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Healthy, easy slow cooker recipies?

I searched the home cooking archive and found five threads loaded with recopies for slow cookers. I will check them out.
What I'm looking for are crock pot recipes that are healthy and relatively easy to make. I'm not sure how to define easy. I thumbed through an American Heart Associated Cookbook on healthy slow cooker recipes and they require changing the ingredients in the pot after four hours and doing a bunch of things.
I want recipes that require minor preparation and maybe adding noodles or seasonings for the last half hour fo cooking. Otherwise I want to put the ingredients into the slow cooker when I go to work and eat when I come home.

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  1. I love black beans done with vegetable stock, garlic, strips of pepper (anything from bell to poblano, to Serrano), allspice, and a splash of cider vinegar. I also like Limas done with vegetable stock, minced onion, carrot, and celery, topped with a little Sriracha at serving. Good vegetable stock is your new best friend for healthy slow cooking. Of course, tossing in a ham bone, a couple of trimmed country ribs, or a few sausages won't ruin it either!

    7 Replies
    1. re: tim irvine

      Thanks to all who replied. Meat is fine in the dishes, by the way. About the only thing I'll rule out is fish with bones.
      I know slow cookers can overcook meat. The thing is, overcooked meat in a dish that's healthier is probably much better than opening a can of chili or Chef Boyardee.
      Tim, I have recipes for vegetable stock that I'm indifferent too. Is there one you really like?

      1. re: SteveTimko

        Poorly prepared anything for the sake of 'healthiness' seems anathema to CH :)

        1. re: SteveTimko

          there are plenty of meat based dishes that lend themselves to a slow cooker but that doesn't necessarily mean it meets your definition of "healthy".

          Some favorite meat based crock entrees my family loves are:

          -Pot roast. Layer the bottom with one or two sliced onions. Season a bottom round roast with a rub of your choice and sear on all sides before placing on top of onions (I much prefer to sear the meat first for both flavor and presentation but it is optional), pour 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar and a 1/2 cup of water over the meat and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

          -Pulled Pork. Just cover a boston butt with your favorite homemade or bottles BBQ sauce and cook on low 8 hours. Shred and serve on buns for sandwiches.

          -Chicken and Rice. Layer bottom of crock with 1 cup brown rice, pour in 4 1/2 cups water or broth. Top with well seasoned skinless, bone-in chicken breast. I like rub with olive oil and then rub with s&p and rosemary. Cook on low for 4-6 hours.

          1. re: foodieX2

            I've done the easy slow cooker pulled pork from Chow a few times and it always turns out great: http://www.chow.com/recipes/30356-eas...

          2. re: SteveTimko

            I think dishes from many other cultures work better in a crockpot than traditional American dishes. That is why the crockpot craze of mushy casserole type foods from a few decades ago was a bit of an over cooked disaster. Lean meats combined with leaving starches and cheeses to cook for 8 hours or more just never made sense.

            Meats from other cultures that tend to be tougher cuts and traditionally cooked all day are easy to convert to a crockpot.

            Korean, Mexican, Moroccan, Indian, African are especially easy to make crockpot friendly. Shredded meats, ground meats, for fillings/ larb, lentils, beans, soups and stews all work really well.

            1. re: sedimental

              I agree. I was on a kick with the Indian Slow Cooker book for a while and made a number of really good, mostly vegetarian, dishes in the crock.

            2. re: SteveTimko

              First of all I keep a big freezer bag and throw in my vegetable trimmings. A typical bag has a gallon of onion peels, shallot peels, leek bottoms, mushroom ends, carrot peels, celery leaves, asparagus ends, tomato navels, and lettuce bottoms. When the bag is full I tump it out in a half jelly roll pan, sprinkle a little olive oil, toss it, and roast it at 450 F. until brown. Put it in a stock pot, add a dozen or so pepper corns, a few fresh bay leaves, a few stems of thyme, and salt to taste. Cover with about five or six quarts of water, bring to a boil, simmer an hour or two, strain into freezer containers.

