Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crock Pot Southwestern Three-Bean Stew with Delicious Toppings

It's been said a million times before, but I'll say it again for good measure: Slow cookers are are a busy person's best friend. With a teeny bit of planning and an idea or two, you can have dinner hot and ready for you when you come in the door at night. Though the charming Stephanie O'Dea (better known as the Crock Pot Lady of Crockpot 365) has found a way to cook nearly anything you can think of in her slow cookers, and I do love her recipes, I still think there are a few things that are especially good when cooked all day long, and both beans and stews are on this list.
This stew has pinto beans, chickpeas and 2 types of lentils, but black beans, navy beans, black eyed peas or almost any other bean would also be delicious.
This seems like a ton of ingredients, but if you keep yourself stocked in spices, the odds are pretty good that you will have just about everything on hand. Also keep in mind that you can buy "bean soup mixes" of assorted beans, so my measurements on the bean front might be totally irrelevant. All the better (and easier) for you! So this is totally open to adaptation. I also ended up adding some red pepper flakes at the very end because I was afraid of throwing in too much cayenne earlier in the day. And there's always Sriracha!

For this recipe you will need a 2 or 3 qt crock pot, and some understanding of how it cooks. Some machines will need slightly more or less liquid for a similar effect based on temperature and the fit of the lid, but I would say as long as you've used yours a few times, you should have a good sense of this. This recipe seems to make about 3 servings.

1/4 cup dry chickpeas
1/4 cup dry pinto beans
1/4 cup brown lentils
1/4 cup red lentils
1 medium red potato, cubed-ish
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp taco seasoning, or 1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt, seasoned or regular
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1 envelope Saizon seasoning, cilantro and anchiote, made by Goya
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 jalapeno, diced and seeded
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth (subject to the behavior of your machine)
Cheese for topping (optional, but I used Monterrey jack)
1 green onion, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro, to taste, torn
Tortilla chips (optional)

1. The Day Before: Rinse, and soak beans in refrigerator, allowing plenty of room for them to expand (about 30% more space) and covering with at least two inches of water. Soak for 12-24 hours, changing the water at least twice in this period.
2. Place beans, spices, jalapeno, potato, garlic, and water or broth in the crock pot, and cook on "low" for about 9 hours. 
3. When beans are tender, serve and top with green onion, cheese and cilantro. Bonus points if you also serve tortilla chips for scooping.

The whole point of the crock pot is that you don't have to be home to check on it, but if you are, checking once in the afternoon will give you a better sense of how long it will really take. You can bump it up to "high" for a brief period if you need to, since most machines estimate that 1 hour on high is about equivalent to 2 1/2 hours on low. Handy! Though I don't recommend cooking it on "high" the whole time, since everything will get a bit mushy.

My verdict on this is "Good," but to me not great, since I think it could have used a bit more spice, but this is easily remedied. Use your favorite spices or try new ones, but if you ask me, the cheese and cilantro are crucial. Try this soup with some sliced avocado on top. Yum!

Quote of the Day: Society is like a stew. If you don't stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top. ~ Edward Abbey

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