4 Steps to Hearty and Healthy Slow Cooker Stews
I love simple meals like slow cooker stews.
Easy to make, rustic, healthy, and stick to your ribs good. And my slow cooker? It’s just about my best friend these days. A simple $20 slow cooker can be a life saver when you know you have a busy week coming up, or when you want to make a larger batch of something you can turn into multiple (or even freezable!) meals.
I also love that you can play with the flavors and textures of slow cooker stews. With just 4 simple components, you can make an easy family friendly and super healthy meal that’s ready for you when you walk through the door after a day at work. But don’t limit your slow cookers to just weekdays. Some of the best of my Sunday suppers (like my fool proof pot roast and Cuban pork) were made in the slow cooker. Really, the options are endless.
Is the world of slow cooking new territory for you? Need a place to start? Here are my 4 easy steps to successful slow cooker stews:
1. Protein– Choose a protein to start your stew. I love using boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork loins, chunks of beef chuck, garbanzo or black beans, and even tofu!
2. Vegetables– Choose a few veggies to really bring your stew together. Root vegetables hold up well in the slow cooker, so try rutabaga, sweet potatoes, carrots or parsnips. Greens like kale and spinach add flavor and texture. Onions, garlic cloves, and even tomatoes bring depth to a dish.
3. Seasonings– Choose a few fresh or dried herbs to add flavor and freshness to your stew. Thyme, rosemary, tarragon, oregano, cilantro or even parsley are great additions. Warm seasonings like cumin, smoked paprika, curry or dried mustard hold up well in the slow cooker.
4. Liquid– Homemade or store bought broths or stocks, tomato sauces, barbecue sauces, salad dressings and sometimes even water (like if you’re using strong seasonings and herbs) are perfect. You should have enough liquid to cover about half of the ingredients in the slow cooker.
Cooking times vary depending on the ingredients. Check out this awesome chart with various cooking times organized by protein. You can also reference your slow cooker’s user’s manual for cooking times. Most will come with an instruction booklet.
Tonight’s dinner was brought to you by my own little slow cooker. I stocked up on chicken last week when it was BOGO at Publix (such a deal!). I decided to use one of the boneless skinless packs for this delicious sweet potato and chicken stew. I’m serving it over polenta for a hearty meal before my softball game this evening. Enjoy!
Chicken and sweet potato stew
- 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
- 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 4-5 carrots chopped (or a cup of baby carrots)
- 1 stalk of celery, diced
- 2 cups of baby spinach
- 5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme (off the stems)
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp. cumin
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 box low sodium chicken broth
Layer ingredients into the slow cooker in this order: vegetables, chicken, spinach, broth. Cook on low for 8 hours. Stir and remove chunks of chicken. Using a fork (or your hands!) shred the chicken then add back to the stew. Stir to combine then serve over polenta. Delish!
Slow cooker tips:
- Purchase a slow cooker with a timer, that way if you’re running late, you can set it to turn off after cooking is completed.
- Slow cooker meals should be treated like any other meals. Use the “keep warm” feature so that they remain at a safe temperature, then cool and store meals promptly, as you would any other type of meal.
- When cooking beef or pork loin, sear meats in a pan prior to placing in the crock pot. The carmelization will help give extra flavor and juiciness to your dish!
- Once you get comfortable with cooking stews using my 4 step system, break outside the box and try some other recipes! Rice pudding, casseroles and even breads can be made using your slow cooker!
And one last thing…. a reminder to keep on hand, print out and have ready for you to start your slow cooking adventures! What are your favorite slow cooker recipes? Do share!