          3. I often make my soups for the weeks lunches (often meatless) or easy "bistro dinners" (soup/salad/sandwich/tart combo) in the crockpot with no specific recipe, but just a mix of vegetables, spices, herbs and broth. Moroccan flavors are a natural for the steamy environment of the crockpot (preserved lemon, Harissa, olives,etc).

            I like all kinds of lentils/dals in the crockpot too, curry coconut milk lentils are nice. I dont know what your definition of "healthy" might be, but maybe check out recipes like this:

            Oxtails are good in a crockpot (Chinese or Korean prep) over rice or quinoa or a vegetable purée. They don't overlook and everything is put in there at once. Same with pulled pork as far as it being ready when you get home.

            1. A problem with the 'cook while I'm at work' method is that the food will either be overcooked, or will spend a long time in the dangerous temperature zone (below 135). Old cookers worked by slowly heating a heavy ceramic pot, which meant that the food didn't start cooking until halfway through the day. New cookers heat up faster, but unless they have sophisticated temperature controls, end up cooking the food in 4 hrs.

              As for the 'healthy' issue, what do you want to cook? The kinds of meats that benefit from long slow cooking have lots of connective tissue, and fat (unless you trim that off). Lean meats (and fish) don't do well with this kind of cooking. Most vegetables don't need this kind of cooking either. Beans need long cooking, but most also need a brief time at full boil.

              I suspect the AHAC recipes differ from others only in that they have less salt - by using fewer canned and prepared mixes and sauces.

              An alternative to 'while I'm at work' cooking is to cook the items on the weekends, or in the evening while you are around, and reheat the food when you get home from work.

              1 Reply
              1. re: paulj

                What you said! Cooking all day is, IMO, simply a recipe for overcooked food. Especially any vegetables but meat also. To make meat-type slowcooker recipes healthier, I'd cook ahead of time, refrigerate overnight and then remove as much fat as possible. I use my slowcooker regularly but never have anything that cooks for eight (or more) hours.

              2. carrot ginger soup is very easy but "healthy" is hard to truly define. This would be healthy for a person who believes eating lower fat and lots of fruit and vegs is healthy but not for one who eats paleo/low carb

                2 lbs carrots-scrubbed clean and roughly chopped
                2 large onions, peeled/sliced
                6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
                3-4 quarter size slices of fresh ginger, cut into match sticks (you can use more or less to taste)

                Throw everything into the slow cooker and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8, until the carrots are very tender. Its pretty forgiving so if your work day longer it will be fine. When you get home puree with hand blender until smooth. Taste for seasoning, adding S&P to taste. If you eat dairy serve with a dollop of sour cream or creme fresh.

                1 Reply
                1. re: foodieX2

                  Yes! I make carrot soups in the crockpot too, butternut squash soup (with apples) the same way is also really great and is ready when you come home. Fall soups and crockpots are a great combo!

                2. Reading reports on how wildly crockpot temperatures diverge from those claimed by their manufacturers, I would not be comfortable leaving one turned on while not at home.
                  Using a covered Dutch oven in a low-temperature oven seems a lot safer to me, and with more reliable results, if your oven does not have a timer that allows you to set start and stop times.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: greygarious

                    Hi, g. I'm not concerned so much about leaving it 'home alone' but definitely see your point. For me, it's that my oven can maintain a low temperature whereas the SC doesn't seem to do as well. I rarely cook anything in it that's not done in five or six hours. YMMV :)

                  2. I recently made pulled pork turkey thigh in the crockpot which was great. Season it with a dry rub overnight or just toss spices in pot with meat, add chicken broth, apple cider vinegar and let it cook. Then shred and return to liquid. I know some like to throw BBQ sauce in but I'm a low carber who doesn't use it much so I used some of the extra liquid, simmered it down with worcestershire, mustard and tomatoes for a sauce. The night before I mixed a blue cheese vinegar cole slaw. Easy and fast and very good.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      But did you cook it for over eight hours??? OP is looking for something that will cook all day. I don't care how tender meat is, overcooked is a no-no in my book. Just sayin'.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Whoopsie, I missed that part of the question clearly. And, no, I didn't cook it for 8 hours and like some others hear I wouldn't leave my crockpot on while I was gone for very long. It tends to get very hot and you have to keep an eye on it.

