Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Crockpot Primer and Two Bean Quinoa Vegetarian Chili

It has come to my attention that I have many friends who have not yet tried using their crockpot. Let me tell you - it is a wonderful and useful thing. I use mine all the time because I love being able to cook without being tied to my stove. On many a non-workday, I can be found in and out of the house running errands while cooking something up in the crockpot. And on workdays, it's nice to come home to dinner all ready - I suggest chopping the vegetables the night before, so that all you have to do in the morning before work is throw everything into the pot and turn it on.

What do I make with my slow cooker?
* Dried beans. I prefer this over cooking dried beans on the stovetop because it eliminates the need for overnight soaking and watching the stove for two hours. I make a big batch and then freeze it in portions.
* Grains like barley and farro. They doesn't take as long as beans - only a few hours. Again, I make a lot to freeze and have some on hand.
* Tomato sauce - recipe coming soon
Pulled pork or any large cut of meat that benefits from braising, like pot roast or lamb shoulder
* Oatmeal - I've been on an overnight steel cut oats kick lately, but I hear you can make them in a slow cooker too.

And most of all, soup. I've been making slow cooked soup a lot lately, since my stove wasn't working for couple weeks in September while they repaired a gas leak in my apartment (typical of old Park Slope brownstones that formerly had gas lighting). The great thing about soups and stews is that you can really use any combination of beans, meat, vegetables and grains that you have on hand, and it will probably taste decent.

Here are some slow cooker soups I've made in the past:
Farro, kale and bean soup - terrific with poached egg on top
Lamb and vegetable stew
Vegetarian baked beans
* Beef, sweet potato and barley stew - this was a favorite last winter and I'll have to recreate the recipe

More recently, this two-bean quinoa chili is my favorite soup invention - I've already made it twice this month. You want to cook it until the tomatoes seem to melt into the broth and the beans are tender and salty. The quinoa thickens it, while the kale provides some texture and color, and the jalapeno and spices generate an overall spicy heat. It's great for warming your insides on these chilly fall nights when your landlord hasn't turned on the heat yet.

Crockpot Two Bean Quinoa Vegetarian Chili
1/2 cup dried black beans or 1 can cooked beans
1/2 cup dried white beans or chickpeas or 1 can cooked beans
1/2 cup quinoa
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
2 jalapeno peppers
4-5 tomatoes
a few stalks of kale (not a full bunch)
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 bay leaves

Place the beans and quinoa into the crockpot. Dice the onion, garlic and peppers, followed by the tomatoes and kale (discard kale stems for best results). Place the vegetables over the dry ingredients. Add the stock and spices and stir it together (see below). If using dried beans, cook on high for 8 hours. (Yes, on high. I find that the chickpeas need longer to cook than the black beans and that it gels together nicely the more it's cooked). If using canned beans, cook on high for about 4 hours. Makes 4-6 servings

Crockpot Pro-tips:
* I like to stir it only roughly, leaving the dry ingredients primarily on the bottom with the vegetables primarily on the top. This ensures that the beans and grains are all submerged in liquid and will cook fully and evenly. Toward the end (after about 5 or 6 hours) I stir it all together.

* I like to start my crockpot on high for the first hour or so, which gets it warm quickly, and then turn it to low after that, since it will hold in the heat.