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What do you put in your crockpot?

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So. I've been working about 72 hours a week, doing nonstop labor, and I commute, so lately I only have a few hours to sleep and do everything I need to feed myself for the next day. 

We work so nonstop, with such little time for water, that your stomach can't even really accept food but it must or you'll just starve. 

Sangat Ji. Please. What goodness do you put in your crockpots, that is nourishing and easy on the stomach or to eat if you have no appetite? Any recipe is so welcome, especially dhal and channa. 

Also what sort of sabji and dressing could I make out of frozen veggies so it thaws by lunch?

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The ingredient with 20 percent fewer calories than you thought

by Hattie Ellis

Nuts are useful, delicious, and packed with protein, healthy fats and micronutrients. An important staple for prehistoric humans, today they play a part in the plant-centred eating that’s good for the planet. Why are they so great and how best to enjoy them?

Almonds on a tree
Studies have shown that we metabolise fewer calories from almonds (and other nuts) than previously thought, particularly if they are eaten whole and raw

What is a nut?

A nut is the edible seed or fruit of a plant, usually surrounded by a hard or brittle shell. Rather like an egg is to a new chick, a nut helps a new plant to grow thanks to its power-pack of nutrition, which is why nuts are so full of goodness.

Most nuts grow on trees. Peanuts are technically a legume and grow in the ground (they are known as groundnuts in some parts of the world), but are widely considered to be a nut in terms of nutrition and culinary use.

Nuts vary widely in how they look, grow and taste, from the big meaty Brazil nuts that grow in a cluster inside a large outer shell, the cashew that is a single nut outside a big fleshy fruit, and the small pine nuts that grow within the woody sheaves of pine cones. Green pistachios, buttery macadamias, velvety chestnuts, round hazelnuts, sweet ridged pecans and knobbly savoury walnuts – take your pick!

Once harvested, nuts are processed to reach our tables in different ways. A few are sold fresh off the tree, still full of moisture and in their shell, such as the main UK grown nut, the cobnut. Most are sold shelled and dried, or roasted to further develop their flavours and preserve them. They can be ground into a nutritious meal, like ground almonds and chestnut flour, whizzed up into nut butters, used in sweet spreads or made into nut milks.

All nuts are full of fats, and some are used to make nut oils, such as walnut oil and hazelnut oil, for drizzling over cooked dishes or into a special salad dressing.

Fewer calories than you thought

Because of their fats and calories, nuts have a reputation for being fattening, but research has shown the number of calories stated on the packet can be significantly higher – up to 20 percent – than the actual calories we digest and metabolise. Studies also show higher nut consumption is linked to less weight-gain over time. Scientists don’t know exactly why this is, says Bridget Benelam of the British Nutrition Foundation. There are various possibilities: “Although nuts are high in calories and fat, they also provide protein and fibre, which may help to increase feelings of fullness”, she says. “Nuts are also a relatively expensive food, and so may be consumed more by people who are more affluent (who are generally at lower risk of obesity).” And nuts “may not be consumed in excess in the way that cheaper energy-dense foods may be.”

In a recent episode of The Food Chain about calories, Dr Giles Yeo of Cambridge University points out that the body uses energy to metabolise protein in particular. “We don’t actually eat calories, we eat food and then our body has to work in order to extract the calories”, he explains. For every 100 calories of protein on a packet, you only absorb 70, he says.

Good nut-rition

Nuts are relatively high in protein for a plant food and contain little water, making them a concentrated source of this body-building nutrient, with peanuts and almonds having the highest amount at nearly 26g and 21.3g protein per 100g. Peanuts are also the cheapest form of nuts – sales of peanut butter went up in the UK during lockdown, when parents wanted an inexpensive source of protein and healthy calories for at-home children.

Nuts are also relatively high in fat for a plant food, ranging from 46 percent of the calories in cashews and pistachios to 76 percent in macadamia nuts. The types of unsaturated fats in nuts are considered to be ‘good’ fats which, along with their fibre, help lower cholesterol. “Both tree nuts and peanuts have been found in some studies to have beneficial effects on blood cholesterol as well as other lipids in the blood”, says Benelam.

These small power-packs also provide a range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese.

