Using a slow cooker for vegetables can be very different to cooking tough cuts of meat.
Slow cookers are fantastic for vegetables, allowing you to cook them gently and slowly until they are wonderfully tender and juicy—or still firm, depending on the desired result.
Read on for to discover how to cook perfect vegetarian meals for your family using a slow cooker. Plus, we have a free slow cooker recipe for you.
The trick to prepping and forgetting when slow cooking vegetables
Due to the high water content of vegetables, it’s important not to cook them for hours and hours. So, rather than using the traditional “leave for eight hours while you go to work” approach, many vegetarian slow cooker recipes are cooked for just three or four hours. The beauty of this timeline is that you can do some preparation, throw everything in the slow cooker, do the washing up and then have a few free hours to read stories to your kids, help them with homework, go for a walk, run errands and so on. Best of all, after dinner, there is often only one pot to wash up!
One point to remember when using a slow cooker is that, unlike cooking in an oven or on the stovetop, liquid is unable to evaporate, so it’s important to add much less liquid than you normally would. Don’t worry if when you start your dish it looks dry. By the end of the cooking time, the vegetables will be cooked and (if intended) saucy.
Cooking for the family
Slow cookers are ideal for cooking healthy meals for your family because you start with predominantly fresh, whole foods and very few nutrients are lost in the cooking process. Slow cookers work differently than, say, boiling vegetables in a saucepan, as they retain all of the vegetables’ natural juices in the sauce, resulting in a richly flavoured, nutrient-dense dish. If you include beans and pulses, there is no need for additional protein.
When cooking pulses and beans, dried and tinned versions work equally well. Just ensure that if you are using dried pulses and beans, you soak and pre-cook as required beforehand.
You can also use a slow cooker to make desserts! When doing so, keep a close eye to ensure your recipe doesn’t overcook, as the slow cooker size can make a difference. Keep watch through the lid, resisting the temptation to keep lifting it up and letting the heat escape. When your dessert is finished, remove the lid quickly so the condensation doesn’t drip onto your delicious dish.
Slow cookers are often thought of as convenient for the cooler months. However, I like to use them in the warmer months, too, as they don’t heat up the house like a stovetop or oven. Warm salad recipes in particular are great for summer lunches or dinner parties. Get them cooking early on, then concentrate on other aspects of your meal. Leave the salads to cool and then enjoy your feast.
Slow cooker tips
- Most slow cookers are very simple to operate with low, high and auto settings (or 1, 2 and auto), but read the instruction manual for your particular slow cooker before starting to cook.
- Some slow cookers have an insert pan that can be used on a stovetop and then put back to continue cooking. If your slow cooker’s insert pan can be used on the stovetop, then do all the cooking in the pan; if not, use a frying pan. The majority of ceramic insert pans cannot be used on your stovetop and will crack. Refer to the instruction manual to see if yours is suitable.
- If you have put your slow cooker’s ceramic insert in the fridge for any reason before cooking, allow it to come to room temperature before starting to cook or it may crack once it starts heating up, due to the sudden change in temperature.
- Never cook dried kidney beans and other kidney-shaped beans from raw in a slow cooker because the temperature isn’t high enough to destroy the natural toxins found in these beans. Always soak them overnight and then boil for 10 minutes before adding. It’s fine to add drained and rinsed tinned beans straight into the cooker.
There isn’t much you can’t do in a slow cooker. So dig yours out from the back of your cupboard—or buy one next time you are shopping—and reclaim your precious time!
Vegetarian slow cooker recipe
Here's how to make butter miso mushroom risotto using a slow cooker.
Images and recipes from Slow Cooker Vegetarian by Katy Holder, Murdoch Books, RRP $29.99. Photography by Alan Benson.