A decade ago, Dick Logue’s diet changed forever. After being diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 1999, the longtime cooking enthusiast’s new passion for low-sodium, high-flavor cuisine soon became a website, then a cookbook, then another. For his fifth book, he decided to tackle a device that makes easy work of comfort food but can be a diet enemy: the slow cooker.
“There are a lot of slow cooker recipes out there, but most of them are not necessarily all that healthy, especially for the heart,” says Logue.
What he found, however, while cooking for his family was that certain subcategories of recipes using a slow cooker (also known by its most famous brand-name, Crock-Pot) served a heart-healthy diet well.
“You can use the lower fat, cheaper cuts, and you get really tender meat,” he says. Poultry also cooks better with the high-fat skin removed.
It’s helpful for home cooks to expand the way they think about the device, Logue says. While part of its appeal is the idea that you can throw ingredients in before you leave for work and come home to a complete meal, not all recipes lend themselves to that length of cooking time. Instead, he suggests, save dishes with lots of liquid–soup, stew and chili–for those days you’ll be away from home for hours. On weekends, explore recipes that will take just a few hours in the slow cooker, such as a casserole or ground meat, and don’t discount the idea of adding certain ingredients, like seafood or pasta, into a dish at the very end.
“You can still have a great, healthy meal without being in the kitchen all day,” he says.
Here are a few of Logue’s tips and some recipes from his new book, 500 Heart-Healthy Slow Cooker Recipes:
- Replace salt-based seasonings and sodium-laden ingredients like cream soups with garlic and onions (added early), as well as fresh herbs and spices (added late, to taste).
- Sour elements like lemon juice or vinegar can also help compensate for less salt.
- If sauce is too thin at the end of cooking, remove the lid and cook on high for the last 30 minutes, and/or add a bit of cornstarch dissolved in water.
- Use as many different kinds and colors of vegetables as possible to improve a dish’s visual appeal.
- Don’t forget the value of the slow cooker for healthy entertaining: It can be used to create hot beverages, cocktail snacks or even an entree element to feed a crowd.