Healthy and comforting recipes straight from the slow cooker

These delicious meals cooked low and slow will fill your kitchen with fragrant and comforting aromas
These delicious meals cooked low and slow will fill your kitchen with fragrant and comforting aromas

For many years I ran a busy cafe and restaurant. Year round, the slow cooker – an appliance that cooks food over low heat for a long time – would be put to work, quietly simmering away in the background. I’d just throw in a couple of handfuls of dried haricot beans, some mustard, brown sugar and a little smoked pork, and overnight this mixture would magically turn into delicious baked beans in time for breakfast service the next day.

The slow cooker was also the perfect appliance to gently poach chicken, ready to be sliced and served on a bed of spring vegetables and drizzled with a fresh herbaceous dressing. Or it might be used to cook vegetables to perfection in a fragrant tomato base for a Moroccan tagine. When the weather grew chilly, the slow cooker was assigned soup and curry duty, filling the kitchen with fragrant and comforting aromas. And I discovered that a slow cooker was the best way to keep parsnip mash warm, while another one gently simmered beef fillet in red wine, which would later be carved and served on the mash. Time and time again the slow cooker proved itself the most enterprising and time-saving kitchen appliance.

At home my slow cooker is rarely used just to keep things warm. When choosing ingredients, I take a simple and sensible approach. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good roast leg of lamb cooked in the oven, where much of the fat can render away and be poured off. However, in the slow cooker, it’s different: the fat doesn’t escape. So when I do include meat in a recipe, I always trim off excess fat before cooking.

Cheese, especially creamy ricotta and feta, can add richness, but it’s umami-packed parmesan that is my favourite and is almost always on hand to finish off a dish. And whatever you do, don’t forget about seafood! There’s absolutely no reason why fish and seafood shouldn’t be at the top of your slow-cooker ingredients list, especially when you want to make something a bit more special. In a slow cooker, the low heat ever so gently poaches and steams seafood to perfection, with little risk of overcooking.

Thinking of lifting the lid? Don’t do it! Unless the recipe calls for it, don’t be tempted to lift the lid and have a peek. If and when you do take off the lid, you can literally see the heat – in the form of steam – escaping, and this could extend the cooking time by hours. That said, some recipes call for everything to be given a good stir about an hour before the end of the cooking time – work quickly if so, but don’t worry if you aren’t around to do this. After all, one of the great things about a slow cooker is that you can leave the house!

No harm will come of just letting it be – and the slow cooker will retain its heat, so when you get home from work or from a weekend walk, and the food is cooked, you can turn it off and leave the lid on until you are ready to eat. Just remember to stir thoroughly before serving and scrape down the sides of the bowl – your reward will be some of the tastiest bits of the dish.