I don’t know about you, but this is the week when my Christmas shopping always begins in earnest. So, for the second year in a row, I’m bringing you three book reviews to help you cross a few names off your list.
I know that I post a lot about French food and desserts around here, but most of the time I try to cook healthy meals. It might seem challenging to do so when trying to balance the needs of an omnivore with a vegan-ish, gluten-free eater, but it isn’t really. We never ate very much bread with our meals and there are plenty of great grains that can satisfy our carbohydrate requirements. As for protein, I’ve always been of the mind that meat and dairy shouldn’t be the primary focus of weekly meals, so we were already eating a largely plant-based diet before my partner started his move toward veganism.
What can be challenging is making sure we have enough variety in our diet, so that we’re covering all the nutrient groups as we eat across the week. It’s easy to get into a routine, making the same few dishes over and over, with a little experimentation on the weekends. Much better to find ways to change things up more frequently.
One of my favourite ways to do that is to make use of my slow cooker. Not only can I fill it and forget it for the workday or overnight, having a large slow cooker means that I can make recipes in quantities that allow me to package and freeze several meals’ worth.
Unfortunately, a lot of slow cooker cookbooks focus on heavy meals that cycle through a limited roster of protein-starch-vegetable combinations. So, I was happy to find The Healthy Slow Cooker has a variety of recipes, both meat and plant-based, with a focus on using nutrient-dense ingredients. The best part is that all the recipes are gluten-free.
Judith Finlayson is well-known to Canadians as a writer and editor, but has become especially famous for her prolific publication of useful cookbooks. Many of them are slow cooker cookbooks, focusing on different health needs or dietary practices. The Healthy Slow Cooker is in its second edition, which came out earlier this year. This means that the recipes are updated, but more importantly, the nutrition tips and health information are more current now, too.
Those tips and information boxes, called “Mindful Morsels” and “Natural Wonders” are a welcome feature of Finlayson’s book. There are the kinds of information you might expect, like the sections breaking down the nutritional benefits of mushrooms or bell peppers, which help bring home the reasons for eating a wide variety of foods. But there are also sections that go into more depth, explaining the role of elements like fatty acids and micronutrients in our diets, why some foods which should always be bought from organic sources, or shopping with environmental concerns and sustainability in mind.
The recipes come from a number of culinary traditions, including Caribbean, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian flavours. They also make use of common ingredients, without ignoring some of the ingredients (think edamame or sunchokes) that have been showing up more and more in markets. There are lots of vegan or vegetarian dishes, while many of the recipes that weren’t explicitly vegetarian or vegan could easily be converted, like her Sweet Potato Coconut Curry. And most of the truly meat-based meals are freezable, ready for those times when I’m eating solo.
When I was deciding which recipe to share with you, I thought about how much of a boon fresh, vibrant food is on the winter table. Even though summer vegetables are long gone, many of them are available frozen, almost as nutrient-rich as when they were picked. Finlayson’s take on succotash was exactly what I was looking for, incorporating corn, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and edamame with the warmth of paprika. It’s bright on the table, filling, and a good match for many different main courses. Best of all, it’s freezable, letting you enjoy it across the coldest months. (If you make it in summer, you can use garden-fresh ingredients and freeze some of it for winter.)
New Age Succotash
reprinted with permission from Judith Finlayson’s Healthy Slow Cooker
1 Medium to large (3 1/2 to 5 quart) slow cooker
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary or 2 tsp (10 mL) dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cracked black peppercorns
1 can (28 oz/796 mL) no-salt-added tomatoes, including juice, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) vegetable stock
4 cups (1 L) frozen shelled edamame
2 tsp (10 mL) paprika, dissolved in 2 tbsp (30 mL) water
4 cups (1 L) corn kernels, thawed if frozen
2 roasted red bell peppers, diced
1/2 cup (125 mL)finely chopped parsley leaves
In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, rosemary, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.
Add edamame and stir well. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or on High for 4 hours, until mixture is hot and bubbly. Stir in paprika solution. Add corn, roasted red peppers and parsley and stir well. Cover and cook on High for 15 minutes, until corn is tender and mixture is heated through.
Spicy Succotash: For a livelier dish, stir in 1 can (4.5 oz./127 mL) mild green chiles along with the red peppers.
This is a terrific side for a braised tofu dish, or more traditionally, for a big platter of ribs. Finlayson includes a recipe for a corn and chile polenta in the cookbook, which would be a nice addition to either of these meals. Really, though, this dish would fit whenever you’d otherwise consider serving the usual boiled, steamed (or canned) vegetables.
I’ll be coming back to this cookbook often, both for the recipes and the information.
Gift Giver’s Guide: For the busy, the gluten-free, and those who want variety and flavour in their healthy menus.
Come back tomorrow for a review of a book that brings vegetarian eating to a new level.