Slow cookers seem to have a season. They're used all fall and winter like a favorite down jacket, then tucked away once the crocuses start pushing up through the ground. But the best part about the slow cooker is that it's convenient. And, surely, convenience has no season. Why pack it away just because it's T-shirt weather?
Don't Miss: Spring Slow Cooker Recipes for Your Crock Pot
If you love your slow cooker and want to keep using it as often as possible, I suggest rethinking what you cook in it. Lighter dishes are what I'm in the mood for now. And because I want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time outside, I want crock pot recipes that let me skip precooking and browning ingredients before they go into the slow cooker. I just want to load up my slow cooker, press "Start" and forget it.
For the March/April issue of EatingWell magazine Carolyn Malcoun developed slow-cooker recipes with two goals in mind: keep it springy and keep it load-and-go easy. The results are sensational. For her Chicken Pho recipe, she transforms chicken soup into Vietnamese pho with whole cloves and star anise plus lots of fresh herbs at the end. The fresh herbs and seasonings more than make up for what might be lost by skipping the initial browning step.
Slow-Cooker Chicken Pho
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Makes: 6 servings, about 2 cups each
Active time: 30 minutes | Slow-cooker time: 4 1/2 or 8 1/2 hours
To prep ahead: Combine seasonings with broth; prep chicken; cover and refrigerate separately for up to 1 day. | Equipment: 5- to 6-quart slow cooker
Chicken Pho, a classic Vietnamese soup, is a perfect recipe for a slow cooker. The chicken and seasonings of star anise, cloves and ginger simmer all day in the crock pot, welcoming you home with an alluring aroma. Serve with the essential garnishes for pho soup--fresh herbs, bean sprouts, chiles and lime--and let everyone top their own. Serve chile-garlic sauce for those who want more heat.
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth (two 32-ounce boxes)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
10 whole star anise (see Ingredient Note)
6 whole cloves
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2 bone-in chicken breasts (about 2 1/2 pounds total), skin removed, trimmed
6 ounces wide rice noodles
6 cups chopped bok choy
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 fresh Thai chile or serrano, thinly sliced
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges
1. Combine broth, brown sugar, fish sauce, star anise, cloves, ginger and cinnamon stick in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Add chicken breasts, meat-side down. Cover and cook on High for 4 hours (or on Low for 8 hours).
2. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Remove spices and discard. Add noodles and bok choy to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on High for 30 minutes.
3. Remove the chicken from the bone and shred with two forks. When the noodles are tender, stir in the shredded chicken. Serve bowls of soup with bean sprouts, basil, mint, cilantro, sliced chile and lime wedges on the side so everyone can add their own toppings.
Per serving: 362 calories; 6 g fat (2 g sat, 2 g mono); 75 mg cholesterol; 40 g carbohydrate; 4 g added sugars; 39 g protein; 3 g fiber; 645 mg sodium; 998 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (92% daily value), Vitamin C (80% dv), Iron (30% dv), Potassium (29% dv), Folate (21% dv), Magnesium (18% dv), Calcium (17% dv).
Ingredient Note: Add star anise, named for its star-shaped pods, to Asian-inspired dishes to lend distinctive licorice-like flavor. Look for it with other bulk spices in natural-foods stores, in Asian markets or online at penzeys.com.
What are you making in your slow cooker this week?
By Wendy Ruopp
Wendy Ruopp has been the managing editor of EatingWell for most of her adult life. Although she writes about food for the Weeknights column of EatingWell Magazine, her husband does the cooking at home.
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