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Slow cook me some healthy complete meals
October 2, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Bought a slow cooker and I love it so far, but dear god is it hard to find slow cooker recipes that are 1) healthy (no cans of cream of ____ soup) 2) taste good 3) include vegetables. Help.

I go to the gym after work so if I were to cook supper it wouldn't be served until 7pm-ish, which is too late for our 5 year old. I didn't like that my schedule basically forced my partner in to doing the majority of the cooking, so two weeks ago I purchased a slow cooker mostly to try to take up some of that responsibility. He's been really glad for it and has really liked the couple of meals I have made in it so far, but I'm finding it hard finding meals that suit our tastes and needs. And again because of my schedule, he has defauled in to the "veggie side" preparer, which sort of undermines my desire to let him off the hook for cooking.

I bought Slow Cooker Revolution and intend to start trying out some of those recipes. I found the blog of the woman who used her crock pot every day for year and that had a few workable recipes. I also have checked out the slow cooker section on Allrecipes.com, but it seems like the vast VAST majority either involve cans of cream soup, a ton of fat, a whack of cheese, or a jesus load of carbs. And vegetables are noticibly scant.

Basically I'm trying to find more recipes that
a) I can turn on in the morning and have it cook all day while I'm at work. I have one that has a timer, and after the set amount of time it automatically switches to "warm" so that helps, but in general I'm looking for things that take 6 hours or more to cook.
b) are relatively healthy
c) are relatively tasty
d) don't include cream of _______ soup or garbagy stuff like that. (I'm fine with adding cheese or what have you at the end, but cooking something in cream of mushroom soup all day sicks me out)
e) are a complete meal so that I don't have to prepare something else to go on the side.
f) filling
g) (optional) kid friendly


I know that slow cookers lend themselves to meats and that is where they shine. The whole chicken I cooked in the slow cooker was incredible. However, I wish I didn't have to prepare vegetables when I got home to go with it. And something about having carrots or what have you cook all day in the fat that comes out of the chicken seems really unappetizing.


So what kinds of recipes involving veg am I overlooking? Should I just suck it up and prepare veg to go on the side? Is there some magical way to keep veg from overcooking in a slow cooker?


bonus side question: I also have a little dipper but am having trouble figuing out what the hell I should use it for.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 173 users marked this as a favorite
 
Healthy Slow Cooking. She's vegan, but her recipes are great. I use her Vegan Slow Cooker cookbook at least once a week.
posted by something something at 10:21 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hear you - crockpots don't seem to be great for vegetables. How about trying this trick for cooking vegetables in the crockpot, but separately from the meat?
posted by saturngirl at 10:22 AM on October 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker looks excellent, and gets good reviews. I actually just stumbled upon it yesterday and was going to pick it up!
posted by effigy at 10:23 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend and I have sworn by The French Slow Cooker. There is nothing explicitly kid-friendly in the cookbook, though.
posted by emelenjr at 10:24 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Slow Cooker Revolution (which I see you own) has at least one recipe where the veggies are cooked in a packet on top of the roast.

I'd also look into chili, or other bean-based recipes. I have what I consider to be an obsessively perfect one, but I don't want to self link.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:25 AM on October 2, 2012


Chicken, bean, corn recipe. I made this last night! Very tasty!
posted by JacksonandFinch at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2012


I have an amazingly good recipe for tortilla soup, memail me if you are interested.
posted by Cosine at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2012


Now buy a rice cooker with a timer and you'll be in business!

Beef Bourguignon

Chicken Cacciatori

My brisket (although there are some packed things in it, you can substitute organic stuff)

One Brisket
1 small jar of marinara sauce
1 packet of onion soup mix
1 bag baby carrots-raw

Put in slow cooker. Cook all day. Serve over noodles or rice.

Chili

Stew meat
salt
Pepper
chili powder (I like Badia brand best. They're like curry powders, very specific to the spice maker)
beef broth

Put ingredients in the pot. Cook all day. Serve with tortillas.

Chili II

Stew meat
Salt
pepper
Chili Powder
Chili Beans, pinto beans, black beans, etc
Can of Rotel

Look up your favorite recipes and alter them for the cooker.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:28 AM on October 2, 2012


Many kinds of Indian food are perfect for slow cookers...if you aren't in a big city, get your spices and hard-to-find ingredients on Amazon and have some fun with it!
posted by doreur at 10:30 AM on October 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


This turkey chili is a Weight Watchers recipe but it went over very well in my house. Suuuuper easy.

