By Patsy Jamieson, January/February 2008
Some years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the idyllic Turkish village of Sirince, in the orchard-lined hills above the ancient city of Ephesus. My husband and I had checked into the beautifully restored Erdem Pansiyon. When our host, Mahmut, learned of my interest in Turkish food, he invited me to spend the day cooking with him. The following morning, Mahmut laid out the ingredients—many of them freshly harvested from his garden—for the güveç (casserole) we would prepare for dinner that evening. After layering lamb, onions, eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes and green beans in a ceramic pot, we scattered bay leaves over the top, sealed the pot and carried it along the cobblestone streets of the village to the bakery. We left the casserole to bake slowly at the side of the baker’s oven for the rest of the day and retreated to the comfortable pension to wait out the intense heat of an Anatolian summer day.
In the welcome cool of the evening, we sat down to a leisurely meal in the garden surrounded by fruit trees and grapevines. After an assortment of traditional Turkish meze (small dishes), which included stuffed grape leaves made from leaves we had plucked from the garden vines, Mahmut lifted the lid of the güveç. The mingling of the vegetables and lamb produced the most enticing aroma. Although we had prepared all the ingredients for the dish, I had the feeling that the casserole had miraculously cooked itself. To finish the meal, Mahmut picked fresh apricots and cherries from nearby trees. Perfection!
I learned an important lesson from that memorable day. Mahmut’s relaxed pace in the kitchen reminded me to slow down, appreciate the ingredients and treasure the process of cooking. I realized that although it is not as romantic as the wood-burning oven in the village bakery, my slow cooker is ideal for making this type of hearty stew. Since that trip to Turkey, I have adapted more recipes, often inspired by dishes I have discovered in my travels, to this convenient appliance.
Even though my passion for this type of cooking was ignited on a searing summer day, I value my slow cooker most in winter. The hearty, brothy dishes it creates so well have warmed many a chilly evening in my Vermont kitchen. What a luxury to load the slow cooker, leave the house to glide across local cross-country ski trails or simply run errands around town, and return to the aroma of a satisfying dinner that is ready to serve. Saucy slow-cooked dishes are also ideal candidates for making ahead and reheating, so I often enjoy the leftovers for several days. And, a slow cooker provides advantages for healthy cooking. It allows you to stretch small amounts of meat with flavorful sauce and a generous portion of vegetables—the essence of a healthy diet.
Patsy Jamieson is an EatingWell contributing editor and frequently returns to the Test Kitchen to style the food for many of our photos.