Crockpots are a great way to get a hot meal going on a warm day. You toss in some ingredients, press a button, and a few hours later you have a steaming hot, wonderfully delicious meal to scarf down.
Hot meals are comfort food for me, and perhaps a big reason why I can't give them up even during the dog days of summer. It could be because I am from India. In Bombay, where the sun beats down nearly all year round with the fury of a drum, my mom and aunts would gather in the kitchen to cook for the family. Sweat would run down their foreheads, turning their vermilion dots into tiny red rivulets, as they slogged over boiling karahis of oil, or pushed heavy grinding stones to make curry pastes. Overhead, a small Crompton fan cut the thick air wearily, the only source of a reluctant breeze. Even the open windows brought no relief -- they were just one more way for the sun to get in.
But you didn't hear any complaints-- none. It just was the way it was. And no one ever even dreamed of serving up a salad or a cold meal because that just wouldn't be considered "real food."
While I am not that diligent, I still am crazy enough -- and set enough in my ways -- to crave a hot meal on a sweltering day. Enter the amazing crockpot or slow cooker, one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. Over years and years of cooking in one of these, I've discovered countless benefits:
- Crockpots do not heat up the kitchen, unlike a stove or an oven, making them ideal for summer cooking.
- Foods become incredibly flavorful when slow-cooked, because the ingredients have all that time to sit around and get to know each other really well
- Dishes can easily be made fat-free or low-fat, because there's no intense sauteing and frying.
- Crockpot cooking is a great way to clean up your refrigerator or pantry. Toss in that last carrot from the crisper and that can of beans that's been sitting on the shelf for a year. Stir in some herbs and an onion and some garlic. Yum.
- Cleanup is a breeze. You don't have to find room for three saucepans and four ladles in the dishwasher.
This past weekend in Washington was a warm one, and I wanted something bean-y and chock-full of vegetables without having to work for it. I had picked up some pearly green cubanelle peppers on my trip to the grocery store, and I had the perfect recipe in mind: my fat-free Cuban Black Bean stew.
This is a supremely easy stew to make, and it requires just a handful of ingredients. If you don't have cubanelles, you can always use green bell peppers which would be quite delicious in this. Cubanelles are sweet and mild, and rather thin-walled. In the crockpot, they cook to a soft, melt-in-the-mouth consistency. The stew has tons of flavor from cumin and oregano, and into the mix I added some sweet potatoes, not a traditional ingredient in these stews but one I thought would contrast beautifully with the smoky cumin.
This stew is quite truly a one-pot meal. And all you need to serve up with it is some boiled rice-- white is traditional, but go with brown if you'd rather.
Oil-Free Cuban Black Beans in a Crockpot
- 30 ounce black beans, (cooked or canned. If using canned, make sure they are rinsed and drained)
- 1 large shallot (Can use red onion, plus half of a shallot for garnish, minced)
- 2 cubanelle peppers (Can use green bell peppers instead, chopped in a fine dice)
- 5 large cloves garlic, (pounded into a paste in a molcajete or mortar and pestle, with salt)
- 1 large sweet potato, (chopped in a fine dice)
- 1 tsp dry oregano
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 2 cups vegetable stock or water
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp cilantro (chopped, for garnish)
- Plug in a crockpot and set on high. When the crockpot has heated, add one chopped shallot and cubanelles and garlic. Add some ground black pepper and salt.
- Add a tablespoon of water or, if you don't mind some oil, 1 tsp of vegetable oil. Stir well to coat, cover with a lid, and let the mixture cook while you chop the sweet potato.
- Add the sweet potato to the pot along with the cumin, oregano and black beans. Add more salt and ground black pepper to taste.
- Give everything a good stir, then add 2 cups of vegetable stock. Stir again to mix.
- Cover the crockpot with a lid, and let it cook on high about 2 hours or until the sweet potatoes are really soft. Check salt and add more if needed.
- Garnish with some cilantro and the chopped shallots or red onions reserved for garnish.
- Serve hot with rice.