Five Delicious Side Dishes You Can Make in the Crock-Pot
You already know how convenient a Crock-Pot is for making full one-pot meals with less mess and time spent in the kitchen, but if you haven't used yours to prepare all kinds of side dishes, you're missing out on its total potential. Flavorful grains, beans and all manner of vegetables can be cooked in the Crock-Pot in preparations both simple and extravagant. Throwing all the ingredients for one of these five side-dish recipes into the Crock-Pot hours in advance of a meal frees you to concentrate on a main dish. Make that something quick and easy, and you'll have a delicious, full meal in no time at all.
1. Creamy Garlic Mushrooms
Add one or two packages of whole or sliced button mushrooms, a diced onion, minced garlic and a few splashes of white wine or broth to the Crock-Pot. You don't need a lot of liquid, because the mushrooms will release their own and evaporation is minimal with Crock-Pot cooking. Cook the mushrooms for approximately 3 hours on low or 6 hours on high, then stir in half a block or so of cream cheese. Continue to cook the dish until the creamy, garlicky sauce is bubbling. This can be served as a delicious side, or as sauce drizzled over grilled pork chops, steak or salmon.
2. Parmesan Potatoes
Hearty potatoes and salty, full-flavored Parmesan come together in this filling side dish that complements almost all meats and vegetables. Cut waxy potatoes into wedges or cubes (floury potatoes work too, but tend to fall apart) and add them to the Crock-Pot. You might want to include a diced onion as well. Sprinkle salt, pepper and Italian seasoning, or another seasoning blend of your choice, over the potatoes. Dot them with butter and sprinkle on top a generous amount of grated Parmesan. Cook the potatoes on high for 3 to 4 hours or low for 6 to 8 hours, or until the potatoes are tender.
3. Brown Rice Pilaf
At its most basic, a slow-cooked brown rice pilaf calls for rice, water or broth, butter and some dried herbs. Use the basic formula of 1 part rice to 2 parts liquid, cooked on high for 2 to 3 hours, and add any other ingredients and seasonings you like. Mushrooms, onions, chopped nuts, diced tomatoes, diced ham or bacon, corn and spinach are all nice additions. For seasonings, try lemon juice and zest, garlic, pesto or curry powder.
Note: Check the rice after 2 hours, and if the liquid has all been absorbed before the rice is fully cooked, add a little more.
4. Southwestern Pinto Beans
A Crock-Pot makes cooking dried beans, such as these pinto beans in a Southwestern-inspired sauce, a simple, hands-off process, but you do need to start by soaking the beans overnight beforehand. Use the Crock-Pot bowl for soaking, and just drain off the water in the morning. Add to the soaked beans a diced onion, cumin, paprika, fresh or dried garlic and black pepper. If your family likes spicy food, add diced jalapenos and chili powder, too. Cover the beans with chicken broth, using approximately one 32-ounce container of broth per pound of dried beans. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft.
5. Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
Fill your Crock-Pot with raw Brussels sprouts, whole if they're small or halved if they're large. Drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 to 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar over the sprouts, plus salt and pepper. Cook the Brussels sprouts on high for 1 to 2 hours or low for 3 to 4 hours, or until they are cooked through and tender. For a thicker balsamic glaze, remove the Brussels sprouts from the Crock-Pot and keep them warm. Pour the vinegar and juices into a saucepan and simmer until it's reduced by half, then pour it over the sprouts. A handful of pine nuts and some grated Parmesan make nice toppings.
A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.