                    2. I know many people (especially those who worship at the church of CDC) will say "Just. Not. Safe." (please spare me, I get it)... but I avoid overcooking by using a timer (20 amp) with my (ancient and hence slow to heat) crock pot.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: drongo

                        That is really too funny!

                        Not sure how your timer works. Could you elaborate please? OP is looking for things that can cook all day while he's at work.

                        1. re: drongo

                          Consider a meat that truly needs a very long time in a slow cooker, such as bone-in goat. I have made a chicken from frozen, but I was nervous about it cooking on low, so I set the slow cooker to high for 2 hours, then low for the next 4. It was a small bird and was totally cooked by that time. I work from home, so this timing wasn't a problem for me. If I were going to be out all day, I'd do something like bone-in lamb with split lentils and let it go all day on low. I'd only use light spicing for the long cook, but do a final fry of aromatics in ghee or oil and add before serving. Make a big enough batch and you can reheat for another dinner (or two) that week.

                          1. re: drongo

                            I use an aftermarket timer too to delay the start of cooking by a couple of hours.

                            Things like brisket or pot roast work for me cooking all day long (I'm gone about 10 hours) in my ancient crock.

                          2. I have been experimenting with the slow cooker and cook at home foods, and I do find it difficult to not overcook meat, or end up with soupy results.

                            One option is to prep the pot the night before and stick it in the fridge. Drop it into the slow cooker before you leave for work, with a timer set to turn on in an hour or so. Then have the timer turn off about an hour before you get home. This keeps it safe (it takes time to warm up to room temperature and cool down from cooking) without having it cook for ten hours (a work day plus commute).

                            I find shanks work really well for slow cooker meals - beef, lamb or pork. (try an Asian grocery to find ones without bones). They do well with long cooking, have very little fat, and are cheap. I also use pork shoulder or butt, well trimmed of fat.

                            One recipe I like that is also very tasty is Moroccan chick-pea and tomato stew. I don't measure precisely, but a large sliced onion a sliced celery stick and carrot on the bottom, then lamb or beef shanks, cubed (about a pound). Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 a teaspoon ground cinnamon, two crushed garlic cloves and about an inch of ginger, grated. Add some hot pepper flakes if you want. Add a can of chickpeas (drained) and a can of chopped tomatoes and about a tablespoon of tomato paste. Cook, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with couscous (which can be made in five minutes).

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                              I think refrigerating overnight is a super idea. It will take a while for things to even get to room temp and therefore slow down the cooking. But my SC doesn't have a timer so again cooking for eight and more hours doesn't work for me.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                I'm not sure it's actually safe to start the cooking with chilled ingredients. You need to raise the temperature quite quickly out of the danger zone. (I think it's 2 hours). That's why most recipes ask you to boil the liquid first before adding to the slow cooker. Same reason why you should not use frozen meat in a slow cooker.

                                The slow cooker isn't some magic item that can keep food safe out of the fridge. You simply can't leave food out in the danger zone for more than a couple of hours. It either needs to be very hot or very cold.

                                1. re: lilham

                                  Well, I live in a "magic house" so am totally safe :) Only time sick was from salmonella-tainted, recall peanut butter that didn't get recalled.

                                2. re: c oliver

                                  You can buy a timer to go on the outlet. My slow cooker is very simple, so that's what I had to do.

                                  I will note that after nearly a decade abroad, I have relaxed from the North American conviction that food left unrefrigerated more than 20 minutes is going to kill you horribly.

                              2. Here's a link that might be helpful since it includes shopping lists and crockpot meal-planning. http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

                                1. Indian style lentils (dal) work very well in a slow cooker because you want them to be mushy and porridge like. I make dals in my slow cooker often in the winter. Chili is another good option that benefits from slow cooking.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: boogiebaby

                                    Do you have a recipe for dal you'd be willing to share? I wound up with a big bag of yellow lentils (toor dal) from the local Indian market and my first experiment was kind of a wash, so I'd love to hear what you do!

