Did you know Crock-Pot was one of those trademarked, made up words that came to replace the actual words that define it? Like Kleenex or Band-Aid. I used to put the slow cooker in the same category as the microwave as far as kitchen appliances were concerned. The “only use it in case of emergencies” category.
Then I started college. Long hours spent in the computer lab and library are made a little easier knowing a warm and healthy dinner is waiting at home.
Even though slow cooker cooking (say that 10 times fast!) is super convenient and can be a way to make meals a little healthier, it has it’s own rules.
- For one, if you’re adapting a stove-top recipe for the slow cooker you want to use less liquid than the recipe calls for. Liquid can’t escape the slow cooker as well as it does a pot on the stove, and so the steam becomes condensation which drips back down into the food. Plus you are using raw foods, which are inherently high in water. Part of the cooking process is for that water to be released, contributing to the overall liquid in the recipe. My general rule of thumb is to cut the liquid in the recipe in half. It’s easy to add liquid than it is to take it away!
- Some recipes call for adding spices towards the end, usually because the high temperatures of stove-top cooking can burn spices if you’re not careful. In slow cooker cooking you want to add the spices at the very beginning. This helps extract their full flavor.
- Since you’re not really sauteing in a slow cooker, unless you have a super new fancy Breville version, you don’t need to add oil. Oils are really fats, and do more than prevent the other food from sticking to the pan. Fats help create a rich, melt-in-your-mouth flavor that we all find really delicious and irresistible, despite how unhealthy they can be. This is a great opportunity for you to make a healthier version of something you’d make on the stove top because you can skip the oil all together. If you think that you’d miss the flavor that fats bring, I would recommend using coconut milk, especially the solid fat you can scoop out when you chill the can. Unlike oils, which will separate from the broth and make the dish look really shiny, the coconut milk will blend in and make the dish really rich and creamy. Or you can wait until you serve up a bowl and top it with some vegan cheese, cream cheese or sour cream, depending on the recipe.
- My last big tip for slow cooker cooking is to take it slow! Don’t rush the slow cooker. Using it properly takes a little planning, but it’s as simple as 10 extra minutes in the morning so you’ll be all set for dinner after work.
- America’s Test Kitchen has a lot of great slow cooker recipes, inspiration and tips. They even have a slow cooker cheesecake recipe on the site!!! I recommend checking it out if you are new to slow cooking or you’re just bored with your current arsenal of slow cooker recipes.
Although my favorite slow cooker recipe to make is chili, lentil stew is in my top 5. 10 (ish) ingredients and under 300 calories per serving, this one is hard to beat!
Slow Cooker Lentil Stew
This lentil stew is naturally gluten-free. A delicious way to sneak in some extra nutrition for the kiddos, it’s high in protein and fiber and low in fat!
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 white potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, I like the fire-roasted ones for added flavor
- 1 cup green lentils
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup spinach
- Add all of the ingredients, except the spinach, to the slow cooker. Stir to combine and turn the slow cooker on. The traditional settings of high/low really only determine how quickly the the slow cooker initially gets hot. Once it hits that magic temperature the high/low setting is arbitrary. Newer slow cookers, like the Breville linked above, have difference heat settings, so be sure you check the manufacturer’s manual for your machine.
- Let the stew cook for at least 4 hours. Try to check it now and then and stir it. If it looks really thick you can add some more vegetable broth.
- About 15-20 minutes before you’re going to eat, add the spinach and stir it in. It will only take a few minutes for it to wilt up. Turn off the slow cooker.
- Serve with crackers or a nice crusty bread.