Slow Cooker Magic to Take You Through the Chilly Season

illustration by: jade purple brown

Summertime at my house always centers around my grill, but when fall and winter hit, we shift over almost completely to the slow cooker. Oh sure, there’s the occasional roast leg of lamb with crispy potatoes or sautéed scallops, but when the temperature drops and my family and I want the most deep-flavored, low-maintenance comfort foods, only one thing can cure that craving: dishes cooked for hours in our beloved slow cooker.

Now, just to be ultra-clear, I’m not talking about those old mushy fricassees or dull casseroles out of the dark ages of 1975. Those certainly had their heyday back when the device first came onto the market. (Its prototype was first patented in the 1940s, and the Crock-Pot brand was popularized in the early ’70s. By the time the ‘80s came along, the home cooking world had moved on, and those old, khaki-hued, ceramic versions fell out of favor.) But then along came 2010, and the device was back and looking sharper and more high tech than ever in new gleaming stainless steel, streamlined shapes, with snazzy bells and whistles, and spot-on timers.

And along with it also came a bevy of lighter, more clean-flavored, and modernized dishes to make in it—things like Mediterranean fish stews, root vegetable confits, turkey chili, Vietnamese pho recipes, and split pea soups.

Starting in October and on through until late spring, many weeknights just before bedtime will find me chopping up my ingredients for, say, a hearty but healthy Tuscan white bean soup. In the morning just before leaving for work, I set them all in the slow cooker, turn it on and set the timer, and when I walk in the door at the end of the day, dinner’s simmering and ready to get on the table.

Here are three super simple slow cooker recipes that have been tried, tested, and tweaked over several falls and winters in my kitchen, and never fail to get raves all around.

Lamb tagine

This fragrant Middle Eastern classic is about as soul-warming as it gets—it’s equal parts sweet and savory, and is absolutely addictive when served over couscous flecked with fresh, chopped mint. Serves 6 people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 lbs. trimmed boned lamb shoulder, cut into to 2-inch chunks
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 2 large plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 cups chicken broth (low-fat or low-salt if desired)
  • 1 15 1/2-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tbsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon peel
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

To make:

  1. Mix all of the first 7 ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the lamb chunks in and toss to coat.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat. Working in batches, add lamb chunks to the pan and cook until browned on all sides, turning occasionally and adding a tablespoon more of oil to the saucepan between batches. Once all of it is browned, set the lamb aside in a bowl.
  3. Add onion and tomato paste to the saucepan. Reduce heat to medium. Add the broth, chickpeas, apricots, tomatoes, ginger, and lemon peel, stirring and scraping up browned bits. Transfer this mixture to the slow cooker. Add lamb to the cooker and stir. Cover and cook until the lamb and vegetables are tender, on low heat for 8 hours or on high for 5 hours.
  4. Ten minutes before serving, cook the couscous according to the package directions. Transfer lamb and sauce to bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Shredded honey sriracha chicken

This is a spicy and flavorful—though not overwhelming—dish. An easy weeknight dish, it’s terrific with just some jasmine rice or a simple side salad. Serves 6 people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup sriracha
  • 2 tbsp. garlic, minced

To make:

  1. To make the sauce, whisk together the sriracha, tamari or soy sauce, garlic, and honey in a bowl.
  2. Place the chicken breasts in the slow cooker first, and pour sauce on top.
  3. Set slow cooker to high heat and cook for two to three hours (alternatively, set it to low heat and cook for six to seven hours).
  4. Once your chicken has cooked long enough to be easily shreddable (this should be about two hours if set on high, or six hours if set on low), remove it from the slow cooker and use two forks to shred it.
  5. Add shredded chicken back into sauce and stir. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

White Bean Soup

Here’s a vegetarian showstopper, brimming with the delicate, nutty taste of white beans, butternut squash, leeks, and spinach. Its earthiness and wholesomeness is the perfect antidote to any blustery, chilly day. Serves 6 people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. dried Great Northern beans, rinsed
  • 4 leeks, white and light-green parts only, halved lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, and well rinsed
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. red-pepper flakes, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle as garnish
  • 3 sprigs fresh sage
  • 1 tsp. fresh chopped oregano
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium-sized bunch of fresh spinach, trimmed and washed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese

To make:

  1. Place beans in a bowl; cover with 2 inches of water. Refrigerate, covered, overnight; drain and rinse. Cover with water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat; drain and rinse.
  2. Place the leeks, garlic, beans, oil, pepper flakes, butternut squash, and sage in the slow cooker. Add water. Cover and cook on low for at least 6 hours.
  3. Remove the sage; stir in all of the spinach and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and then topped with a large pinch of the shredded Parmesan cheese and pepper flakes.


About the Authorscreen-shot-2017-08-03-at-3-49-53-am

Alexandra Hall is a lifestyle journalist covering food, fitness, beauty, and parenting. A Boston native and alum of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she now lives in Portland, Maine with her blended family of six--all of whom like to eat different things for dinner.