                                    1. re: whitneybee

                                      Rinse the dal in a few changes of water, until it runs clear, then soak it.

                                      While it's soaking, chop up a small onion, 3-4 cloves of garlic, and some fresh ginger (note: you can skip the ginger, but it really does make it taste better!). Heat 3-4 tbsp. oil or ghee in a skillet, and add a teaspoon or more of whole cumin. When it sizzles, add in your chopped onion. (If you have some fresh curry leaves, throw some in for a great smell and flavor!) Fry the onion until the edges are turning a dark brown -- you want it to have some color (it'll take a good 10 minutes of so). Add in your garlic and ginger, one Serrano chilli, sliced lengthwise and a small tomato, chopped (you can skip the chilli if you don't want any heat to it). Continue cooking until the tomato has softened. Add about 1/3 tsp turmeric, about 1/3 tsp ground cumin, and some salt.

                                      Drain your soaked dal and put it in the crockpot. Add in your fried onion mixture, and add water (I don't measure, but it's usually 1 part dal to 3-4 parts water). Turn on and cook.

                                      When your dal is ready, taste your seasonings. If the dal is too thick, stir in some water. If it's too thin, transfer to a pot on the stove and boil vigorously for a few minutes until it's at the consistency you want.

                                      For a shortcut, cook your onion/tomato mixture the night before and put into the fridge. In the am when you get up, soak your dal. Before you leave the house, drain it, and add the cold onions straight from the fridge.

                                      1. re: boogiebaby

                                        @boogiebaby, that sounds so yum!! Have not done this onion mixture "tarka" to my dals before. I will try this one, for sure.
                                        @whitneybee: I have slow cooked dals before. Since it does not matter how much dal you can slow cook, I usually cook a big batch (enough for 2 to 3 different dals or sambhar or rasam) and freeze in portions. Typically I add 1/2tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/2tsp cumin seeds and sometimes 1 or 2 serrano chilli to a pot of dal while its cooking. I usually do the "tarka" after the dal is cooked, just before eating dinner.
                                        my different tarka's are:
                                        1.Oil (coconut), a tsp mustard seeds, 1 or 2 dry red chillies, 1/3tsp turmeric
                                        2. same as 1. + 4-5 curry leaves
                                        3. same as 1. + a pinch of hing (asfoetida)
                                        4. Oil, red chilli flakes, garlic
                                        5. same as 1. + 4-5 cloves garlic, a tsp of julienned ginger, 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, 2-3 tbsp of chopped cilantro.

                                        a squeeze of lime/lemon will just enhance the taste of the dal, regardless which of the above tarkas are added. Enjoy!!

                                        1. re: Chowshok

                                          Thanks! I'll play around with these options. It looks like this bag of lentils will last me a while.

                                        2. re: boogiebaby

                                          Thank you! I will definitely try this out and report back.

                                    2. Many years ago, I copied a recipe from Betty Crocker for a Southwestern Bean Soup with Cornmeal dumplings that you make in the Slow Cooker. This recipe on Food.com is exactly the same thing. It's really tasty, stupidly easy as well. You add the dumplings during the final 30 minutes of cooking. Otherwise, you can start it and forget it until you get home.


                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: mwk

                                        My problem with that is that except for the carrot and onion, everything is already cooked. And then it gets cooked another 10 or 12 hours! For me, I'd have just created a very tasty stock/broth but I'd be throwing out everything else cause it would be cooked to death. But that's the way I am when I make stock. After all that cooking I give the chicken to the dogs. It's already given its all :) YMMV of course.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Actually, I usually leave out the chicken or add some at the very end. There's no need to add it at the beginning.

                                          1. re: mwk

                                            Chicken breasts never belong in a slow cooker, even when raw.

                                            Cooked chicken breasts would be totally destroyed by recooking in a crock pot.

                                            1. re: C. Hamster

                                              I totally agree with you. If there's a single piece of meat that overcooks in heartbeat, it's chicken breast.

