Four new stress-free vegetarian recipes for your slow cooker

This saucy vodka pasta is perfect for entertaining.
This saucy vodka pasta is perfect for entertaining. Photo: Supplied

If there's a word to describe using a slow cooker at home, it's calm, says Melbourne recipe writer and cooking teacher Alyce Alexandra.

"Anyone with a $50 slow cooker can cook delicious and nutritious food they are proud to serve and share," she writes in her new vegetarian cookbook Modern Slow Cooker.

"They'll be eating more healthily, more sustainably, saving money, saving time, caring for animals and stressing less."

Alyce Alexandra's new book.
Alyce Alexandra's new book. Photo: Supplied

Here are four set-and-forget recipes great for any day of the week.

Saucy vodka pasta

Now this is one recipe that's perfect for entertaining. It will have everyone talking. And we're not cooking off the alcohol, so it's even got a kick! (One standard drink per person, for anyone driving.) The sauce is your typical Italian pink or rose sauce, rich and silky, and we're using my favourite hack: cooking the pasta right in with the sauce in the slow cooker. Not only does it cut down on washing up, but the starch released as the pasta cooks adds a subtle body to the sauce. By the time you sit down for dinner, the chopping board, knife and frypan have long ago been washed, the kitchen is clean and the stage is set for a relaxing evening.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1kg ripe tomatoes, diced, or tinned diced tomatoes
  • 2 chicken-style stock cubes or 1 tablespoon faux-chicken style stock powder (recipe below) 
  • 3 teaspoons fine salt
  • 2 cups (500ml) water
  • 500g penne pasta
  • ½ cup (120g) double cream or plant-based butter
  • ½ cup (125ml) vodka

METHOD

  1. First, heat oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Once hot, add onion and saute for 5-10 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Add tomatoes, stock cubes or stock powder, salt and water. Cover and cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low.
  3. Four or eight hours later, give everything a really good stir. Add pasta, pushing down with the back of a spatula if necessary, ensuring that pasta is fully submerged. Cover and cook for 30 minutes on high (this is one of those times you need to be exact with time or you'll overcook the pasta).
  4. Add cream and vodka and give the pasta another really good stir. Cover and cook for a further 10 minutes on high.
  5. Test pasta for doneness – it should be cooked al dente, but if not, cover and cook for a further 10 minutes on high.
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Serve your pasta straight away – don't leave in the slow cooker on the keep warm setting or you'll overcook it.

Serves: 4

Extract from Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra, published by VikingSticky date pudding for everyoneSaucy vodka pastaSmoky pulled 'pork'Thick and saucy veg bologneseSingle use print & online

Rich, hearty and satisfying. Photo: Supplied

Thick and saucy veg bolognese

This sauce is such a favourite of mine because it's rich, hearty and satisfying, while also being a big dose of vegies. And it couldn't be further from a watery sauce – in fact it's so thick and luscious we had to water it down to make lasagne.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 brown onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 2 celery sticks, finely diced
  • 1 eggplant, diced
  • 400g swiss brown mushrooms, diced
  • 200g pitted kalamata olives, diced
  • 500g ripe tomatoes, diced
  • ¼ cup (70g) red miso paste*
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 chicken-style stock cubes or 1 tablespoon faux-chicken stock powder (recipe below)
  • 3 teaspoons ground sweet paprika
  • 700g passata
  • 1 potato, peeled and grated

METHOD

  1. First, heat oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Once hot, add onion and saute for 5-10 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. In this order, add carrot, celery, eggplant, mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, miso paste, maple syrup, stock cubes or stock powder, paprika and passata to slow cooker. Cover and cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low.
  3. Four or eight hours later, add grated potato, fold through, incorporating well. Cover and cook for a further 30 minutes on high.

And your bolognese is ready to serve! My favourite option is to ladle the sauce over penne or rigatoni and garnish with a sprinkling of cheese and fresh greens. This sauce is also great as a shepherd's pie base, a pie filling, pasta bake sauce, served over creamy polenta, stuffed in capsicums or inside a jacket potato. 

Serves: 6

* If avoiding gluten and soy, ensure miso paste is gluten and soy free. 

Extract from Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra, published by VikingSticky date pudding for everyoneSaucy vodka pastaSmoky pulled 'pork'Thick and saucy veg bologneseSingle use print & online

The meaty secret lies in two special ingredients: jackfruit and liquid smoke. Photo: Supplied

Smoky pulled 'pork'

It's very rare I try to imitate meat in a recipe, but this one just turned out so meaty it was impossible not to call it pulled "pork". The meaty secret lies in two special ingredients: jackfruit and liquid smoke. After a few hours cooking, the jackfruit shreds to the stringy texture of pulled meat, while the liquid smoke makes it taste like it's been cooked low and slow over hot coals for days. The hardest part about this recipe is finding those two ingredients – the actual method couldn't be any simpler if you tried. If you're planning your Mexican banquet in advance, the easiest place to get those ingredients is online.

