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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Slow-Cooker Meals

One of my favorite memories from my childhood is that of my mother's cooking. I know I write about that a lot – but somehow just by closing my eyes I can smell her tomato sauce cooking in the slow-cooker - and every fiber in body longs to be in her kitchen enjoying a meal, and her company.

When I was very young, I remember coming home to the smell of my mother's home-cooking radiating from every corner of the house as it simmered undisturbed throughout the day, heaving its fragrant aromas into the surrounding air tempting us all to the table – making us yearn for dinnertime.

I remember sneaking into the kitchen upon getting home from school (when everyone else was still at work – or daycare) and dipping chunks of bread into the soup or sauce cooking and savoring the intense flavors, warm and wet on the flesh of the bread.

Now I find myself pulling out my own slow-cooker(s) on a weekly basis (sometimes even two or three times a week depending on my schedule) to recreate some of my mother's recipes that I miss so much, and even to create a few new ones of my own. I hope that someday those recipes (new and old) will linger in the memories of my children calling them home - much the way my mother's still linger in mine.

The great advantage of cooking soups and sauces in the slow cooker, as I have discovered since moving away from home years ago and being forced to rely on my own cooking skills, is that all the flavors have a chance to thoroughly develop and mingle. This technique is particularly well suited for rich and savory soups, with complex spicing, such as this vegetarian stew which I through together a few years ago after enjoying a similar version at a Moroccan cafe in Madison, WI. The original stew, harira, is traditionally made with the addition of lamb, lentils, fine noodles and egg and is often served to break the fast during Ramadan. My version leaves out the meat, eggs and noodles, but I find the simplified version to still be rich with flavor and hearty enough to be the main course for any dinner meal.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew
(Serves 6)
1 large onion, finely diced
4 cups vegetable stock (near boiling)
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely diced
1 large Russet potato, finely diced
1 – 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 – 14.5 oz. can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh coriander
1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger root
½ tsp cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper to taste

First, throw together the onion and two in a half cups of the vegetable stock in the ceramic cooking pot of your slow cooker. Turn the slow cooker to HIGH, cover with the lid, and cook for approximately 1 hour, or until the onions are tender and translucent.

Once the onions are soft, mix together the cinnamon, turmeric, ginger root, and cayenne pepper with two tablespoons of the remaining vegetable stock to form a paste. Add this paste and the carrots, celery, and remaining stock to the slow cooker. Cook for another hour (on high) and then season the broth with salt and pepper to your personal tastes.

Finally, throw in the rest of the vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes and chickpeas) and cook for 4-5 hours (still on high) until all the vegetables are tender. Stir in the coriander and lemon juice at the end, just before serving. Serve piping hot with a hearty chunk of bread. Enjoy!

Per Serving: approximately 339 calories, 15.5 g fiber, 16 g protein and high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Iron


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