These richly flavored dishes prove that Crock-Pots love veggies, beans and other plant-based foods just as much as you do.
A Wintry Way to Get Your Greens
This tasty stew stars bright-orange, sweet-tasting butternut squash and deep-green kale, plus creamy chickpeas (which will fill you up without leaving you feeling stuffed) and a supporting cast of some of our favorite flavor-boosters, such as garlic and paprika (which lends a touch of smokiness). And you can easily swap in spinach, Swiss chard or any other sturdy, leafy green for the kale.
Two Southern staples, Dirty Rice (which usually includes chicken) and Hoppin' John (a bacon-boosted rice), come together in this grain-based dish. It also incorporates superseed quinoa, as well as black-eyed peas. For an even heartier meal, add some cooked (crumbled or chopped) vegan or vegetarian sausage just before serving, which—bonus!—also adds great flavor.
Leeks and potatoes have a natural affinity for one another, whether braised, scalloped or softened in soup. Match the winter vegetables with carrots, celery and garlic and let them all mingle and melt in the slow cooker for a few hours. You'll end up with a deeply flavored soup that makes a fine meal with a nice, crusty loaf of bread. You can stir in a bit of coconut milk at the end for added richness, too.
In Moroccan cuisine, a tagine is a slow-cooked stew braised at a low temperature, traditionally in a cone-shaped tagine pot. No need to buy another kitchen item, though, since you can re-create this steamy environment in a Crock-Pot. This recipe includes carrot, rutabaga, butternut squash and apricot; looks beautiful on the plate; and, could be the sweetest way to eat your vegetables. Regular or Israeli couscous (both come in whole wheat varieties) make the perfect accompaniment.
A Buttery, Fruity Spread That Makes Any Breakfast Terrific
Apple butter is basically applesauce that's gone to the dark side. When you cook the ingredients (apples, cider, spices, lemon juice—plus, some brown sugar) in a slow cooker for hours, their flavors concentrate. The sugar caramelizes and turns the apples deep brown. The longer you cook the spread, the better. Let it simmer overnight, since it will thicken while you sleep. Then, you can wake up to warm, fresh apple butter to put on toast or waffles or to swirl into oatmeal.
The carvable winter squash isn't just meant for cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Pumpkin, which is buttery and earthy-tasting, is also a natural for more sophisticated spices, such as cumin, coriander and cardamom. Toss cubes of the vegetable into the slow cooker along with onion, garlic, ginger, spices, some vegetable stock and a can of unsweetened coconut milk. In just two or three hours, you'll have a thick, creamy soup that combines sugar and spice.
A Way to Enjoy the Best Part of a Warm Goat-Cheese Salad
If you love the soft, creamy, tangy goat cheese that comes with greens at French restaurants, you'll fall for this beautiful dish from Stephanie O'Dea's new <i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Five-Ingredients-Less-Cooker-Cookbook/dp/0544284224?tag=thehuffingtop-20" target="_blank">Five Ingredients Or Less Slow Cooker Cookbook</a></i>. It features a base of garlic- and lemon-laced cream cheese dotted with pieces of goat cheese and topped with sliced cherry tomatoes that add a bright pop of color. To take this party food straight from the slow cooker to the table, place an oven-safe dish inside the slow cooker and put all the ingredients in that. Then, once the cheese is hot and bubbly, and the tomato skins have wilted, lift out the dish (using pot holders) and serve with crackers or bagel chips. <br><br><strong>Get the recipe: <a href="http://www.oprah.com/food/Baked-Goat-Cheese-with-Tomatoes-and-Garlic-Recipe" target="_blank">Baked Goat Cheese with Tomatoes and Garlic</a></strong>