Now that the cold weather has moved in, I thought it would be nice to talk about slow oven cooking. As often happens when food cooks overnight in my oven, its extraordinary fragrance awakens me periodically throughout the night. You have to try it to believe it; the smell is amazing. It’s impossible to go wrong with slow oven cooking. The flavors caramelize and blend to become complex and satisfying. Although it is true that eating well takes more planning, it does not take more time. In the case of slow oven cooking, it actually takes less, and all these recipes can also be made in a crockpot set to low.
Here are three slow recipes, just for you. Let’s start with lentils in tomato sauce. One thing about cooking lentils in a slow oven is that they don’t break apart when you cook them. Even the small, fragile red lentils remain intact when you cook them in a slow oven. That’s because, for the most part, slow oven cooking keeps them still, hardly moving. Cooking on the stove, on the other hand, puts the lentils in constant motion, and the turbulence breaks them up.
To make the lentil recipe, fill a soup pot with 1 cup dry brown lentils, a large can of crushed or pureed tomatoes, an equal-sized can full of water, 2 sliced onions, 2 sliced stalks of celery, 2 sliced carrots, 2 Tbsp. honey, 2 tsp. cumin, 2 tsp. curry, 1 tsp. turmeric, plus salt and pepper to taste. Add water to cover the lentils and vegetables by approximately 3 inches, and simply leave it to cook all night in a covered pot at 225F. This will make a great lunch the next day, and, yes, a great breakfast, too. There is no reason at all to wait til lunch to eat it, especially when it smells so great in the morning.
You can also made slow-cooked turkey stock, and then turn the stock into soup with the leftover turkey bits and some vegetables. Place an entire turkey carcass (what’s left after leftovers) into a soup pot, add 1 tsp. white or apple cider vinegar, and fill it halfway with water (approx. 2 quarts). Place the covered pot in the oven, and set the temperature to 225F to cook all night long. Chicken carcasses also happen to make good stock.
In the morning, turn off the oven and leave the stock to cool. A few hours later, once the stock has had some time to cool, you can prepare to drain it. Set a colander in the kitchen sink above a large, clean pot, and line the colander with either an old dishtowel, a few layers of cheesecloth, or a few paper towels. Then slowly pour the liquid with bones into the colander, and allow the liquid to drain, adding more as necessary to keep the liquid in the colander below the edges of the cloth. The resulting stock will be clear, caramel-colored, and fragrant. Divide the stock among a few glass jars (2-4 cups each), each jar no more than 2/3 full. Label and date them, and then freeze them on the diagonal for future use.
If you are inclined, you can divide up the bones and bits into three piles: meat, bones, and other (like cartilage). The meat goes into one container of stock, the bones go into the trash, and the other stuff goes in the dog bowl. Or you can just throw the whole mess away.
To make turkey soup, add one jar of stock to the soup pot along with any salvaged turkey meat, two thinly sliced onions, 2 diced sweet potatoes, ½ cup dry white beans, 2-3 garlic cloves (peeled), and 1 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Place the covered pot in the oven at 225F, and it will be ready in the morning. Be prepared for it to wake you several times through the night.
Finally, you can make black bean soup, which takes a full day to make (you’ll want to start the night before it will be served) but is worth every minute. This recipe serves 12-15, so you should have plenty to freeze for later. Remember: slow cooking takes some planning, but it doesn’t actually take more time.
2 lbs. dry black beans, rinsed and sorted
1 large onion, quartered
1 large green pepper, seeded and quartered
4 garlic cloves, slit lengthwise down the middle
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
3+3 bay leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 large green pepper, seeded and diced
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cumin
Add beans to a large soup pot along with 1 onion (quartered), 1 green pepper (seeded and quartered), 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. Kosher salt, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil, 3 bay leaves, and 4 large peeled garlic cloves, each slit lengthwise down the middle. [Note that some of the vegetables are being saved for a later step.] Add water to cover the beans by 4 inches. Cover the pot, and place in a 225F oven to cook all night.
In the morning, skim and discard any foam, and add more water if necessary to keep the level 2 inches above the beans. Cook uncovered for 2-3 hours more. Discard the first set of bay leaves. Using a stick blender, puree the vegetables partially, leaving plenty of whole beans and pieces of veggies. If you don’t have a stick blender, ladle half the soup into a blender or food processor, puree, and then return it to the pot. Now add three new bay leaves, plus more black pepper to taste. Cover the pot again and return to the oven to continue cooking at 225F.
About one to two hours before mealtime, peel and dice 4 garlic cloves. Warm 1/4 cup olive oil on low heat, and add the garlic. Stir gently for a few seconds, add the diced onion, and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until glassy and tender. Add the diced green pepper, and cook until soft. Add 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp. cumin, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper to the vegetables. Stir once, and then add the contents of the pan to the bean pot. Cover, and continue to cook for 1-2 hrs more.
Serve with any combination of hot sauce, cilantro, plain yogurt or sour cream (vegan or dairy), and/or grated cheddar.