People think of slow cookers as useful pieces of equipment for cooking tough cuts of meat. However, they are equally 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. Here are three recipes that don't involve meat or all-day cooking.
Indian curried yellow split pea and coconut soup
Korma curry powders are milder than many other Indian spice mixes, so this is a great way to introduce aromatic food to your family. Add less if your family is still getting used to spiciness.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 brown onions, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 leek, white part only, washed, thinly sliced
1 carrot, diced
1-3 tbsp korma curry powder
660g (3 cups) yellow split peas, rinsed
2 litres (8 cups) good-quality vegetable stock
300ml coconut milk
45g (1 cup) baby spinach leaves
juice of 2 limes, or to taste
1 long red chilli, thinly sliced diagonally, Greek-style yoghurt and coriander leaves, to serve
Heat the olive oil in the insert pan of a slow cooker or a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, leek and carrot and saute for 5-7 minutes, or until tender. Add the curry powder and stir for 30 seconds, or until aromatic.
Return the insert pan, if using, to the slow cooker, or transfer the vegetable mixture to the slow cooker. Add the split peas and stock. Cover and cook on high for 3½ hours, or until the split peas are very tender.
Stir the coconut milk through. Puree the mixture to a rough consistency, using a stick blender, food processor or blender, leaving some of the soup un-pureed if desired. (You may need to add a little extra coconut milk to reach your desired consistency.) Stir in the spinach and lime juice, to taste. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Ladle into bowls and serve topped with chilli, yoghurt and coriander.
Great for fussy kids. Photo: Alan Benson
Three-cheese and silverbeet lasagne
This lasagne is a great way to get extra green vegetables into fussy kids because the silverbeet is hidden in the layers of pasta and tomato sauce.
80ml extra virgin olive oil
750g silverbeet, leaves finely shredded, stems finely chopped, kept separate
1 small red onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
large handful basil, stems finely chopped, leaves coarsely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste (concentrated puree)
3 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
100g (1 cup) finely grated parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
150g bocconcini or mozzarella, cut into small cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten
250-300g lasagne sheets
green salad, to serve (optional)
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the silverbeet stems and onion for 2 minutes, then add the silverbeet leaves and cook for a further 3 minutes until wilted. Drain, squeezing out any excess liquid. Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool while making the tomato sauce.
Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and basil stems and cook for 3 minutes until golden. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute before adding the chopped tomatoes. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then simmer for 10 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.
Add the three cheeses, egg and basil leaves to the bowl with the silverbeet and mix well. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Transfer about one-third of the tomato sauce to the slow cooker and spread over the base. Arrange a layer of lasagne sheets (about one-third of the sheets) on top of the sauce, snapping to fit if necessary. Top with half of the silverbeet mixture, another layer of lasagne sheets and another third of the sauce. Top with the remaining filling, lasagne sheets and tomato sauce. Cook on low for 3 hours, or until the pasta is tender.
Serve with extra grated parmesan and a green salad, if you like.
Irresistible sticky date pudding. Photo: Alan Benson
Sticky date pudding
Who can resist a classic sticky date pudding? You need a small slow cooker for this, with a capacity no greater than 4 litres (16 cups).
240g (1½ cups) pitted dates, coarsely chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
80g butter, plus extra for greasing
80g (½ cup) coconut sugar
80ml (⅓ cup) maple syrup
80ml (⅓ cup) light olive oil
225g (1½ cups) self-raising flour
vanilla ice-cream, to serve
125 ml (½ cup) maple syrup
80g (½ cup) coconut sugar
¼ tsp salt
Grease the slow cooker and line with baking paper. Put the dates and bicarbonate of soda into a heatproof bowl. Pour over 375ml (1½ cups) of boiling water and set aside for 20 minutes.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar and maple syrup until thick and pale. Beat in the oil, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gently fold in the date mixture, followed by the flour, until just combined. Spoon into the slow cooker and cook on low for 3 hours.
To make the caramel sauce, put the maple syrup and sugar into a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until dissolved. Add the butter and salt, stirring to melt. Once the butter has melted, reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes until thickened slightly.
Carefully remove the pudding and serve with the caramel sauce and ice-cream.
Images and recipes from Slow Cooker Vegetarian by Katy Holder, Murdoch Books, RRP $29.99. Photography by Alan Benson