We’ve always had a casual love affair with the slow cooker. Now our friend and cookbook author Kathy Hester has turned that occasional fling of ours into a deeply rooted relationship. Pumpkin purée in a slow cooker? Who knew?
Basically a cooking pot surrounded by an electrical heating element, a slow cooker has an inner ceramic pot, or “crock,” that serves as both the cooking container and a heat reservoir to keep the heat constant. While we use our slow cooker for basic things like cooking beans or simmering tomato sauce, our reason to use it stems from the energy efficiency of the appliance. A side benefit in the summer is that show cookers don’t add more heat to the house, especially if they are placed on a front porch like we do.
“A slow cooker is an amazing tool for a working person because they can throw most meals together in the morning and come home to a dinner that just needs a few touches or is simply ready to eat,” shares Hester, a home gardener and loyal customer at the farmers market in Durham, N.C.
Her cookbook, The Vegan Slow Cooker, showcases the range of recipes that can be made in this handy appliance. As in our Farmstead Chef cookbook, she prioritizes local, seasonal ingredients—in Hester’s case only those that don’t involve animals. For those of us trying to explore ways to stretch our food budgets by cutting back on meat or are looking for “Meatless Monday” options, Hester’s book provides plenty of ideas. From Exotic Cardamom Hot Cocoa to Mushroom Lasagna with a Garlic Tofu Sauce, Hester champions the slow cooker, introduced in the 1970s, to new culinary heights.
New to slow cooking? No worries. Here are some handy tips to get started:
1. Consider the Size of the Slow Cooker
“For a family of two or four people who like leftovers, I recommend a 3½- to 4-quart slow cooker,” Hester advises. This size will also nicely cook about a pound of beans. Slow cookers also come in “3-in-1” styles that include a 2-quart, 4-quart and 6-quart crock that nest together and are easy to store. “Everyone should have one 2 quart or smaller slow cooker for breakfast and party dips. They are inexpensive and I promise you’ll use it more than you think. I have two that I use weekly.”
2. Do a Trial Run
“Stay home the first time you use a new-to-you slow cooker, just as a precaution,” Hester says. “This way you can gauge the cooking temperature of the slow cooker and find out if it is faulty in some way before running it alone.”
3. Clear the Space Around Your Slow Cooker
“Make sure the area around the slow cooker is clear of anything that could scorch before you leave the house,” Hester adds. “Some outside casings get fairly hot and could melt something plastic if it is left too close. Also, make sure the slow cooker is somewhere away from little hands or pets. Even if the outside is not hot, what’s in the slow cooker is and could cause damage if spilled.”
4. Sauté the Night Before
While pre-cooking and browning onions can be skipped if you’re in a hurry, Hester likes to cook her vegetables the night before for better flavor. She keeps the mixture in the fridge overnight and throws it all together the next morning.
5. The New Low Is Almost the Old High
Beware that older slow cookers cook at a lower temperature than newer models. “If you have an older one you may need to use less liquid than called for in newer slow cooker recipes,” Hester says. “However, if yours runs very hot, you may find yourself adding extra liquid. Once you’ve cooked in it a few times you’ll know what to do for future recipes.”
Hester’s cookbook along with her blog, Healthy Slow Cooking, share a range of recipes to make in the slow cooker. Just in time for the holidays, we’re delighted she shares her recipe for Beyond Easy Pumpkin Purée. Use a smaller pie pumpkin that will fit into a slow cooker and freeze in generous 1½-cup portions; that’s equivalent to one standard 15-ounce can.
Recipe: Beyond Easy Pumpkin Purée
from The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hester
Yield: 3 to 6 cups
Total Prep Time: 3 minutes
Total Cooking Time: 6 to 8 hours
1 pie pumpkin that will fit in your slow cooker
Wash pumpkin, and poke holes in it for steam to escape. Place it in the slow cooker, and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. When it’s ready, a fork should easily slide through the skin and the flesh.
Let pumpkin cool until you can touch it without burning yourself. Move it to cutting board, and slice in half. Remove seeds and pumpkin guts. Scrape the flesh into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth.
Check back near Thanksgiving for our Pumpkin Mousse Cheesecake recipe that uses pumpkin purée.