                                              I've been thinking about this thread and the OP wanting healthy. I think it's perhaps important to point out that when things cook for eight or more hours, the nutrients are then in the sauce not the meat or vegetables. And that's fine.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                I'm 100 in agreement with all of your comments here.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  "the nutrients are then in the sauce not the meat or vegetables."

                                                  I would disagree, though it depends on how one defines "nutrients". Protein, fats, and carbohydrates are the most basic of nutrients. They're still there after 8 hours of cooking. I'm not sure how fiber fits into the "nutrient" category, but that's still there after 8 hours of cooking.

                                                  If we're talking about vitamins, antioxidents, minerals, and other compunds, then it depends on which. I'm pretty sure it's not accurate to say that all nutrients are out of the meat and vegetables after 8 hours of cooking. Some are, some aren't.

                                                  Braises can last up to 8 hours. So slow cooking - braises or in a crock pot. Nothing wrong with that.

                                                  The problem with "nutritious meals" is when they try to be one pot. That's tough. It's also unneccessary. Go ahead and cook the crap out of a meat and vegetable product in a braise or crock pot, because that's convenient. That's one course. Have a salad. Have some fruit. A piece of good chocolate. You get all your nutrients. It shouldn't be so hard, but for some reason, it is.

                                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                                    I really like your last paragraph. Hadn't connected the dots quite that way. Yeah, one pot isn't going to get it. But I still go back to the fact that I don't like overcooked meat and in years and years of using a SC, I rarely find any meat that needs to go 8 or more hours.

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      c oliver, it took me a long time to realize one of the major flaws in my approach to crock pot cooking is that I was cooking my food to death. For some reason, I thought longer cooking would simply make the food more tender. I didn't realize it was making it flavorless, letting all of the flavor leach out into the liquid that pools in the crock pot.

                                                      I like the slow cooker recipes in Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday. Reading his book was the first time I got a clue that if you're cooking chicken in a crock pot for longer than 6 hours, you're probably not going to get good results. He says that food can sit on "warm" for 4 hours after that. So, if you consider a full day to be 10 hours, then a lot of his recipes will work for you. I don't even bother with chicken breasts in the crock pot anymore: thighs only, though you do end up with a lot of bones.

                                                      If you consider a full day to be 12 hours, then probably pork roast is the meat you'll need to turn to the most (be sure to turn the roast so the fat layer is on top and drips down, self-bastingly, into the meat) 8 hours in the crock pot then 4 hours on warm.


                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        I'm TOTALLY in agreement with you and your history :) But once I realized my error, I started having success. Have you made Bayless' pork tinga? It's THE best thing I've ever done in a SC. For those who don't have the recipe, here it is:


                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          Yes! I like that recipe! I didn't link it for the OP along with the other Mexican Everyday links I posted below because I see the OP is trying to eat more healthfully and I didn't think the sausage would necessarily fit with that. But, I agree with you that the Bayless pork tinga it is a very delicious and simple recipe. I don't know how it would be if you omitted the sausage, but I suppose it could be worth a try.

                                                          (P.S. I just imported that recipe into my pepperplate account! I've just been using the recipe out of the book up until now).


                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                            I also really like this one in a slow cooker, Homesick Texan's Texas Pulled Pork, even though it's not a "slow cooker" recipe.


                                                            I make a big batch of rub in advance. I usually use a commercial BBQ sauce instead of making my own.


                                        2. Here's a link to some recipes I posted to a similar thread "Shamefully easy slow cooker recipes?" wherein the OP says she wants to eat more healthfully:




                                          1. Rick Bayless has several in Mexican Everyday. Most cook for 6 hours and keep on warm for 4. So, it depends on what you consider a full day.

                                            Slow Cooked Pork Stew with Tomatillos, Mushrooms and Potatoes: you do have to roast 3 poblanos, but then it's dump and go from there. I use canned tomatillos.


                                            Slow Cooked Chicken Veracruz-Style

                                            Slightly more effort: Cochinita Pibil

                                            Pollo Pulquero by rick bayless in Mexican Everyday