When Beverly Lynn Bennett let it slip well over a year ago that she had a slow cooker cookbook in the works, it may or may not have had a strong influence on my biggest birthday request. Timing also played a significant role in the decision, as I scrambled to find something, anything, to populate my sparse wishlist, but it was also too enticing a concept to resist. A gadget that independently bubbled away on the counter and produced hot, comforting dishes without any further human intervention? Moreover, a kitchen gadget that I didn’t yet have? Preposterous. With a bit of help from generous parents, that gift pushed me firmly into the world of slow cooking at last.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Slow Cooking may not look like much on the shelf, but it contains a wealth of knowledge that only an expert could bring to the home kitchen. A decorated chef and author, Beverly has been in the game for decades, boasting one of the earliest vegan recipe websites to my knowledge, providing a sturdy crutch to countless new, practiced, and simply curious cruelty-free cooks. Having had the pleasure of sampling many of her creations through past photography assignments, I had a feeling that her take on the mysterious slow cooker would be worth waiting for, and I was not wrong.
Cautiously dipping my toes in the water first, I went with one of the most common uses for the contraption first: Stew. What could be better than just tossing a whole mess of ingredients into the spacious pot, setting a timer, and going about your day? Anything that does more work for me is welcome in my kitchen, so I eagerly piled in the vegetables and proteins for the Basque Potato Soup (page 88). When dinner time rolled around a few hours later, the rich, tomato-scented air was driving me mad with hunger. Packed with hearty chunks of potato and seitan chorizo, the intense flavor flew in the face of its humble, oil-free beginnings. An underlying smoky, roasted, and gently piquant flavor lurked throughout, giving the whole stew incredible depth. Though the heat grows with each successive bite, it never reaches nuclear levels, staying quite manageable no matter your spice tolerance. For such a basic soup, this one really hits all the high notes.
With one staple passing the slow cooker test with flying colors, it was time to move on into more adventurous fare. Beverly fills the pages of her book with plenty of tried-and-true preparations, ranging from chili to hot fudge sauce, but where this book really shines is in the more inventive uses for the contraption in question. Take, for example, quiche. Yes, a whole quiche cooked right in the slow cooker! Crustless Vegetable-Tofu Quiche (page 44) had my name written all over it: Mushrooms, zucchini, red onion, and of course tofu, all wrapped up in a savory brunch-worthy package. After painstakingly waiting for the quiche to cool before slicing, the texture was positively luxurious. Like a silky custard throughout, it was as creamy as a cohesive tofu dish can be. Unfortunately, the taste didn’t quite measure up to that strong start. Best described by my mom as a “mild vegetal flavor,” it was unfortunately rather bland, with a faint salty bitterness at the back of the palate. Bumping up the seasonings or swapping them out for a new set entirely would easily elevate this dish into a clear winner.
Finally, I went for a real grand finale, and pulled out one dish that had everyone exclaiming, “You made that in a slow cooker?!” Yes indeed, that Sweet Potato Streusel Coffeecake (page 250) pictured above never saw the heat of an oven, spending a solid three hours getting acquainted with my slow cooker instead. At first, it seemed like an inevitable failure. Though the recipe fails to say when the margarine should be added, I slipped it in while mashing the potatoes, still warm and readily drinking in the added fat. It was only after “baking” that I became concerned though, testing for doneness at least a dozen times over. Still, the center toed the line between a super-moist sad streak and dough wad of moist raw flour. Luckily, after serving it to a crowd, the overwhelming consensus was that rather than being a disappointment, this was in fact an asset. Perfect for anyone who loves cookie dough or slightly under-baked banana bread, it was simply a cake with a dense crumb, no disclaimers needed. A hearty wheat flavor gives this treat a more wholesome impression, but make no mistake, it’s still plenty sweet enough to pass for dessert. This is one idea that clearly needs further exploration, because guests couldn’t stop raving about that crazy concept.
Whether you’ve never touched a slow cooker before or are a seasoned pro, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Slow Cooking is sure to give you something new, and definitely delicious, to stew over.