As warmer weather approaches, all kinds of outdoor activities — gardens, boating, biking, hiking and just mowing the lawn — call us to leave the kitchen stove for a while. Cool June evenings, however, make a warm supper welcome, whether it is chili and grilled hot dogs or beans with barbecue. A slow cooker takes care of preparation while we are busy doing other things.
I’ve been living with a slow cooker for a couple weeks, experimenting with its possibilities. Each slow cooker has its own capabilities. This one was second hand and came without an instruction manual, so I looked it up on the internet to learn how to drive this machine. I learned to cook rice by putting boiling hot water in a cooker set on high, then adding rice. I found a slow cooker would make chicken broth for me if I put the carcass of a roasted chicken in with water to cover and let it go for a whole morning on medium. Using the cooker meant I went out to the garden and came back in hours later to good smells and a running headstart to serving dinner.
I’ll bet anything some of you have been doing this for years already.
We really enjoyed a wholesome lentil stew with smoked sausage assembled one morning and put into the cooker. Essentially I prepared it the way I always prepared it on the stove top using instructions I found 30 years ago.
Back in those dark ages, a regular can of tomatoes was still 16 ounces. It has shrunk to 14, but don’t worry if you are scant by two ounces. Since I can my own tomatoes, I put them up in pint size jars so I still have 16 ounces, or two cups.
A medium onion and one carrot, each chopped, can be amplified to two if you want. Add garlic if you like it. I like oregano and basil, but you might prefer to use thyme, or marjoram. I used to add plain paprika until I discovered the joys of smoked paprika a few years ago. It stands up well to lentils. If you like a bit of capsicum zip, add red pepper flakes to taste, or a touch of cayenne or chipotle powder. You know the drill: season to taste.
This stew is vegan until you add the sausage. As far as sausage is concerned, feel free to use whatever sort you like. Chicken or turkey is a great alternative to pork and beef sausage.
You may find your cooker is faster or slower than mine. I consider the stew ready to eat when the lentils have broken up a little and thicken the mixture. I cooked it at high for four hours, and then turned it to low for another hour. Before serving, I gave it a shot of barbecue sauce.
You might like serving this with good old saltine crackers or crusty bread, plus a salad.
It seemed so wholesome that I made chocolate pudding for dessert.
Lentil Stew with Smoked Sausage
Makes 6 servings
1½ cups brown lentils
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 14-ounce can, or 2 cups, stewed tomatoes coarsely chopped, with the liquid
3-4 cups of water
1 tablespoon each dried oregano and basil
1-2 teaspoons plain or smoked paprika, or more to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 loop of kielbasa sausage
Salt and pepper to taste
Put all the ingredients, except the sausage, and starting with 3 cups of water, into the cooker set at high.
Check after an hour and if the water has been absorbed, add more. You need to see liquid just at the surface.
After another hour, sample the lentils. When they are tender, you can turn the cooker down to medium heat.
Add the sausage and cook for at least another hour. Turn it down to low or warm until you are ready to serve.