Turkish stew made modern for slow cooker Dishes: Casseroles are what slow cookers excel at, and here are recipes from near and far.

October 14, 1998|By Patsy Jamieson | Patsy Jamieson,EATING WELL

While visiting a remote Turkish village several years ago, I learned to make an amazing, nearly effortless casserole - what the Turks call guvec. The recipe called for thick chunks of lamb layered with eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and bay leaves, all in a deep clay pot. We sealed it tight and carried it down to the village baker's wood oven, where it stewed gently all afternoon.

It was a dish I'd nearly forgotten when our editor-in-chief suggested that I develop some slow-cooker recipes.

I have to admit that my response was a little, well, slow. The term "slow cooker" conjured more images of avocado-colored crockpots and "stews" of indistinguishable gray mush than anything else. But then I thought of that savory lamb, tending itself, being flavored with its own juices while my friends and I rested in the late-day heat.

So I started experimenting and learned a lot about what slow cookers do exceptionally well - tenderizing inexpensive, lean cuts of meat, for instance - and a few things they just aren't up to.

Try any of these recipes: I can't promise the romance of fetching dinner from a communal oven in the Middle East, but I guarantee you'll have a succulent supper and plenty of time to dream.

Turkish Lamb and Vegetable Stew

Makes about 8 servings

1 1/2 pounds lean boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained

1 large all-purpose potato, preferably Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into 3/8-inch-thick slices

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed

1 small eggplant, cut into 3/8-inch-thick slices

1 medium zucchini, cut into 3/8-inch-thick slices

6 bay leaves

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Season lamb with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add half the lamb and sear, turning, until well-browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a 3 1/2-quart slow cooker. Add another 1/2 tablespoon oil to skillet and brown remaining lamb. Add to slow cooker.

Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to skillet and reduce heat to medium. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and oregano; cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add tomatoes and bring to a simmer, mashing with a potato masher or fork. Remove from heat and spoon half the mixture over the lamb.

Arrange potatoes in a layer in the pot; season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Add green beans, followed by eggplant and zucchini, seasoning each layer with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Spread remaining tomato-onion mixture over vegetables. Top with bay leaves.

Cover and cook on high until lamb and vegetables are very

tender, about 4 hours. Discard bay leaves. (The stew will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat before serving.) Serve hot, garnished with parsley.

Make it a meal: Serve with rice and lots of crusty bread.

Per serving: 225 calories, 19 grams protein, 7 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 22 grams carbohydrate, 525 milligrams sodium, 50 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams fiber

Pot Roast With Carmelized Onion Gravy

Makes about 14 servings, with 4 cups gravy

1 4-pound boneless top or bottom round beef roast, trimmed of fat, twine on

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 large onions, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 cup brewed coffee or 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

Season beef with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add beef and sear until well-browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a 3 1/2-quart slow cooker.

Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to skillet; reduce heat to medium. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened and golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and thyme; cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Stir in coffee and vinegar; pour onion mixture over beef.

Cover and cook on high until beef is tender but not falling apart, about 4 1/2 hours. Transfer beef to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour juices from slow cooker into a medium saucepan. Skim off fat. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and water. Add to pan.

Cook, whisking constantly, until gravy has thickened slightly, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove twine from beef and carve. Serve with gravy. (Leftovers will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat meat in gravy.)

Make it a meal: Serve with roasted carrots and parsnips and mashed potatoes.

Per serving: 180 calories, 26 grams protein, 6 grams fat (1.7 grams saturated fat), 5 grams carbohydrate, 60 milligrams sodium, 67 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram fiber

Yankee Bean Pot

Makes 12 servings

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