It's partly philosophical, partly practical. Let's start with the latter. Truth is, I'm just not good at producing food that tastes all that great in a slow cooker. Whatever I make ends up either tasteless mush or wildly overcooked or — on days when I'm really shining — both mushy and wildly overcooked.
The philosophical side is even worse. I resent it when slow cooker recipes require me to pre-cook ingredients before adding them to the slow cooker. And so many recipes seem to require this. If I need to brown the meat and toast the spices and simmer the sauce all in different pans before I'm even allowed to touch the device that's supposed to be making my work easier, I might as well just finish (more quickly!) the dish on the stove.
But I accept that I am in the minority. I understand that many people who are not me somehow find these devices useful. I applaud those people.
And in their honour, I created a slow cooker recipe that is everything I think so many are not — easy and tasty. No browning or other pots needed for this dump-and-go vegetarian chili that truly takes just 10 minutes to assemble in the morning. It then can be ignored until you get home from work.
SMOKY SLOW COOKER VEGETARIAN CHILI
Does everyone in the family prefer a different heat level in their chili? With this recipe, the solution is easy. Just leave out the hot sauce and let each person add it at the table.
Start to finish: 4 to 8 hours (depending on slow cooker)
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
3 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about a 2 1/2 pound-squash)
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup red wine
15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
15-ounce can great northern or other white beans, drained
8-ounce bag frozen bell pepper strips
6-ounce can tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and ground black pepper
Hot sauce, to taste
Sour cream, to serve
Chopped fresh cilantro, to serve
Tortilla chips, lightly crushed
In a 6-quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients except the salt and pepper, hot sauce, sour cream, cilantro and tortilla chips. Stir well, then cover and turn on the cooker. Let cook for on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours. The chili can be served any time after the squash and sweet potato are tender.
When ready to serve, taste, then season with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Alternatively, leave out the hot sauce and offer it at the table for each diner to adjust heat as desired. Serve topped with sour cream, cilantro and crushed tortilla chips.
Nutrition information per serving: 250 calories; 60 calories from fat (24 per cent of total calories); 6 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 40 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 9 g protein; 670 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at email@example.com