Summer weather is here, and that means grilling, outdoor dining and lots of fresh fruits and veggies from the garden. But think twice before you box up that slow cooker for the season. Long considered a standard for cool weather meals, with a little creative thinking, the crockpot can be a helpful tool for your summer cooking.
Like the Q-tip, the name “Crock-Pot” is a trademarked name that became so popular it’s how the entire appliance category is referenced. The Rival Company introduced the Crock-Pot in 1971, hence the olive greens, browns and oranges you may associate with those first slow cookers. I remember my Mother having a brown and tan one with colorful flowers illustrated on it.
There are lots of reasons for the Crock-Pot’s initial popularity that are still relevant today. It’s a great way to prepare inexpensive cuts of meat that benefit from long, slow cooking; it makes a one-pot meal, so cleanup is easier; plus dinner comes together fast after a long day at work.
My Mom bought me my slow cooker when I first moved to Chicago shortly after college. She thought it would help provide warm, home-cooked comfort food on Chicago’s many cold days (she was right). After I moved to Nashville, I stuck it in an out-of-the way cabinet and honestly forgot about it. Maybe it was the warmer weather that turned me off, or maybe it was because I’ve stopped eating as much meat the last few years. Having grown up in the Midwest, I mostly associated Crock-Pot cooking with roasts and meaty stews.
Either way, it stayed in its cupboard until earlier this spring. I pulled it out of storage in an effort to help get dinner on the table earlier – after working full days, it was often close to 9pm before my fiance and I sat down to eat. I soon realized another GREAT benefit of this simple appliance is that it doesn’t heat up the kitchen like using the stovetop and oven do – a nice perk during hot, humid Nashville summers.
The recipe below for Firefly Summertime Chili works great in a slow cooker, and is a good one for warm weather. It utilizes bone-in chicken thighs, which are much more flavorful than their white meat breast counterparts so you need less of them – a plus in the summertime when I’m craving lighter meals. I also like it because it doesn’t need to be piping hot to be eaten. It’s got a Mexican flavor profile, and really benefits from a squeeze of lime juice, the refreshing complement of cilantro and the cool creaminess of avocados – all summer flavors. It’s tasty on its own as a chili but also with tortilla chips like a dip or in a tortilla as a taco (it would be great with a jicama or cabbage slaw!).
Dried beans or chickpeas are ideal ingredients for Crock-Pots, because long, slow cooking will not only effectively hydrate them but will also give whatever spices you’re cooking with time to really penetrate their core. If you’re feeling meaty, try doing a pork shoulder in your Crock-Pot, but instead of eating pulled pork on a bun, serve it over a fresh salad with cornbread croutons. I haven’t tried this myself, but I hear eggplant is good in a slow cooker. The vegetable breaks down and its flesh adds bulk and texture to sauces.
Think creatively and you can make this humble appliance a kitchen staple any time of year.
Got any summer-appropriate slow cooking ideas to share?
*This post also appeared in the Tennessean.
Firefly Summertime CHili
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 8-10 hours
The corn kernels look like shimmering fireflies amidst the dark beans and tomato-based broth. Serve this chili hot or room temperature, alone or with tortilla chips, over salad or in taco shells.
4 bone-in chicken thighs
1 can black beans, undrained
1 can pinto beans, undrained
1 can fire roasted tomatoes (I prefer Muir Glen brand)
½ can tomato paste
1 4 oz. can green chilies
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 cans of water
2 cups frozen corn
Cilantro, lime wedges, avocado, plain greek yogurt or sour cream, green onions and/or shredded cheese for serving
In a non-stick skillet (easier to clean up when you're running off to work), sear chicken thighs over medium high heat until browned on each side.
Place seared chicken thighs in slow cooker and add next 10 ingredients (through water) to crockpot. Cover, and cook on low, 8-10 hours. Shortly before serving, add corn (it will thaw quickly) and serve with your choice of accompaniments.