The slow carb diet is fantastic in many ways: lose weight, eat well, don’t feel hungry all the time, have a day when you can go nuts… all these things are what makes the diet work. However, there are a couple things about it that are somewhat inconvenient. Among those things: the fact that cooking your own meals all the time can get very time-consuming, particularly when you’re cooking legumes! This is where I think one of the big slow carb diet secret weapons comes in: the slow cooker.
Slow cookers (or crock pots) allow you to easily cook things at lower temperatures for long periods of time. They are FANTASTIC for things like stews, chiles, long braises, baked beans, pulled pork, and tons of things that fall into the “comfort food” category. Generally, you put all the ingredients into the slow cooker, set it on “low”, and then let it cook for 8-11 hours. At the end of that, you’ll have nice hot tasty goodness ready for your enjoyment.
For people on the slow-carb diet, this is particularly helpful because this cooking method is ideally-suited for legumes. If you toss beans into the slow cooker and you’ve got enough liquid with them, you’ll pretty much always have perfectly-done beans after 9 hours (of course, that will make for some bland beans, but there’s recipes for that 🙂 ). This simplifies things a lot: you don’t have to soak beans overnight, boil them for a long time, and hang around the whole time they’re cooking. So it allows you to walk away and get on with your life once the ingredients are all in the pot. Lentils are even easier — usually they can just go in with the meat and the rest of the ingredients and they’ll be fully-cooked at the end.
To show you how easy it is to make beans in the slow cooker, here’s the basic recipe: take 1 pound of dried beans (wash and pick them over), put them in the slow cooker with 2 bay leaves and 5 cups of liquid (water or chicken broth), and cook for 9-11 hours. Done. You’ll have some nice, mildly-seasoned beans that you can use as the basis for any sort of recipe and they’ll come out perfect every time. You can set it up in the evening and then have beans ready the next morning, or put them on in the morning and have beans ready when you get home. This will also make a TON of beans; usually you’ll be set up for a good portion of the week.
But in addition to making beans easy, my favorite thing about the slow cooker is all the comfort food that you can do in it. I love using the slow cooker to make carnitas, shredded chicken, moroccan stews – all sorts of great foods that are really tasty, really filling, really indulgent, and don’t feel like “diet food” at all.
There’s one thing you should know about slow cookers: a little extra time spent at the beginning will yield MUCH better results at the end. Many people want to take short cuts: they simply cut up a bunch of veggies, toss them in the slow cooker with some meat, and come back later to find watery, bland mush. However, little shortcuts like microwaving the aromatics (onions, garlic, spices, etc.) beforehand or browning the meat the slow cooker insert before cooking add serious depth of flavor and make worlds of difference. So when you’re reading a slow cooker recipe and it tells you to do these things, don’t skip steps 🙂
Here’s a couple more quick tips on cooking with a slow cooker:
- Slow cookers generally come with ceramic inserts, but some have stove-safe metal inserts. I’ve got an All-Clad with a metal insert and love the convenience: it allows you to brown things in the slow cooker directly, which means you get all the tasty browned bits and also means one less pan to clean. The downside — the metal inserts for this are really pricey and hard to find. The Cooks Illustrated people recommend a Crock-Pot slow cooker, but it doesn’t come with a metal insert. So if you can fork out the dough, grab a metal insert. If not, don’t sweat it 🙂
- They say that cooking on low is better, and I’m sure it probably is. However, in my experience, I haven’t noticed a significant drop in quality when I cook on high. And given that you can save anywhere from 4-6 hours by cooking on high, sometimes it just makes sense to do it.
- I can’t imagine using a slow-cooker that’s smaller than 6 1/2 quarts. That may seem like a big slow cooker, but frankly, you’re going to want to be able to put in things like pork shoulders and have room for onions and all the other tastiness that goes with it… so go big!
And here’s the most important tip: the hands-down, no-argument, absolute best book on cooking with slow cookers is “Slow Cooker Revolution” by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. This book has some of the best recipes I’ve ever eaten anywhere (slow cooker or not). Their advice on using the slow-cooker is spot on and easy-to-understand. Bottom line: this book completely changed the way I use a slow cooker, and I’ve never had a bad meal out of it. Highly, highly recommended.
So that’s it on my recommendations for the slow cooker, one of the slow carb diet secret weapons. Use it well and post your experiences, ideas, tips, and suggestions in the comments below!