Until a few weeks ago, I had never owned a slow-cooker or crockpot. My mother never owned one either. I guess I thought those kind of machines weren’t for our kind of cooking; that is to say, healthy, flavorful, from-scratch cooking. I was under the impression that slow-cookers were only for making dishes like pot roast seasoned with packaged onion soup mix — definitely not my kind of cooking.
But in the past year or so, I learned that cooks whom I admire — people like my friend Chef Druck — owned slow-cookers and used them frequently. I remember once asking my friends’ advice on what to make for dinner on a day when my in-laws were coming into town and I was not going to be home for much of the day. “Make a stew in your slow-cooker,” one of them suggested. “I don’t have a slow-cooker,” I replied. My friends looked shocked. Clearly, I was missing out. What mom hasn’t faced the dilemma of what to make for a nice meal on a day when she was going to be running around right up to dinner time? If a slow-cooker was the answer to that problem, I was more than willing to set aside my preconceived notions about such an appliance.
Well, I finally got a chance to try cooking with a slow-cooker. A few weeks ago, I received my very own Ninja Cooking System. Before my Ninja Cooking System arrived at my door, I attended a blogger event at The Wooden Spoon, an adorable kitchenware shop and cooking school in Andersonville, with slow-cooking expert Stephanie O’Dea and professional chefs who work with Ninja. The event was designed to show off all that the Ninja Cooking System could do. I was astonished at the diversity of the dishes that they had prepared for us using only the Ninja Cooking System; not just soups and stews, but lots of quick meals like a frittata and salmon with couscous and even cupcakes!
The Ninja Cooking System has several features which distinguish it for your average slow-cooker. First, and most important to me, the Ninja has a stovetop setting, in addition to its slow-cooker setting, which allows me to brown meats and saute vegetables before slow-cooking them. This innovation allows me to develop deeper, richer flavors in my dishes and adds a nice crusty texture to meats. For me, this was the step that allowed me to think of slow-cooking as my kind of cooking.
But, as I learned, the Ninja Cooking System can do so much more than slow-cooking. It also is a steam-oven for quick, flavorful meals. One of the best dishes I tried at the Ninja blogger event was a salmon dish with arugula and sun-dried tomato couscous. They made the entire dish while I was there in 30 minutes. The couscous cooked in liquid on the bottom while the salmon sat above on a roasting rack, which comes with the Ninja Cooking System, and cooked to tender perfection.
You can even make desserts in the Ninja Cooking System using the included multi-purpose baking pan. The use of steam-baking — resulting from liquid that you place in the bottom of the pot — results in moist, flavorful baked goods and you can even use less fat than conventional baking. Desserts like flan and cheesecake come out unbelievably tender.
I have been playing with my Ninja Cooking System for weeks now and I can’t believe I lived without it. It is absolutely a lifesaver for those busy days when Zuzu has swim practice at 6 pm and I have a meeting at 7 pm and I don’t want my poor husband to eat a turkey sandwich for dinner. One of my favorite recipes from the Ninja Cooking System cookbook is a vegetarian red lentil soup with spinach and lemon. I have played around with the recipe to make it even more flavorful and reminiscent of Indian cuisine. It”s quickly become a family favorite. And I love the idea that I can prepare it in the morning and sit down to a hot bowl of soup at dinnertime!
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 1 tsp. each ground cumin and coriander
- ½ tsp. turmeric
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 6 cups liquid such as water, vegetable or chicken broth
- 1½ cups red lentils
- Juice and zest of one lemon
- 10 oz. baby spinach
- Pour oil into slow-cooker pot and set Stovetop setting to high.
- Add onions, carrots, garlic and celery to the pot and saute until tender, about five to seven minutes.
- Season with cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt.
- Saute vegetables for a few additional minutes until fragrant.
- Add lentils and toss to coat with oil.
- Pour in liquid and bring to a boil.
- Cover and turn to Slow-Cooker Low setting for 5-7 hours.
- Prior to serving, stir in lemon zest, lemon juice and baby spinach.
- If you prefer a thicker consistency, you can transfer half the soup to a blender or food processor and puree. Combine with remaining soup before serving.
Do you love your slow-cooker? What”s your favorite way to use it?
Full disclosure time: I received a Ninja Cooking System unit free of charge for review purposes. I was not asked to write about the product nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.