Think you don’t need a slow cooker? Think you’re too cool, too hip, too spontaneous? Think again, says Amanda Thompson.
Say hello to my little crockpot. Yes, I know it is very old and unattractive and the handle is broken and there are bits of nasty brown packing tape on the lid for some long-forgotten reason. Also, that tea towel isn’t there for effect – the pot has developed a concerning dribbling that (as with the rest of us) probably means it is coming to the end of its working life. This is sad. A fancy new slow cooker of this size costs, and I dread the day I will have to go to my local quality op shop (the one where they test the electrical cords on things first so you won’t meet a shocking end by second-hand hair straightener) and wait for someone to drop off the stuff they cleared out of Nan’s house after the funeral, death being the only reason anyone would give up their crockpot.
Once when I was younger and stupider I thought I didn’t need a crockpot. I thought they were the laughable domain of Tupperware-hoarding suburban housewives. Oh how I laughed at those housewives. A friend actually persuaded me to swap this one for something of mine; it was clearly something of lesser value than this pot, like my soul or a bar of gold, because I no longer remember what it was. My friend perhaps realised she had gotten a bum deal on the swap because the crockpot has outlived not only that memory but that entire friendship. This baby has cooked through some life, man.
Anyway, the thing about a slow cooker is, of course, that it makes your life easier. So much easier. I would never go away and leave my oven on all day but a slow cooker? Sure. Modern ones are wifi enabled and can be controlled remotely like a robot chef. I’m all down for having a robot chef, and I’m down for literally anything that makes easier meals with enough extra to stick in a Tupperware container (so I came around to those too) and into the freezer for another day when you can’t even be arsed with the pitiful amount effort you need for a crockpot.
To convince any of you fence sitters out there, I give you this recipe for the best-ever easy lentils. Lentils and crockpots go sadly together as one huge joke for my generation – the usually dry and virtuous casseroles of well-meaning hippy mums. Everyone I knew loathed lentils growing up. My children – and anyone else I give this soupy stew – love them completely. The recipe is adapted for laziness from one I found in The Silver Palate Cookbook, that 1979 yuppy food bible, nothing hippy about it at all. Swap out the chicken stock for vege and it is excellent for convincing steakatarians that vegan food is not trying to kill them. Swap out the stock altogether for a quarter of a bottle of merlot and a couple of lamb shanks and steakatarians will fall at your feet in ecstasy.
This version will cost you about 87 cents and is best as a soup with a crusty loaf. You can use plain brown or fancy French Puy lentils but don’t be tempted to go for the anaemic yellow ones or you will end up with a sad goop. You can also make them in a giant saucepan if you don’t have a slow cooker – spend the time you are stirring and checking they’re not sticking to the bottom, thinking about how much easier it all would have been with a crockpot.
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- 1 cup dry brown lentils
- 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 cups water
- 400g tin tomatoes
- 1 large onion, chopped
- couple of stalks of celery, chopped
- 3 large carrots, chopped (peel if you really must)
- 4, 6, lots – you choose – cloves fresh garlic, peeled
- 2 teaspoons thyme or parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- pepper, salt
About eight hours before you want to eat, put all of this stuff in your slow cooker and turn it on high.
Walk away and live your life.
About half an hour before you want to eat, check the soup situation and add more water if needed. Note that your house is slightly warmer and more fragrant because of your excellent crockpot. Pull out the bay leaves and mash it all up a bit for a more soupy texture. It will not look fancy but I guarantee it will taste delicious and make a lifelong lentil (and crockpot) lover of you.
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