The Joy of Slow Cooking

Lesley Robinson

Originally published in New Beginnings Issue 1, 2010

Editor’s Note: Some of my favorite food memories from childhood involve coming home to the delicious smells of a meal left cooking in the oven while my family was away. For me – the always hungry child – it was a relief to know I would be sitting down to eat in mere minutes. For my parents (who were probably also hungry), I’m sure it was a relief to have all of the meal preparation behind them and to be able to feed the family quickly. This may be a hectic time of year for you or a busy season of life. No matter what your daily routine is like, you may enjoy preparing a meal or two by the slow cooking method author Lesley Robinson shares below. As always, we love to hear about your own kitchen adventures and recipes. Share them at [email protected].

Kids waiting near oven while food is preparedNo special equipment is required in order to experience the joy of slow cooking. (Of course, electric slow cookers are available.) All you need is an ovenproof dish with a lid and, of course, an oven. The basic technique is to fill your dish with your ingredients, put it in the oven at a low temperature (250 degrees F), and leave it to cook all by itself for 12 hours. I discovered this technique when I learned how to make Cholent, a traditional Jewish dish, which is left to cook overnight for the Sabbath when cooking is prohibited. Although the cooking time is long, no stirring or adjustment is required, and the preparation time is very brief. As slow cooking saves time and effort, it is an ideal way to provide nutritious and easy meals, while still being available to take care of the needs of little ones.

This method works well to make soups and stews, and I love to do this when I need something to take with me for a potluck lunch or dinner. A soup made overnight makes an easy and warming lunch, and the slow cooker method involves so little preparation time that it virtually cooks itself. In my soups, I always include at least one onion for flavor and at least one potato for texture. Other than that, I let my creativity run wild. My favorite soups are leek and potato, butternut squash, and sweet potato. You can experiment with different vegetables and add meat if you are a meat-eating family.

Celery, carrots, peas, lentils, or asparagus all make excellent soups, and a medley of winter vegetablesfor example, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, and beetsmakes a welcoming soup to come home to. All you need to do is to chop the vegetables roughly, add your favorite herbs and/or spices, cover generously with water, and leave to cook. When the cooking time is over, just blend the soup together (with a hand blender if you have one), and you will have a beautifully textured and tasty soup. You can add extra fresh herbs after cooking for garnishing and to add a fresh flavor.

Slow-cooked roast beef is a tremendous crowd pleaser at my house for special occasions and is so easy that I am able to enjoy a day out with the family and still come home to a fabulous home-cooked dinner. For best results, sear the beef for several minutes on both sides, then put it in your pot, put the lid on, and leave it cooking slowly all day. When you come home, your dish will be full of wonderful juices for making the gravy.

Slow cooking is also ideal for one-dish suppers. It is perfect for casseroles, chilies, curries, and stews and is a perfect cooking method for dried beans. Another wonderful advantage of slow cooking is that these kinds of meals freeze well, so it is easy to cook large quantities and have complete meals ready for days when you have no time to be in the kitchen at all.

For me, the greatest joy of slow cooking comes when I wake up in the middle of the night and smell the wonderful cooking aromas coming from my kitchen. I turn over and go back to sleep, knowing that with no further effort from me, my family will have a terrific meal ready for them. Sheer bliss!

Vegetarian Cholent

  • A little olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • Several garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 cups mixed dried beans
  • 4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced
  • Ground cumin
  • Soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce (this is not vegetarian so should be left out if you are feeding vegetarians)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp flour

Cover the bottom of a large ovenproof dish with olive oil. Layer the ingredients in the order given. Try experimenting with different seasonings. You can add the herbs and spices of your choice. Cover generously with water. Cover the dish with a well-fitting lid and cook in the oven at 250 degrees F for 12 hours.

Black Bean Soup

  • 3 cups dried black beans
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
  • 1 ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 9 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Freshly chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves

Combine all ingredients except chopped coriander leaves in a large ovenproof dish. Cover the dish with a well-fitting lid and cook overnight in the oven at 250 degrees F. Add chopped coriander leaves to serve.

Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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