Five ideas for slow cooker meals, from curries to cake

Basil Chicken in Coconut Sauce. Photos by Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor.
Basil Chicken in Coconut Sauce. Photos by Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor.
Published December 5 2017
Updated December 6 2017

Listen up. I know you and the slow cooker may have a tortured relationship. You chop, you season, you set the timer, hoping that a sultry, bubbling dish will greet you in 4 to 8 hours. What really happens is often more dry, more bland, more meh than that.

But it is the season of hope, and we are here to offer you that, in the form of five slow cooker recipes that actually taste good. The secret is a lot of yummy ingredients that taste better the longer they cook, plus fats like coconut milk that keep flavor levels high and the fact that we are leaning into the slow cooker curve. If you want a perfectly cooked chicken breast or crispy potatoes, turn the oven on and go to town. This is not that. This is rich, hot soups and curries and gooey desserts that can be prepared with minimal effort during this time-strapped month. But I promise you, they don’t taste like disappointment.

Basil Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce

Next time I make this recipe, I’m going to try to double the amount of sauce it makes, so that I can slather it on everything. It is so perfectly spiced and colorful and delicious. Start by seasoning 8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, with salt and pepper. Add them to a large skillet set over medium-high heat, along with a splash of olive oil. Cook for 4 minutes on each side, until browned. Remove from skillet and place on a plate. To your slow cooker, add the following: 2 13.5-ounce cans coconut milk, 2 tablespoons dried basil, 2 teaspoons salt, teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoons yellow curry powder and teaspoon chili powder. Stir well, then add 1 large chopped red onion, 8 cloves minced garlic and 2 finely chopped jalapenos, plus the browned chicken. Place lid on cooker and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, then add 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger to the cooker and stir. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon each cornstarch and cold water, then add to the slow cooker and stir into sauce. Shred the chicken, then return to cooker and coat chicken with sauce. Cook for another 15 minutes with lid on. Serve with basmati rice. Serves about 6. Recipe adapted from the Kitchn.

Sweet Potato and Chickpea Stew

This recipe is vegetarian (actually vegan, thanks to the coconut milk), but no one will miss the meat with tender chunks of sweet potato and fortifying chickpeas taking center stage. To make, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat, then add 1 large diced onion and season with salt. Cook for 5 minutes until soft, then add 4 medium sweet potatoes that have been peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks, plus a bit more salt. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons curry powder, a 1-inch piece of fresh ginger that has been peeled and minced, 3 cloves minced garlic and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add cup vegetable broth, and stir well. Add mixture to a slow cooker, then add 2 more cups vegetable broth, 2 15.5-ounce cans chickpeas, 2 diced red bell peppers, 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, and some black pepper to taste. Stir, then cover with lid and cook on high for 4 hours, or until sweet potatoes are very soft. Stir in a few big handfuls chopped kale and 1 13-14 ounce can coconut milk. Cover with lid and cook for 10 more minutes, then stir well and serve.

Chicken and Biscuits

This is one of my husband’s all-time favorite recipes, and it’s not hard to see why: heavy cream, thick chicken soup, biscuits. An ideal bowl of food for this time of year. To make, cut about 4 large carrots and 2 stalks celery into 1-inch pieces and chop 1 small onion. Add veggies to a slow cooker along with cup all-purpose flour. Stir. Add 1 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs on top of the veggies, then season with salt and pepper to taste and add cup each dry white wine and chicken broth. Cover cooker with lid and cook on high for about 2 hours, until chicken is cooked and veggies are tender. Meanwhile, in a bowl or food processor combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces, 1 tablespoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix until just combined, then add in 1 cup whole milk and stir until moistened. When chicken and veggies are done, add 1 cup frozen peas and cup heavy cream to slow cooker. Stir, breaking up chicken a bit into smaller pieces, then drop 6 mounds of the biscuit dough into the slow cooker, cover with lid and cook for 30 minutes before serving. Recipe adapted from Real Simple.

Spicy Beef Curry

Start by marinating about 2 pounds of lean steak, cut into small chunks. Add steak to a large zip-tip bag with the following: cup fat-free Greek yogurt, plus 1 teaspoon each salt, ground cumin, ground coriander and turmeric. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or up to overnight. When ready, add beef to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes, then add 1 large chopped onion and cook until softened. Transfer to a slow cooker and add the following: 2 tablespoons ground coriander, 1 tablespoons ground cumin, 1 tablespoon cardamom, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 2 tablespoons garam masala (optional), some pepper to taste, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 3 crushed garlic cloves, 1 1-inch piece of minced fresh ginger, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 2 cups beef broth and 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes. Stir very well so all spices are mixed and beef is coated, then cook on high for 4 hours. Taste beef, season more if desired, then serve with rice. Recipe adapted from Epicurious.

Chocolate Pudding Cake

Oh yes, we had to include a dessert. To make, whisk together 1 cups sugar, 1 cups all-purpose flour, cup unsalted melted butter, 4 large eggs, cup unsweetened cocoa, teaspoon coffee granules, teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract in a large bowl. Spray a slow cooker with cooking spray, then pour batter into the cooker. Place a kitchen towel over the slow cooker, then place lid over the towel. Make sure towel is laying flat and is taut. Cook on low for about 3 hours; you’ll know it’s done when the edges look set. Remove the bowl of the slow cooker to a wire rack, keeping the lid on, and let cake sit for about 30 minutes. Serve immediately, dusted with powdered sugar. Recipe adapted from Real Simple.