Have you seen A Year of Slow Cooking? A lot of her recipes are healthy. Sorry for another chili, but this was also easy and delicious! I have not tried the layered method for a whole meal but I think this would fit your criteria for veggies.
posted by radioamy at 10:40 AM on October 2, 2012


Ok, lots of requests for the recipe, here:

This is for the smaller, round slow-cooker type, if you have the larger oval style I'm sure it will still work fine, you could just make more!

Cosine's Tortilla Soup

Place 6 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs in the bottom.
Add two large cans diced tomatoes.
2-4 cloves garlic
1 onion
tsp Cumin
tsp Ancho chili powder
tsp Coriander
1-2 little cans of green chiles
1 cup chicken stock
Black pepper

Cook on low 8-24 hours.

If you have an immersion blender:
Remove chicken thighs (carefully, they will be falling apart).
Blend smooth.
At this point, if I have time, I pass the blended soup through a mesh, only if we are having guests tho!
The blending is certainly optional but i think it really is worth the bother.

Shred the chicken meat and remove bones, place shred chicken back in slow-cooker.
Add 1 cup frozen corn.
Let cook on high another hour, the soup will be back to hot and the corn will be done.

Place avocado, tortilla chips, crema, squirt of lime in a bowl, fill with soup, enjoy!

I have left the finished product cook on low for up to 50-60 hours, it just gets thicker and better, sometimes I leave the chicken bones in to add even more flavour as it keeps cooking.

I served this to my poker group after it had been cooking nearly three days and the response was really great.
posted by Cosine at 10:50 AM on October 2, 2012 [22 favorites]


From a previous question, my crockpot cassoulet recipe. There are some other recipes in that thread that meet your criteria.

Long-cooking stews and chilis are great for the crockpot, even if it's not an official "crockpot" recipe.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:10 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stuffed Peppers. You can sub in half of the ground beef with either ground pork (to be decadent) or turkey (for a lower-fat version.) Some recipes I've seen throw corn into the filling as well.
posted by kagredon at 11:19 AM on October 2, 2012


Single dude here who uses his slowcooker religiously. I also hate the cream of whatever casseroles.... makes for a truly nauseating experience if you don't clean the pot out immediately that night.

Slow cooker pro-tips:

When cooking meat + veggies together, use balls of aluminum foil in the bottom to allow fat from meats to drip and pool under foods if you want that. Sometimes I don't want my potatoes to be saturated in beef fat.

I found that if you mix all your spices separate, and add them all and mix them in for just the last 1 hour of cooking, then you can use normal spice amounts. Slow cookers dissolve spices so if you spice at the beginning you have to nearly double your spices. Tastes way better / easier on the stomach to add less spices later on in the process.

I've heard you're not supposed to fill your slowcooker more than 3/4 full. I fill mine up to the brim, right up to the lid, which sometimes becomes a boiling mess but I like maximizing my effort and freezing my leftovers. My point is that thats a myth.

So anyway, some of my favorite slow cooker recipes:

Beef and rice stuffed green peppers
Meatloaf over potatoes, carrots, and celery
Chicken tortilla soup
Italian sausage (this is the easiest, literally throw pasta sauce and raw sausage and let it cook all day. Make pasta when you get home and serve)
Chorizo and bean soup
Shredded pork shoulder

The tortilla soup was the tastiest.
posted by el_yucateco at 11:31 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I made both of these recently and I'd do them both over, they were tasty:

Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Taco Chicken Bowls
posted by agress at 11:58 AM on October 2, 2012


Classic beef stew works great.

