae made with many different ingredients, but the end result is the same -- throw a bunch of stuff into a pot for a while, simmer then enjoy. Dubu Jjigae, made with firm tofu, kimchi and usually green onions, is probably my favorite.
Budae Jjigae is a unique style that evolved around the Korean War (think: wartime and slim pickings). The local ingredients -- lots of kimchi -- were often supplemented by surplus Army provisions, like Spam and hot dogs. You can still find it, but I prefer to stick with the more traditional dishes like dubu or kimchi jjigaes.
If you are Texas-born and -raised, your blood should be about 8 to13.5 percent chili.
Chili is one of my favorite things in the world to eat, and one of the few things you can bring to a potluck dinner if you want to get your casserole dish back that night. Bring chili, and it will get eaten.
But don't forget the Fritos and shredded cheddar. Don't you do that.
1- My Mom's Stew
My mom is a pretty decent cook, but her stew was pretty much runny, brown water with bits of stringy beef and huge chunks of under-cooked carrot and potato pieces.
I don't care.
It's still my favorite stew because, when I think about eating it, I think about my whole family, now scattered to the ends of the Earth and beyond, sitting around a table and eating it together. I'm sure most of us have a similar dish in memory's reach.
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Truly, this is why the stew is so pervasive in all cultures. The next time a certain group of people seems exceptionally different to you, imagine them huddled around a big bowl, shoving food into their faces just like you and your family do.
We really are all the same.