Slow Cooker Redux, and a Very Green Soup
Posted on January 22, 2016
Happy New Year! (If you’re on the Eastern Seaboard reading this, skip to the recipe at the end and hurry up and run out for kale if there’s time before the snowstorm hits—it’d be a great soup to dip into throughout the long, cold weekend.)
I didn’t think it would take quite this long to finalize things, but I can now officially announce that I’m going to be writing a new book this year! It’ll be a book of meals based around the slow cooker, tentatively titled Coming Home to Dinner: A Modern Slow Cooker Handbook (8-hour main dishes + quick fresh sides). Back in 2004, I wrote a little book of slow cooker recipes that I think is now out of print. Those old recipes, most of them, are great, but I’ve learned a lot in the last decade or so—about using spices, about taking advantage of fresh ingredients . . . but mostly about making actual meals for an actual family. The new book will be much, much more useful on an everyday basis.
I want this book to be an intuitive guide to putting together satisfying, delicious full meals with as little futzing around as possible. The main part of each meal will be made in a slow cooker and will be true eight-hour recipes: you load the cooker in the morning, leave it for at least eight hours (no four-hour or six-hour recipes here, because who goes to work for only four hours, and no tending the pot mid-cycle), and quickly finish up the meal in the evening, incorporating super-simple sides and toppings and accompaniments to make the meal pop.
All the slow cooker recipe instructions will be written in two clear parts headed morning and evening, so you can skim a recipe and see immediately how much prep is needed to get the meal going and how much you’ll need to do at the last minute to get dinner on the table. Each meal will also have a one- or two-sentence at-a-glance plan, so you’ll be able to easily pick recipes that fit your schedule, because I know that sometimes mornings are especially hectic and sometimes the evenings are. I’m thinking there will be about 100 full meals in the book (main slow cooker dishes plus sides), and of course there’ll be tons of lovely photographs.
There will also be a section of weekend-cooking recipes and ideas for make-ahead meal elements: how to cook large batches of dried beans and whole grains to keep on hand in the fridge or freezer, for example, and special ingredients that are best prepared in the slow cooker but that aren’t actual meals in themselves—real homemade ghee, confit, stocks and sauces, and even a super-simple one-ingredient cheese. It’s going to be a big book, in other words, and I think it could become the honest-to-god workhorse cookbook in many of your kitchens.
And when I finish this project, which is due to the publisher this summer (yikes), I won’t be able to tell myself that this is the last cookbook I’ll ever write, as I always do when I wrap up a manuscript—cookbook writing is fun, but all-consuming. I can tell myself that it’ll be the second-to-last book, because my amazing publisher has offered me a two-book deal, which means I’ll be diving in to the next book right away. The second book’s topic is to be determined (ideas, anyone?).
I’m going to be sharing a bit of the recipe-development and writing process here and on Instagram as I work in the next six months, so please check back occasionally. As a small preview, I want to share a kind of weirdly tasty kale soup recipe I was messing around with the other day. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about it, because sometimes my tastes don’t align quite flush with my family’s—this soup incorporates an entire bunch of kale. But then I put it on the table for supper (with a couple other options just in case), and my nine-year-old daughter kept ladling serving after serving for herself and practically licked her bowl clean. Either she hadn’t eaten in days or that was good soup. It’s the kind of simple recipe that will lend itself well to experimentation: Use the following almost-not-a-recipe as a baseline and start adding different spices, different greens; try a combination of russet and sweet potatoes; add some caramelized onions or a few cloves of roasted garlic; get creative with garnishes.
Kale, Potato, and Almond Soup
THE PLAN: Load the cooker in the morning. In the evening, add spinach and lemon juice and puree it.
Almost all of the slow cooker recipes in the new book will be made in a 3 1/2- to 5-quart cooker, because I’ve found this to be the most useful size for my purposes. Some of the recipes will make large-ish batches so if your family isn’t huge you’ll likely have leftovers (and I’ll definitely be including details about how to use those leftovers in interesting ways); some of the recipes will make smaller quantities just right for one meal for a family of, say, four. I’ll also include some tips for increasing the batch size for larger cookers. If you’re running out to buy a slow cooker right now because you’re so excited about this book, I’d recommend either the basic Rival Crock-Pot 4-quart oval, or the fancier Cuisinart 3 1/2-quart programmable oval (which has an extra-low “simmer” setting that could be useful if your workdays are especially long). For quite a lot of the recipes, including this one, an immersion (stick) blender will come in handy too.
3 russet potatoes, cut into chunks
1 cup (140 g) almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch (10 ounces/280 g) kale
2 big handfuls of baby spinach
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
MORNING: Put the potatoes, 1/2 cup (70 g) of the almonds, the salt, pepper, and 6 cups (1.4 L) water in the slow cooker. Wash the kale, then gather back into a bunch and cut the leaves crosswise into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) lengths. Add to the cooker, packing it down so it fits. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
EVENING: Add the spinach and lemon juice to the cooker and use an immersion blender (or a standing blender) to puree the soup until it’s as smooth as possible—this could take a few minutes. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Cover and keep warm in the cooker.
Coarsely chop the remaining 1/2 cup (70 g) almonds and cook them in a sauté pan with the oil over medium-high heat, stirring, until they’re lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve the soup, topping each serving with almonds.
TO ACCOMPANY: Fried Bread
EVENING: Cut the bread into 2-inch (5-cm) lengths, then split each piece horizontally. Add a little oil to a sauté pan (the one you cooked the almonds in) and place over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the bread pieces, cut side down, and fry until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and serve.