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March 20, 2017 / Amy Height

How to Adapt Recipes for a Slow Cooker

Harissa lentil stew

Besides meal planning, there are few other things that make weeknight meals as stress-free as a slow cooker. Tossing ingredients in and coming home 8 hours later to a fully cooked meal is something of a miracle.

Even more miraculous: You can easily turn some of  your favorite oven and stovetop recipes into slow cooker-friendly versions!

There are a few modifications you should know to ensure your slow cooker take turns out as perfectly as the original. Here's how to adapt recipes for a slow cooker in 3 easy steps:

1. Identifying the right recipe

Not all recipes are suited to the slow cooker, so let’s start by identifying which ones make good candidates.

Your recipe should have a cooking time of at least one hour: anything less than that and you’re likely to end up with overcooked ingredients by the time you get home. Soups, stews and casseroles are great options to try in the slow cooker.

You’ll also want to choose something that has a bit of liquid content, as the liquid helps cook the solid ingredients more gently; if not a typical soup or stew, at least something that includes a fair quantity of vegetables, as these will release their water content during the cooking process. Poached chicken and fish can also do well in the slow cooker when cooked in broth in low heat.

2. To precook or not to precook

If your recipe includes large pieces of meat, feel free to toss them in raw: the slow cooker will break them down over many hours. Smaller pieces of meat or ground-style produce (such as ground turkey or beef) should be precooked. While these will cook through in the slow cooker, you’ll get a nicer texture if they’re browned a bit in a pan before being added to the slow cooker.

Most vegetables are fine to be added raw to the mix. You’ll avoid overcooking and end up with a more toothsome texture in the finished dish. Just be on the lookout for any delicate veggies: quick-cooking varieties like peas, corn, green beans and spinach should be added in the last 30 to 60 minutes of cooking, perhaps while you’re setting the table or making a salad to pair with your meal.

If your recipe calls for dairy, particularly cheese or yogurt, consider adding these in at the end of cooking, stirring them in and simmering for a few minutes before serving.

3. Calculating cook time

Check out your original recipe. If the cook time is around an hour, your dish will likely take about 4 hours in the slow cooker on high heat. If the original cook time is over an hour, it will likely need about 8 hours on low heat to achieve the same texture and taste.

If you won’t be home when the dish is done, set your slow cooker to switch over to the ‘warm’ setting once the cook time is complete.

Want more adaptable recipe tips? Stay tuned for how to adapt recipes for the Instant Pot!

Amy Height
Holistic Nutritionist @ From the Ground Up Wellness

Amy Height is the founder of From the Ground Up Wellness, a holistic nutrition practice where she specializes in plant-based nutrition and helping her clients combat food addiction. She completed her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she received her certification in the Health Coach Training Program. She is a triathlete and CrossFitter with a passion for all things outdoors. By night, Amy stage manages Broadway musicals and she frequently travels North America seeking out the best vegan restaurants and the best run courses. Follow her on Instagram or check out her blog for recipe and wellness ideas.

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