Not just for snacks and Christmas

Nuts can be used in many ways in dishes, as well as being eaten as snacks. Enjoy them from breakfast onwards, adding energy and protein to granola and muesli, and scattered over porridge. Spread nut butter on your toast, or thin it slightly with water and drizzle over grilled tomatoes.

Chopped nuts add texture to dishes, including as a crust for fish or scattered on top of a vegetable bake. They can be used as the main protein in a meal, such as a stir-fry. Enjoy them sprinkled over summer and autumn salads and stirred through rice dishes, with the attractive vivid green pistachio especially popular in Middle Eastern-influenced food. They thicken and enrich sauces, including as a cashew cream in curries, in pesto, and in the garlicky, vibrant-red romesco sauce from Calatan cooking.

Sweet dishes can give nuts the starring role, such as pecan pie, hazelnut meringue and pistachio ice-cream, and they add flavour and texture to a dish, such as a crumble with chopped nuts or ground almonds in the topping. Ground nuts add protein and texture to cakes and bakes, including the classic Middle Eastern orange cake, and who can resist whole or chopped pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts in a brownie?

Home-roasting, or toasting, nuts brings out their flavour. Toasting is best done in an oven, which provides a more even, all-round heat than a frying pan. Either way, take care not to burn them to bitterness. You can toast your nuts when the oven is on for something else, in order to save energy, and the timing will depend on the heat. Around 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas 4 is a good, not-too-hot temperature, with most nuts taking about 8-10 minutes. If your oven is hotter, take them out sooner. It’s a good idea to stir them halfway through to get a more even heat. You can use salt, herbs, spices, honey and other ingredients as flavourings.

Are nuts good for the planet?

Trees are good news for the planet, but this also depends on how they’re grown, with concerns about water-extraction and chemical inputs for intensive systems. Grown well, they are good for the land as well as for us.

Nut don’t need to be eaten fresh, and so can be transported by ship, with a lower carbon footprint than imported fresh food that is flown around the world.

British nuts

Most nuts sold in Britain are imported. However, our temperate climate is suitable for growing some types, such as walnuts and sweet chestnuts. The cobnut, a type of hazelnut, is the UK’s main commercially farmed nut, traditionally grown mostly in Kent. More nut trees are now being planted in Britain, partly due to the growth of interest in UK-produced food and the push to grow more trees.

The Kent cobnut, a distinctive oval nut, is traditionally eaten fresh off the tree from August to early autumn. Early in the season, it has a pale shell inside a light green husk and the juicy nut is milky white and can be eaten simply dipped in salt. At this point they are best kept in the salad drawer of the fridge. As the nut matures, the shell turns brown and the flavours become more concentrated, being especially delicious mid to late September. Some supermarkets sell them fresh in August and September, and stored, husked nuts are available from growers and independents up until Christmas.

Growers want to extend the season further. Tom Cannon, from Roughway Farm in Kent, used a Churchill Fellowship grant to look at nut production around the world, including Turkey, source of 70 percent of hazelnuts, China and Australia. He has since invested in equipment to shell and roast nuts for his own family’s farm and others, enabling sales of these preserved nuts for a greater part of the year and allowing more artisan producers to make home-grown nut goodies such as brownies, candied nuts and dukkah. “The Kent cobnut has been bred to taste nice fresh, and by chance it’s nice roasted as well. The market’s got a lot of potential”, he says.

Cobnuts on a tree
The cobnut, a type of hazelnut traditionally grown in Kent, has a light green husk early in the season

Store well but don’t bury your nuts

Within their shells, nuts keep fresh for a long time, which is why squirrels bury them as a future food source. Once cracked open, their fats start deteriorate and develop ‘off’ flavours, especially with walnuts and pine nuts. Store nuts in an airtight container in a cool, dark place – you can put them in the fridge — and pay attention to best before dates. Don’t leave packets buried away, but find ways to use them up. Granola and home-roasted nuts are two useful ways to do this. Throw away any nuts that have grown mould.

Nut oils oxidise, or go rancid, relatively quickly and are best stored in the fridge and used up. Groundnut oil is a useful neutral cooking oil that can be kept for longer at room temperature.

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