Use cubed beef (lean if you want less fat). It sometimes helps to coat the beef in flour first. Add in large-cut veggies to suit your taste - I usually use carrots, potatoes, celery, onions, and sometimes other root vegetables if they are in season. Green and red peppers can work but they usually fall apart unless you add them a few hours into it. Add water, beef stock, or vegetable stock just enough to cover everything, then let it cook on low for 6-8 hours. High for 4-6 if you don't have that much time. Add corn starch or flour to thicken it up just before you serve. Truly takes less than 15 minutes to prep in the morning (or night before).
posted by trivia genius at 12:03 PM on October 2, 2012


Cholent...
I don't know if it's healthy but as far as I'm concerned beans=health.. and you can add carrots and stuff.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 12:05 PM on October 2, 2012


I do roasts with veggies in my slow cooker, works fine. Braze the meat, toss it in there with a heaping helping of your favorite veggies, a dash of red wine, and maybe a bay leaf or two and salt to taste. Select leaner cuts than a roast for reduced fat content and up the liquids you add in to compensate a bit if you like.
posted by Feantari at 12:18 PM on October 2, 2012


I haven't used the book The Indian Slow Cooker, but I have a friend who raves about it.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:24 PM on October 2, 2012


I've just resigned myself to the fact that, other than the root vegetables that I put in slow cooker stew (carrots, potatoes, yams, parsnips, etc.), veggies just don't work if they're in the slow cooker all day.

I make veggie prep easier for myself by cutting up veggies in a batch twice during the week, so that all that needs to be done when I come home is a 5-minute steam in a pan (broccoli and red pepper) or a 5-minute salad toss (greens, grated carrots, nuts of various sorts, goat cheese, dressing).
posted by sillymama at 12:26 PM on October 2, 2012


You can replace Cream of ____ with a basic Bechemel sauce, aka white sauce. It's one of the great Mother Sauces of French cuisine. Tt has dairy fat, so it takes on flavor really well, and it's made with a roux, so it can thicken stews. Those are its two jobs. You can make it with as little or as much fat as you like, really: it's a roux of fat and flour (equal measure), and then add dairy: anything from skim milk to heavy cream or butter. You don't want to boil a bechemel, but it should be happy to live in the environment of your slowcooker. But it's a fine cooking sauce for meats (brown meat first).

The roux does the thickening, so if that's all you want, make a roux. The lighter the color, the less flavor and more thickening power it has. As it darkens, it loses thickening power and gains a nutty flavor. (Roux burns by becoming speckled with black specks of burnt roux-- if this happens, it's game over, chuck it out, and cook slower next time. Also, butter roux is less high-heat tolerant than oil-roux, so gauge your experience before attempting it with pure butter.) Last thing: roux = napalm. Don't splash it.

One good roux technique is to hit the hot roux with cold chopped veggies when you're ready to cook the veggies and stop the roux's coloration progress.

Never buy Cream of ____-- does anyone eat that stuff as soup? It really is just sauce and approximately one vegetable or meat in a sauce.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:44 PM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


You could do a slow cooker of veggies on the side, like brussel sprouts! I made this the other day and it was so good.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:45 PM on October 2, 2012


This is easy as all hell and surprisingly good.

Ingredients:
Salt and peppered pork shoulder,
your favorite salsa all over it. (You want enough salsa to cover the pork half way) You can throw some carrots and potatoes on top.

You can probably add some per-soaked beans if you want to go that route instead of veggies.

Set to high for 15 minutes or so then lower it to low before you leave for work.
posted by couchdive at 1:34 PM on October 2, 2012


I made a version of this last night and my kids LOVED it:

1 lb. skinless, bone-in chicken breasts
1 jar salsa (or, if you don't have salsa, do what I did: 1 large can petite diced tomatoes, a little poblano chili - I keep poblano and sauce frozen for just such an occasion - and throw in some cumin, oregano, chili pepper, red pepper flakes - all dried - and salt and pepper)
about a cup of water

Cook on low for 6-8 hours (or on high for 4; boneless chicken can be done in 2). Remove chicken and shred, put back in and add as much frozen corn and black beans as you want. I served this with brown rice, shredded lettuce and other veg (just what I had on hand), and cheese and made burrito bowls.
posted by cooker girl at 1:37 PM on October 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


One tip: (non-root) veggies tend to get soggy in the slow cooker, which is why they usually aren't in slow cooker recipes. But one thing you can do is make some sort of saucey recipe (like an Indian curry as recommended above) and then just steam veggies in a microwave to mix in right before you eat. Takes no time at all (you can even use those veggies that come in a steamer bag).
posted by lunasol at 1:49 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yep, the Indian Slow Cooker linked above is AWESOME and totally different from your usual slow cooker fare.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:00 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


TIP: You can use your slow-cooker to easily carmelize onions! Fill with onions, turn on low, leave for a day or two. Yum! I make this often and freeze the results so I always have some on hand.
posted by Cosine at 2:09 PM on October 2, 2012


