Slow cooker season is upon us and there’s no doubt that using this handy piece of kitchen equipment is a great way to save time, prepare a delicious meal, and give your sink the night off, with little dishwashing required. But a slow-cooker is not just for soups. It’s quite surprising just how many things you can use your slow cooker for, with there being many ways it can help you out in the kitchen you might not expect.

Slow cookers are also very beneficial for saving electricity. It’s more more energy efficient to leave your slow-cooker on than it is to operate the stove, or leave the oven on. Even for simple items like baked potatoes, your slow-cooker can help you out to save you time, money, and hassle.

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So, that being said, check out these crazy, yet fun, five ways to use your slow-cooker all year long:

1. Make Vegan Yogurt

Possibly one of the most beneficial, best ways to use your slow-cooker is to make vegan yogurt. Vegans don’t have to spend $2.00 a container just to get some yummy, healthy non-dairy yogurt in their diet. It can easily be enjoyed at a cheaper cost (and without all the nasty fillers or sugars most vegan yogurts contain.)

To make vegan yogurt:

Empty a carton of non-dairy milk into a large slow-cooker. It’s best to use a thicker milk like soy, coconut, or some brands of almond milk. Thinner milks like rice won’t work as well. Set the temperature to low and leave on for 2.5 hours. Take the lid off, and unplug the machine. Leave it alone for 3 hours to cool properly. Remove a cup of the milk and put it in the blender. Add a non-dairy culture starter or you can open up several high-quality vegan probiotic capsules and sprinkle those into the blender with the milk if you don’t have a starter culture. You can also use a regular container of non-dairy yogurt that includes some type of healthy vegan-based probiotic culture in it. Blend just to incorporate, add any sweetener or flavorings like vanilla if you like, and then pour this back into the cooled slow cooker. Stir with a spoon, cover it with a large towel. Wrap it up to incubate it and let it sit in the oven overnight to culture. The oven needs to be completely cool since keeping it away from air drafts will help the cultures prepare faster. After 12 hours, check your yogurt. If it’s not thick enough, put it back in and let it set even longer (no more than 24 hours.) It should smell like yogurt and be thicker than milk. It may not be as thick as regular yogurt, but since it’s free of fillers, it’s much healthier and still very useful in dishes you would normally use yogurt. Be sure to store it in the fridge as soon as you’re done letting it culture. It will keep for a couple weeks.

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2. Make Foil-Packed Dinners

If you’ve never tried foil dinners, you’re truly missing out. They help you make amazing dinners with absolutely no mess. Most people cook them in the oven but it’s much easier to use your slow-cooker, especially if it’s just one or two of you.

To make foil-packed dinners:

Spread a piece of tinfoil about 8×8 inches in size out on the counter. Chop some veggies of your choice, add some seasoned tofu, tempeh, beans, or legumes, and even a healthy starch like some quinoa, oats, or rice. Season with whatever you want. Wrap each side up so the sides meet at the top like a foil packet. Seal well, and place in the slow-cooker. Leave on for 4 hours on high and come back to a delicious smelling dinner or lunch! The steam inside the foil is what cooks the food and the best part is, there’s no clean-up! Just be careful when you open up the packets since the hot air that comes out will burn if you’re not careful.

3. To Make Hot Fudge Vegan Sundae Sauce

Caramel sauce and hot, warm bananas go excellent on top of vegan ice cream. Prepare the topping easily in your slow-cooker all at the same time without sauteing or broiling each one in a pan on the stove.  You can serve this healthy, 100 percent plant-based topping not just on ice cream, but also oatmeal for a decadent breakfast and chilled vegan yogurt. Or, blend with some non-dairy milk, add some cocoa or cacao nibs, and make a hot fudge sundae milkshake!

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To make the Caramel and Warm Banana Cream:

Add 1 cup of dates, 1/2 cup non-dairy milk, and some vanilla to your slow-cooker. Add 2 chopped bananas (preferably ripe) on top. Cook for 2-3 hours until the dates have browned, the sugars have cooked down, and the bananas are completely cooked and soft. Transfer this to your blender, blend, and there you go- hot fudge, warm banana caramel sauce perfect for vegan ice cream hot fudge sundaes!

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4. Quit Soaking Your Beans!

You needn’t soak beans anymore, thanks to your slow-cooker. Cooking beans long and slow overnight requires no soaking, since the longer cooking time breaks down the hard-to-digest acids, sugars, and starches (which is why people soak beans in the first place.)

To slow-cook your no soak beans:

Add a cup of rinsed beans to your slow-cooker, 3 cups of water, a pinch of salt, and cook at least 12 hours (or 8 at the minimum.) You can also add seasonings before cooking if you wish. Come back in the morning and there you have it- a nice serving of beans with no soaking and boiling required. Enjoy your beans in: Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili, Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Chili, or White Bean and Kale Soup.

5. Roasted Nuts and Seeds

Craving some cinnamon roasted almonds or maybe some hot tamari, Sriracha-spiced cashews? What about cinnamon, pepper, and maple-roasted pumpkin seeds? No need to pull out your oven mitts, thanks to your slow-cooker.

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To make roasted nuts and seeds:

Grease the bottom of your slow-cooker with some coconut oil or organic, non-GMO non-stick spray (not olive oil since it’s not best for high temps.) Place a cup of your choice nuts and seeds, any spices and seasonings you want into the slow-cooker. Cook for 3-4 hours on high or until they’re roasted. Some smaller cookers will cook them in less time. Feel free to make more if you like. A cup will provide four 1/4 cup servings, perfect for an afternoon snack. Be sure to cool these and store in little baggies or small glass jars. They’re best kept in the fridge to prevent spoilage.

Choose from flavors like:

  • cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of maple syrup
  • tamari, ginger, lemon, and black pepper
  • Sriracha, garam masala, and turmeric
  • pumpkin pie spice, a pinch of maple syrup, and a pinch of sea salt

You can even use your slow-cooker to store items like sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, and winter squash if you’re out of kitchen counter space. Since they’re dark and cool spots, slow-cookers make convenient storage “bins” for these foods that normally sit in a pantry or on the countertop.

Also see: 10 Tips for How to Cook in a Slow Cooker, and It’s Not Just For Soup: 7 Ways to Put Your Slow-Cooker to Use. Simple recipes like slow-cooker oatmeal and vegan chili are also classic ways to use your slow-cooker that deserve some love too.

Do you use your slow-cooker any sort of creative ways?

Image Source: Diego/Flickr