Monday, September 17, 2012
Why Use a Slow Cooker?
I am so excited to host a guest post by one of my favorite vegan cookbook authors: Robin Robertson. She is about to release a new cookbook called Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker (The Harvard Common Press, 2012). I haven't gotten to see this one yet but from reading her post, I certainly can't wait to get it . . . and you can be sure I'll post a review when I do. So without further ado . . . here's Robin!
Why Use a Slow Cooker?
by Robin Robertson
Most slow-cooker enthusiasts would agree that convenience, economy, and great taste are what keep them coming back to their slow cookers time and again. When you cook in a slow cooker, the longer cooking times allow the flavors of the ingredients to meld into a deep complexity that is often unparalleled in other cooking methods. Slow cooking can be more nutritious, too, since the long cooking time allows the nutrients to concentrate in the food as it draws more flavor out of the ingredients. When you factor in the convenience quotient, you’ve got a kitchen helper worthy of the name.
What could be easier than assembling your ingredients, putting them in the slow cooker, and turning it on? That’s it! Several hours later, dinner is served. For added convenience, your meal can be served directly from the ceramic pot in which it was cooked. In addition, the removable ceramic insert can be refrigerated, so you can prepare your ingredients the night before and refrigerate them overnight right in the insert so it’s all ready to cook the next day. Slow cooking can be a terrific solution for busy people who want to eat healthy delicious meals.
In addition to cooking soups and stews, a slow cooker can be used to do such diverse things as cook corn on the cob, braise tofu, and make seitan from scratch. Its versatility extends to casserole-type dishes such as lasagna or mac and cheese, and even “bake” breads and desserts—dishes usually associated with the oven. It’s also ideal for making jams, chutneys, and other condiments.
Perhaps one of the most popular dishes to make in a slow cooker is chili. One of my favorite chili recipes in Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker is this Two-Lentil Chili. Using two kinds of lentils give this chili a great texture — the red lentils cook down and thicken while the brown lentils hold their shape. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Recipe: Two-Lentil Chili
Serves 4 to 6
Slow Cooker Size: 4- to 6-quart
Cook Time: 6 to 8 hours on Low
· 2 teaspoons olive oil (optional)
· 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
· 4 garlic cloves, minced
· 1 or 2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
· 1 bell pepper (any color), seeded and chopped
· 3 tablespoons chili powder
· 1 teaspoon dried oregano
· 1 teaspoon ground cumin
· 1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
· 1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed and picked over
· 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
· 1 tablespoon soy sauce
· 1 teaspoon natural sugar
· 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
· Salt and freshly ground black pepper
· 4 cups water
· Diced avocado, minced onion, vegan sour cream, shredded vegan cheese, and/or chopped cilantro, for garnish
1. For the best flavor, heat the oil in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, chiles, and bell pepper and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the chili powder, oregano, and cumin and sauté for 30 seconds longer. Alternatively, omit the oil and sauté these ingredients in a few tablespoons of water or combine them in a microwave-safe bowl with a little water, cover, and microwave for 2 minutes.
2. Transfer the onion mixture to the slow cooker. Add both lentils, the tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, cocoa, and salt and pepper to taste. (You may need to add up to 2 teaspoons of salt.) Stir in the water, cover, and cook on Low until the lentils and vegetables are tender, 6 to 8 hours.
3. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed. Serve hot, garnished with your favorite chili toppings.
Recipe © 2012 by Robin Robertson and used by permission of The Harvard Common Press.