By Heather Lalley, Tribune Newspapers
July 24, 2013
Shed a tear for your poor, neglected slow cooker.
All winter, he's your go-to gadget, braising your roasts and stewing your stews and simmering your chili for ravenous, football-watching guests.
Then summer saunters in, and your trusty slow cooker gets rejected in favor of barbecues and campfires and picnics at the beach.
But there's good news for your slow cooker (and you, of course): It can be your best buddy at barbecues and can help make the most of your farmers market produce too. When steamy days put you out of the mood for heavy cuts of meat, the slow cooker can work wonders with vegetarian dishes. Added bonus? There's no need to heat up the kitchen by turning on the oven.
"It's not intuitive to think you can do vegetables successfully in a slow cooker," says Anupy Singla of Chicago, author of "The Indian Slow Cooker" (Agate Surrey, $19.95).
Cooking vegetables in the slow cooker without any added liquid pulls the moisture out of them, allowing them to steam while concentrating their flavor, Singla says. "The freshness of the vegetables is so key with slow cookers," she adds. "You want to really get the freshest of the freshest vegetables."
Unlike tough cuts of meat or dried beans that benefit from 10 or 11 hours in the slow cooker, fresh vegetables are best after just a few hours.
Singla also recommends finishing cooking some vegetable dishes with the slow cooker's lid off or ajar to allow some of the moisture to cook off.
Cookbook author Stephanie O'Dea, whose third slow cooker book, "365 Slow Cooker Suppers" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.99), is due in September, relies on her slow cooker year-round.
For big groups, she fills it with corn on the cob. You can slather each ear with butter and herbs, then wrap them individually in foil or parchment. Or you can just toss the cobs in as-is. Cook on high for two hours, or on low for three or four hours, and you have a hands-off side dish that frees you to prepare other things.
For a light, easy summer dinner, O'Dea likes to wrap seasoned fish fillets in parchment before stacking them in a dry slow cooker. If company's coming, she'll lay out an array of herbs, spices, citrus and other toppings for guests to create their own packets. "Cook them for two hours on high for perfect flaky fish without a fish smell in the house," she says.
Garden overflowing with summer squash and tomatoes? Chop them up with some eggplant and plenty of fresh rosemary and basil, toss with olive oil and pour it into a slow cooker for a few hours on low.
"They break down and it turns into ratatouille," O'Dea says. "I do that for the end-of-the-summer bounty when we've had zucchini every which way. … And it freezes beautifully."
Spicy Punjabi eggplant with potatoes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 5 hours
Servings: About 6; or 7 cups
Note: This recipe is from Anupy Singla's book "The Indian Slow Cooker." You will need a 5-quart slow cooker to fit all the vegetables. If your slow cooker is smaller, try cutting back on the quantities by one-third.
3 large eggplants, diced, about 12 cups
1 large potato (russet or yellow), peeled, diced, about 2 cups
1 medium red or yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 piece (2 inches long) ginger, peeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch matchsticks
6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 to 4 Thai or serrano chilies, chopped or sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon red chili powder
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1. Put the eggplant, potato, onion, ginger, garlic, green chilies, cumin, red chili powder, garam masala, turmeric and oil in a slow cooker. Cook on low, 3 hours.
2. Remove the lid; cook, 2 hours (to dry up some of the moisture released by the eggplant).
3. Add the salt and cilantro. Serve with roti or naan, or stuffed inside a pita pocket.
Per serving: 207 calories, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 227 mg sodium, 8 g fiber.
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