As if we needed another reason to love our slow cookers, here it is: These delicious dinners not only redefine convenience food, they also prove that long-simmered soups and stews can be gorgeous, too.
A Year-Round Corn Chowder
Lisa Lillien, known to her readers as Hungry Girl, has a somewhat unexpected way to chase the winter blues away: She makes a veggie soup that relies on sweet, summery corn (from the freezer aisle) for a lively taste—and look. The recipe, which is in her newest book, Hungry Girl Clean & Hungry, also includes cauliflower, red bell pepper, onion and baby red potatoes (leave the skins on for even more color), plus a bit of unsweetened almond milk for thickness. It's lovely any time of year, but will especially perk you up on a day when summer barbecues seem light-years away.
The flavors in this hearty soup are inspired by a traditional Chinese hot pot and include shiitake mushrooms, minced garlic, five-spice powder and a bit of red pepper. Since you only cook the ingredients for four hours (which isn't long at all in the slow-cooker world), the natural hue of the veggies—here, carrots and yellow potatoes—stays bright.
Moroccan stews (aka tagines) are traditionally cooked in cone-shaped tagine pots, but you can easily re-create the steamy environment in a slow cooker. The region's rich and colorful spirit comes across in this sweet veggie stew, which incorporates butternut squash, rutabaga, carrot and apricot. It looks fantastic on the plate, and makes for a surprisingly satisfying meal served with couscous.
If you love chicken soup but want to add more veggies, you've got to try this zippy version. It starts with a whole chicken that you poach in the slow cooker, along with the usual veggies, such as carrots and onions. Then things get interesting: You add some flavor boosters (such as ginger and garlic), shred the chicken into bite-size pieces and, finally, add bright green snow peas and bok choy, plus deep yellow egg noodles, for a unique and great-looking (and tasting) soup.
Buttery-tasting pumpkin goes surprisingly well with cumin, coriander, cardamom and other complex spices. And this winter squash is hearty enough that it won't lose any of its rich color after-hours in the slow cooker—if anything, the deep orange color just becomes more intense. The finished dish is a thick, creamy soup that combines sugar and spice.
We adore these mini cabbages as a side dish, but it turns out they can also be key players in a zesty, cheesy dip. This one includes bacon (which is basically all we needed to hear), garlic, ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest and sliced Brussels sprouts. You bake the dip until it's browned on top and serve hot with toasted baguette slices, chips or crackers. <br><br> <strong>Get the recipe: <a href="http://www.oprah.com/food/Warm-Charred-Brussels-Sprouts-Dip-With-Ricotta-and-Bacon-Recipe" target="_blank">Warm Charred Brussels Sprouts Dip with Ricotta and Bacon</a></strong>