I admit that I didn’t give my Crock-Pot® much thought until a few years ago when I noticed a resurgent interest in the new and improved slow cookers. I had come to associate slow cookers with tough cuts of meat and, as a vegan, had dismissed the appliance as something I could live without.
Then, one day, a friend told me about all the fabulous vegan dishes she was making in her new slow cooker. She went on about the intoxicating fragrances that welcomed her each night as she came home from work. Savory soups, stews, and bean dishes that she otherwise would not have the time to make — not even with a pressure cooker. Her persuasive enthusiasm convinced me to give it a try. The next day, I bought myself a sleek black and stainless steel slow cooker. It sure looked better than my harvest gold model of the past. But I soon discovered that the new style of cooker was more than a pretty face. The thing could cook, too.
From the first pot of soup I made in the new cooker, I was hooked. The reason transcends the mere convenience. I was compelled by something more basic and primal — it hearkens back to the old iron pot on the hearth of our ancestors. Without fail, whenever I start a slow-cooked meal, a warm “back to my roots” feeling washes over me. While the slow cooker was once synonymous with cooking pot roasts and other meat dishes, just as my friend discovered, the vegetarian cook will find a vast number of ways to use it. Beyond the usual soups, stews, chilis, and bean dishes, you can make braised vegetables, risottos, porridges, casseroles, chutneys, relishes, breads, and even desserts.
What I like best about slow cooker vegetarian recipes is that the long, slow-cooking process enriches the flavor of the dish in a way that other cooking methods can’t match. The deep complex flavors of stews and chilis, prepared on the stovetop, for example, pale in comparison to the slow-cooked version. The true appeal of using a slow cooker is in its simplicity. Just plug it in and turn it on, and this self-contained small appliance cooks your entire dinner while you do other things. When you return several hours later, your kitchen is filled with the welcoming fragrance of a home-cooked meal. It’s almost as if you have a personal chef that cooked all day while you were at work or out shopping.
In addition to convenience, slow cooking also scores high marks for taste and nutrition since the long cooking time allows both flavors and nutrients to concentrate in the food. The gentle slow-cooking process actually draws more flavor out of the ingredients. The interesting paradox of a slow cooker is that while the food takes longer to cook, the cook has more free time. It is such a liberating feeling to put dinner on in the morning and knowing it will be ready when you are. No more rushing home to get dinner started.
Best of all, using a slow cooker can actually help you to eat more well-balanced and economical meals on those nights when you’re running late or are too tired to cook— those times when we tend to opt for take-out, junk food, or some other convenience food. Most slow cooker enthusiasts agree that convenience, economy, and great taste are what keep them using a slow cooker time and again. As more people juggle trying to eat healthier with their busy lifestyles, they may find that vegetarian slow cooking provides an answer.
Some Things to Know
- Many vegetarian recipes cook faster than those made with meat. If you’re going to be gone all day, you can use a kitchen appliance timer to start your cooker up to two hours after you leave the house.
- Some slow-cookers cook “hotter” than others. You may need to experiment with cooking times to determine if your cooker cooks “hotter” and therefore, faster than the times given in recipes. You will soon be able to gauge how long recipes will take in your cooker.
- While some recipes may consist of dumping a bunch of ingredients in a slow cooker, turning it on, and walking away, many recipes benefit by an extra step of sauteing chopped onions and other hard vegetables in a little oil before adding to the slow cooker. Taking this extra step will be repaid by a vastly improved flavor and texture of your finished dish.
Here are a trio of recipes from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker:*
- Slow-Cooker Bell Peppers Stuffed with Salsa Rice and Beans
- Slow-Cooker Pear and Dried Fruit Chutney
- Slow-Cooker White Bean and Sweet Potato Stew with Collard Greens
And look for other slow-cooker recipes in the Slow-Cooker Recipes category on VegKitchen.
Robin Robertson has worked with food as a restaurant chef, caterer, cooking teacher, and food writer. She is the author of numerous cookbooks including Freshfrom the Vegetarian Slow Cooker,* Visit her on the web at Global Vegan Kitchen.
- Explore VegKitchen’s other Green Kitchen articles, as well as the wealth of kitchen tips in the entire Healthy Vegan Kitchen area.
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