INGREDIENTS

  • 600g jackfruit in water or brine, drained*
  • ¼ cup (70g) tomato paste
  • ¼ cup (90g) golden syrup
  • 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce**
  • 1½ tablespoons Mexican spice mix (recipe below)
  • 3 teaspoons fine salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1¼ teaspoons liquid smoke***

METHOD

  1. First, place jackfruit, tomato paste, golden syrup, worcestershire sauce, Mexican spice mix, salt and garlic in slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for 2 hours on high or 4 hours on low.
  2. Two or four hours later, add liquid smoke, stir to combine. Use two forks to shred jackfruit as you would meat.

Your pulled "pork" is ready. It looks pretty meaty, don't you think? Serve in tacos, burritos, toasted cheese sandwiches, spring rolls or sliders.

Serves: 4

* You'll find jackfruit in cans or vaccum-sealed packages from health food shops or online. As it becomes more and more popular, I've also recently seen it popping up in supermarkets. Make sure it's in water or brine, not syrup.

** For this recipe to be vegetarian and vegan, look for an anchovy-free worcestershire sauce, or better yet, make your own.

*** Liquid smoke is essential for this recipe – find it in specialist food stores or online. A 250ml bottle will last you a lifetime because a little goes a long way. My favourite is hickory-flavoured liquid smoke.

Note: This is a great recipe when entertaining a lot of people – set up a DIY taco station with this pulled "pork" as the base and plenty of fresh and flavoursome toppings. You can make up to four times this recipe in a large slow cooker – scale up the ingredients accordingly and follow exactly the same method and cooking time.

Extract from Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra, published by VikingSticky date pudding for everyoneSaucy vodka pastaSmoky pulled 'pork'Thick and saucy veg bologneseSingle use print & online

No dairy, eggs, soy or nuts. Photo: Supplied

Sticky date pudding for everyone

For everyone! Because firstly, it's so moreish and delicious everyone will want a slice, and secondly, it's free of dairy, eggs, soy and nuts (also making it vegan), and you can happily sub in gluten-free flour. It's one of those desserts you can make no matter who you're feeding, and without any compromise on texture or flavour – promise. This recipe might look on the longer side, but I promise it's really quick and easy. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups (280g) pitted dates
  • 1 cup (250ml) boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal*
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ cup (110g) brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light-tasting olive oil + extra for greasing
  • 1½ teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1 cup (150g) plain flour**
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Extras

  • 2L pudding basin or small casserole dish (preferably with lid) that fits inside slow cooker

METHOD

  1. First, place dates, water, flaxseed meal and bicarbonate of soda in a high-powered blender or food processor, stir to combine. Stand for 5 minutes.
  2. Add sugar, oil and spice. Process until well combined and dates are chopped but still a little chunky, 5-10 seconds.
  3. Add flour and baking powder, process on low speed until just combined. Fold any leftover flour in with a spatula.
  4. Grease a 2L pudding basin with olive oil using a pastry brush. Pour in date mixture. Give it a couple of bangs on the bench to release any air bubbles. Cover pudding with lid or foil, sealing tightly.
  5. Place inside slow cooker, then add water until pudding basin is two-thirds submerged. Cover and cook for 5 hours on high.
  6. Five hours later, check a skewer inserted in the pudding comes out more or less clean – not covered in raw mixture. If needed, cover and cook for a further 30 minutes on high.
  7. Once cooked, remove pudding basin from slow cooker and allow to stand for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate.

It's warm and ready to serve! Cut thick slices and serve with cream, gooey caramel sauce, poached pears, ice-cream or fresh strawberries ... or a combination. Just as good served cold, so don't stress if you're struggling to get the timing exactly right – you can make it up to 3 days in advance and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Serves: 8

* Flaxseed meal is simply flaxseeds (also known as linseeds) milled down to a fine powder. You can buy it pre-milled, but honestly, it's often not fresh and frankly not very nice – it's best to mill your own as needed, or mill a couple of tablespoons at a time and store in the fridge or freezer. Use a high-powered blender or coffee grinder, and remember 1 tablespoon of whole flaxseeds will come out as less than 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal.

** Use gluten-free flour for a gluten-free option.

Faux chicken stock powder 

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup (200 g) fine salt*
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes**
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

METHOD

  1. Place all ingredients in food processor or high-powered blender until a fine powder is formed, approximately 2 minutes.

Store in an airtight jar. Use 2 teaspoons instead of your standard stock cube, or add 2 teaspoons to 500ml water to make liquid stock.

Makes: 2 cups

* Note: Use a good-quality, unrefined salt such as a pink lake salt, never white table salt.

** Note: Nutritional yeast is not the same as instant yeast used in bread baking or brewer's yeast. Available from health food stores and some supermarkets.

Mexican spice mix

INGREDIENTS

  • 3½ tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 3 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1½ tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder

METHOD

  1. Place all spices in a large jar and shake to combine, or alternatively place in a mixing bowl and stir.

Store in a sealed glass jar for up to a year.

This is an edited extract from Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra, published by Viking, RRP $29.99. Buy now