Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker
I first heard of Robin Robertson from her yuba-wrapped vegetarian haggis in Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker: 200 Recipes for Healthy and Hearty One-Pot Meals That Are Ready When You Are. Now Robin has released a slow-cooker book catering to vegans, but you certainly don't have to be vegan (or even vegetarian!) to enjoy it. You'll find many surprising and tasty international influences within, like Vietnamese pho, three-bean cholent, Moroccan tempeh and chickpeas with prunes and apricots, French cassoulets, Greek beans, Latin updates (chimichurri spaghetti squash, layered tamale pie, seitan ropa vieja) and even a touch of soul food. If you're new to slow cookers, you'll find a handy chapter on slow cooker basics, including crockery care caveats (say that three times fast!), slow cooker points and pointers, tips for slow-cooking success, timing factors, and an in-depth look at ingredients (beans, packaged meat alternatives, vegan thickeners, etc.). Recipes are labeled whether there is a gluten- and/or soy-free option; however, no nutritional info is provided. Like her previous slow-cooker book (and those by other authors like Michele Scicolone), you will find many recipes that recommend sauteeing veggies and/or spices in a skillet before adding them to the slow cooker. Yes, this results in extra pots and pans and prep time, but it adds a whole other layer of flavor to the finished dish. I tried several dishes, including the layered tapenade potatoes, slow-cooker pho, and the piña colada cake (which I baked up in muffin tins instead of cake form). *The layered tapenade potatoes had a great depth of flavor from the combination of the olives (I used kalamata instead of green), sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and capers; this would be good on its own as a dip. I like lots of crunchy topping, so I added extra toasted panko (the recipe only calls for 3 tablespoons). * The pho had a rich, spicy broth made with whole star anise and cloves (I used Bouquet Garni Bags for easier removal). I also used a different kind of miso that I had on hand. This would make a great breakfast soup on its own without the rice noodles, much like miso is served in Japan. *Finally, I tried the piña colada cake, which is rich with three types of coconut (shredded unsweetened, coconut extract, and cream of coconut), a splash of dark rum, and pineapple chunks and juice. These baked up super-moist, and I added additional shredded coconut after applying the glaze. One thing to note: the bean recipes call for precooked beans, either canned or homemade, so make sure you have some form of cooked beans on hand before starting the recipes. One of the few recipes that calls for dried beans is the three-bean cholent, which has a recommended cooking time of 8 to 11.5 hours or overnight. I've already bookmarked many other recipes to try (the ribollita is next on my list). I particularly liked the breakfast and dessert chapters, which feature cakes, bread pudding, and breads. The hot sangria from the hot drinks chapter will also be in frequent rotation, and you'll find plenty of appetizing nibbles to serve with the various punches (spiced rum punch, celebration punch, blushing spiced cider). There is sufficient variety and dishes to suit every taste to keep you happily coming back to Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker.