Feed your slow cooker with plenty of seasonal vegetables, pulses, stock, herbs and spices. A ‘no hurry’ and mindful way to cook in busy times… and you’ll be continuously rewarded with some satisfying, sweet and savoury concoctions.
As I recently discovered, slow cooking inspired me to get creative in the kitchen and left me with some delicious leftovers to freeze or reheat the next day. I served up hearty, nutritious and comforting food on a budget, without much preparation, and just a few simple raw and dry ingredients.
Slow cooking is an ingenious way of savouring the flavours of winter ingredients, making clever use of the herbs, spices, the dried beans or pulses that are sitting in your store cupboard… the possibilities are endless.
Root vegetables, lentils, beans and pulses are magically and slowly transformed into nourishing and unctuous dinnertime soups, stews or casseroles. Make breakfast more indulgent. Apples, pears or dried apricots or prunes cook down a treat. They turn into amazingly fruity concoctions.
There is so much to love about slow cooking:
- It requires very little preparation time and no expert culinary skills,
- Makes great use of seasonal produce and cheap cuts of meat,
- Provides a healthy and relatively low-calorie meal,
- Is ideal for batch cooking or stocking up the freezer,
- Helps reduce food waste.
Cover and cook
The concept is straightforward: collect your ingredients, add your herbs or spices and cover with stock or water. Then, simply turn it on and let the slow cooker work its magic.
Slow cooking uses low heat for a long amount of time. Prepare your meal the night before to simmer overnight or let it cook away during the day. There is little chance of burning or overcooking.
As a guide, depending on the size of your slow cooker and types of ingredients, the average cooking time is 3 to 6 hours on the high setting and 6 to 12 hours on low. Follow a few rules to keep your ‘hot pot’ happy:
- Don’t overfill, use enough water or stock to cover the ingredients
- Liquid doesn’t tend to evaporate. To thicken sauces or soups, form a paste by mixing one to two teaspoons of corn flour with water
- Use the low setting to best bring out the flavours
- Leave the lid on throughout to maximise cooking time
- Pasta, rice, fresh herbs canned food need to be added towards the end.
Warm and rich flavours
Your slow cooker will thrive on being fed with a basis of simple dried ingredients such as lentils and pulses. By adding vegetable stock, a can of tomatoes, root vegetables, some robust herbs and warm spices, you can gently concoct some beautifully flavoursome soups, wonderfully rich stews and casseroles.
Aubergine, pepper and chickpea tajine
Make use of your slow cooker to cook a tajine-style dish. Inspired by the warm spices of Morocco, the soft aubergine, peppers and dried fruit melt into an aromatic stock that is lovely poured over steamed couscous to soak up the amazing favours. Cooking time: 6-8 hours, low setting.
- One aubergine cut into large chunks
- One red and one yellow pepper roughly chopped
- A large red onion sliced
- A handful of currants and or dried apricots
- 1 tsp of ground cumin
- 1 tsp of ground coriander
- ½ tsp of smoked paprika
- A small dried chilli, a cinnamon stick and a bay leaf
- Vegetable stock (enough to cover the vegetables)
- Can of chickpeas (add towards the end of cooking)
Red lentil dal
This gentle spice mix added to slow cooked lentils can be served with basmati rice to make a healthy and filling one-pot supper. Cooking time: 4-5 hours, low setting.
- Cup of dried red lentils
- One onion sliced
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- Star anise, a cinnamon stick and bay leaf
- Vegetable stock (plenty to cover the lentils)
Cinnamon-scented, stewed apples
A sweet treat added to yogurt in your breakfast bowl, or sprinkle with a quality store-bought granola and serve as a ‘deconstructed’ crumble, with a cheeky side scoop of vanilla ice cream. Cooking time: 4-5 hours, low setting.
- Five apples peeled and roughly chopped
- Cinnamon stick, small star anise
- Handful of currants
- 2 tsp of honey
- 2 tbsp of water