Tips and tricks for using a slow cooker for vegetables. By Katy Holder.
Quite often people think of slow cookers as useful pieces of equipment for cooking tough cuts of meat. However, they are equally fantastic for vegetables, allowing you to cook them gently and slowly until they are wonderfully tender and juicy—or still firm, depending on the desired result.
The joy of prepping and forgetting
Due to the high water content of vegetables, it’s important not to cook them for hours and hours. So, rather than using the traditional “leave for eight hours while you go to work” approach, many vegetarian slow cooker recipes are cooked for just three or four hours. The beauty of this timeline is that you can do some preparation, throw everything in the slow cooker, do the washing up and then have a few free hours to read stories to your kids, help them with homework, go for a walk, run errands and so on. Best of all, after dinner, there is often only one pot to wash up!
One point to remember when using a slow cooker is that, unlike cooking in an oven or on the stovetop, liquid is unable to evaporate, so it’s important to add much less liquid than you normally would. Don’t worry if when you start your dish it looks dry. By the end of the cooking time, the vegetables will be cooked and (if intended) saucy.
Cooking for the family
Slow cookers are ideal for cooking healthy meals for your family because you start with predominantly fresh, whole foods and very few nutrients are lost in the cooking process. Slow cookers work differently than, say, boiling vegetables in a saucepan, as they retain all of the vegetables’ natural juices in the sauce, resulting in a richly flavoured, nutrient-dense dish. If you include beans and pulses, there is no need for additional protein.
When cooking pulses and beans, dried and tinned versions work equally well. Just ensure that if you are using dried pulses and beans, you soak and pre-cook as required beforehand.
You can also use a slow cooker to make desserts! When doing so, keep a close eye to ensure your recipe doesn’t overcook, as the slow cooker size can make a difference. Keep watch through the lid, resisting the temptation to keep lifting it up and letting the heat escape. When your dessert is finished, remove the lid quickly so the condensation doesn’t drip onto your delicious dish.
Slow cookers are often thought of as convenient for the cooler months. However, I like to use them in the warmer months, too, as they don’t heat up the house like a stovetop or oven. Warm salad recipes in particular are great for summer lunches or dinner parties. Get them cooking early on, then concentrate on other aspects of your meal. Leave the salads to cool and then enjoy your feast.
Slow cooker tips
- Most slow cookers are very simple to operate with low, high and auto settings (or 1, 2 and auto), but read the instruction manual for your particular slow cooker before starting to cook.
- Some slow cookers have an insert pan that can be used on a stovetop and then put back to continue cooking. If your slow cooker’s insert pan can be used on the stovetop, then do all the cooking in the pan; if not, use a frying pan. The majority of ceramic insert pans cannot be used on your stovetop and will crack. Refer to the instruction manual to see if yours is suitable.
- If you have put your slow cooker’s ceramic insert in the fridge for any reason before cooking, allow it to come to room temperature before starting to cook or it may crack once it starts heating up, due to the sudden change in temperature.
- Never cook dried kidney beans and other kidney-shaped beans from raw in a slow cooker because the temperature isn’t high enough to destroy the natural toxins found in these beans. Always soak them overnight and then boil for 10 minutes before adding. It’s fine to add drained and rinsed tinned beans straight into the cooker.
There isn’t much you can’t do in a slow cooker. So dig yours out from the back of your cupboard—or buy one next time you are shopping—and reclaim your precious time!
Recipe: Butter Miso Mushroom Risotto
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 300 g sushi rice, rinsed
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
- 2 spring onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts kept separate
- 4 tbsp white miso paste
- 50 g butter
- 400 g mixed Asian mushrooms,
- such as shiitake (stems discarded and caps sliced), shimeji and enoki
- 50 g baby spinach leaves
- toasted sesame seeds, to serve
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the rice, garlic and the white parts of the spring onions and stir for 1 minute until the rice grains are well coated. Transfer to the slow cooker.
- Whisk the miso paste with 750 ml of boiling water until dissolved, then pour into the slow cooker. Cook on high for 1¼ hours, stirring halfway through.
- Melt 20 g of the butter in the frying pan over medium–high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes until slightly softened. Tip the mushrooms into the slow cooker, along with 185 ml of boiling water. Stir well, then cook for 15 minutes.
- Stir in the remaining butter and the spinach leaves, plus another 185 ml of boiling water if needed, and cook for 10–15 minutes until the spinach wilts and the rice is al dente. Check the seasoning.
- Scatter with the green parts of the spring onions and the toasted sesame seeds to serve.
Images and recipes from Slow Cooker Vegetarian by Katy Holder, Murdoch Books, RRP $29.99. Photography by Alan Benson.
Katy Holder has been the food director of Family Circle magazine, has written food pages for marie claire magazine for several years and is a working mum of two hungry boys.