I love my crock pot. It’s great to wake up to a fresh pot full of beans or come home from work to one of my favorite comfort foods of all time, chili. But until a couple of years ago, most slow cooker cookbooks were geared towards the meat-eating crowd. As a vegetarian, my go-to slow cooker cookbook was Robin Robertson’s book, Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker (2003). I love that cookbook, but I’m always on the lookout for more meat-free cookbooks to expand my slow cooker repertoire. Since I also love vegan cooking, I was thrilled to be able to add Kathy Hester’s recent release, The Vegan Slow Cooker, into the mix. Among the book’s 150 recipes are the usual veg*n slow cooker staples — do-it-yourself seitan, soups, and chilis — but it’s also filled with tons of items that are de rigeur at the moment (namely Asian fusion and Indian foods).
Unlike a lot of cookbooks that only have a handful of pictures printed on glossy paper, this one takes a more cost-effective route by printing its pictures on the same matte paper as the rest of the cookbook. I love this because they were able to include a lot more photos of the recipes — always a plus where food is concerned!
The intro is short and sweet: a few FAQs to point you in the right direction, some substitutions you can use if you’re out of something or have certain dietary restrictions, and that’s pretty much it. Some of the staples are also very no-frills, sometimes to a fault. The recipe for dry beans (meant as a staple to be incorporated into other recipes, not as a stand-alone dish), for example, basically amounts to “put beans in water and cook for 6 to 8 hours.” I’ll admit, that had me worried at first.
But even if you skim the book, you’ll see that Hester knows her stuff. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t just throw a bunch of stuff in a slow cooker and set it to high for the day (well, you can, but your food won’t be as awesome). There’s a bit of prep involved, and flavors always blend a lot better if you saute some of your ingredients first. Hester makes it easier for you by telling you what you can prep the night before, that way you can just toss all your ingredients together in the morning before heading to work.
For my test recipe, I decided to go with Indian food. There isn’t a good Indian place near me for literally hundreds of miles, and every time I go visit friends I make sure to go somewhere that serves good saag paneer. When I saw the recipe for chana saag (chickpeas in pureed spinach), I went for it:
I know it looks, um…interesting (the saag dishes I eat aren’t usually so pureed), but it tasted great; I ended up eating like three servings. It was pretty inexpensive, too. Rather than go to the grocery store and buy containers of spices I’ll use sparingly (like garam masala), I went to the health food store, which sells spices in bulk. I only purchased a tiny amount of each, and ended up getting all the spices I needed for about a dollar. It’s a good way to go if you’re experimenting on a budget (Hester mentions this tip in her intro).
The Vegan Slow Cooker has something for everyone…even pizza! There’s still a bunch of recipes I want to try like the Fall Harvest Fruit Butter, the Tofu Bouillabaisse, the Citrusy Rosemary Breakfast Bread, and the soup that I have been craving for the 11+ years that I’ve been vegetarian but have yet to find a good veg*n version of: Hot and Sour Soup. I can’t wait to make more of these recipes in the months to come. This one looks like a keeper!
The Vegan Slow Cooker was released on October 1, 2011 by Fair Winds Press, an imprint of Quayside Publishing Group.