The Kitchn has a "slow cooker" category with lots of recipes and links.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 2:26 PM on October 2, 2012


I shared my favorite crockpot recipe in a completely different crockpot thread, but it also fits your criteria perfectly. Yay!
posted by beryllium at 4:11 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I came here to recommend ratatouille, but beryllium beat me to it. Something magic happens with the slow cooking.
It makes me think many cous-cous recipes would probably be awesome, too
posted by mumimor at 4:16 PM on October 2, 2012


The "Meatiest Vegetarian Chili from your Slow Cooker" is my absolute favorite slow cooker recipe of all time. I omit the Tabasco and only use about half the chili powder recommended because I'm a Northern gal with not a lot of love for super spicy chili.
posted by xyzzy at 4:52 PM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker is pretty awesome. I understand that there is also iPad app.

FYI, this recipe for braised short ribs from Prarie Woman Cooks adapts VERY nicely to a slow cooker.
posted by plinth at 5:53 PM on October 2, 2012


Yeah, that's the problem with crock pots; you generally have to add the veggies half way or later depending on how snappy you like them. I'm not sure about your exact schedule but if your SO comes home a couple of hours before you're eating, you could prep the veggies in the morning to have them ready for him to pop into the cooker for the last 2 hours or so. If it's at the lowest temp by then, he'd have to bump it up to at least medium.

In regard to recipes, I generally just start throwing things into the pot. Garlic, onion (which to me is maybe the only veg that isn't disappointing when it's mushy), rosemary, a bay leaf, 1 tbsp fish sauce (or more to taste), half a lemon, lime or orange, dried cranberries etc. with veg/chicken stock, stewed or fire roasted tomatoes, a hearty glass of wine, and top it off with water if needed. Last couple of hours add a few hand broken carrots, a handful of purple creamers, a bunch of the freshest greens you can find, and so on. I've yet to have a bad experience.
posted by dozo at 7:17 AM on October 3, 2012


I did a slow-cooked chicken the other day with a ton of veggies and yes, they came out in a soggy goop of pan dressings, which I then tossed with cubes of stale bread and a bag of baby spinach, and baked in the oven for 45 minutes. While this does not at all satisfy your "no side effort" request, it's a really delicious easy side dish.

You can also do a nice slow wild mushroom braise in the slow cooker, which you could then serve over pasta/couscous/quinoa, etc.
posted by judith at 9:29 AM on October 3, 2012


This doesn't satisfy requirement A, but it's probably the thing i make the most in my slow cooker:


Gumbo:

1 lb chicken, diced
10 oz chopped okra
2 links andouille sausage
1 cup diced onions
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cups chicken broth (low sodium. or omit salt below.)
2 cups low sodium v8
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp creole seasoning
a little brown sugar

Instructions:

- Brown the meats.
- Sautee the celery and onion.
- Put everthing in the crock pot for 3-4 hours on high.

veggies include: v8, bell pepper, celery, onions, okra.

I typically cook double batches and it fills up my crock pot. I then portion out single servings into zip lock bags and freeze them for lunches at work.
posted by escher at 10:59 PM on October 3, 2012


Moroccan tagine-type dishes adapt well to the crockpot. I do Moroccan chicken in a manner similar to this, and it is pretty low fuss in the morning, especially if you use baby carrots. It's great with couscous which would need to be cooked separately, but for a truly one-pot meal you could throw in some chunked potatoes or sweet potatoes, the latter of which in particular are authentic to Moroccan cuisine.

I am also a huge fan of the pork+cabbage+apples combo this time of year and sometimes I do them up in the crockpot. This recipe is pretty similar to my approach, although I also use a tablespoon of caraway seed because that just makes life more interesting.

I also do crockpot jambalaya. I like to use fully cooked smoked sausage. This recipe calls for adding in shrimp and rice 30 minutes before serving.

The final recipe class I'll mention is Brunswick stew, a traditional dish from Virginia that combines corn, lima beans, okra, and tomatoes, and nowadays often chicken.
posted by drlith at 4:38 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just cooked this balsamic chicken in my crock pot and am really enjoying it. For more veggies, you could add in spinach, artichokes, etc.
posted by hefeweizen at 10:10 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


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