Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Mysterious Slow Cooker

I'm not sure where this slow cooker came from. Until a few days ago...I didn't know I had a slow cooker. I think I may have inherited it from college friends who were moving away. This would have been like ten years ago. How is it possible that this beast lurked in my kitchen cabinets for ten years, accompanying me on various moves, yet I was only vaguely aware of its existence? Look at it. Blends right into its surroundings, doesn't it?

No time to ponder the origins of its existence. I had a pound of yellow mung beans, the remnants of some long-ago attempt at Indian cooking. I had some onion and ginger and a few spices. Time to put this hulk to work.

Mung beans are somewhat like lentils. In fact, when I bought the package labeled "mung dal" at the Indian grocery, I thought they were lentils. They can be cooked like lentils, although they have a mushier texture. Mung beans with their skins on are green. With the skins removed, they are yellow. As with any dried legume, always pick through them and give them a good rinse. You never know what twigs, rocks, or seeds made it into the bag.

As I assembled my stew ingredients, the enigmatic slow cooker revealed another mystery to me. It has no light indicating that it is, in fact, turned on and cooking your food. I guess lights hadn't been invented back whenever this model came into existence. You plug it turn the switch from "off" to "low"...and then...nothing. It just sits there. What's going on, slow cooker? Am I going to come back in eight hours and find a fully cooked dinner? Can you give me a sign? The suspense is killing me.

So I hovered over the thing all morning, turning it from low to high and back to low. So much for set it and forget it! Whenever it was on low, I couldn't stand it because it didn't look like it was doing anything. The veggie bullion cubes weren't even dissolving in the water -- better turn it on high again! At least when it's on high, there's a little bubbling action, a little condensation on the lid to let me know something's happening. Clearly the slow cooker is meant for someone with more patience than myself. Or someone with more faith in an appliance that hasn't been used in over ten years and looks like it's as old as I am.

As with most things, once I calmed the hell down, everything worked out OK.

Yellow Mung Bean Stew
1 lb. dried mung beans, picked over and rinsed
6 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
1 medium onion, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. asafetida* (optional)
Add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Put the lid on the cooker and turn to High. Once the stew starts to bubble, you have a choice -- leave it on High and cook for three hours, or you can turn it down to Low and cook for eight hours.

Serves 4. Serve over rice, or with warm naan or pita bread.

* Asafetida is a spice sold at Indian grocers. It has a strong, sulfuric smell, but it won't make your stew smell funky. It adds a "little something" to lentil or bean dishes, but it's not a necessity.


  1. Who knew slow cooking could be so exciting? Split mung dal is something I have strange cravings for now and then, much more so than for other beans. I tend to not be able to walk past it in stores without buying some; consequently there are pounds of it in my house. That I should be using up. Mmmm, dal! And asafetida is on my list of things to try this month for MoFo...

  2. I have the same issues with my slow cooker - is it working right? Is there enough liquid? Is it done? More stressful than just having a pot on the stove.

  3. I overcame my slow cooker anxiety by turning it on and leaving for work. When I came home, whatever I'd put in it was cooked, and I was happy to have dinner ready. If I used it on a weekend, I was hovering and switching the settings, just like you! It looks like your dal came out perfectly. I've only used the green, whole mung dal and I love it.

  4. This makes me want to bust out my crock pot! The stew looks good.

  5. Hilarious! Some of my appliances, specifically a rather expensive rice cooker, are mysterious just like your slow cooker. I'm glad it all worked out in the end!