In a world that is so fast paced, our demand for fast food has become insatiable. Over time we do begin to realise that our health and wellbeing does suffer if we depend too much on convenience. The combination of stress and eating poorly is always a fail proof recipe for an anxious mind and irritated gut.
With more and more demands placed on working families it seems impossible to get the balance right. Monday; sausage night, Tuesday pasta night, Wednesday something that resembles a stir fry, Thursday pick up a BBQ chicken, Friday Order take away. This can be a rotating menu for many busy people. Add some bought lunches, bakery treats and chips and dips while watching Netflix it really does start to make sense why so many people are feeling a bit less than super fantastic!
If everyone could at least for half of their weekly meals take some time to plan and prepare, the rewards can be so much greater than the effort.
Benefits of slow cooking:
Gut healing: Slow cooking is so soothing on a sensitive digestive system. Consider the differences in how you feel eating a hard-dry chicken breast, salad and potatoes. Now think about the last time you had slow cooked lamb shanks with mashed sweet potato. The chicken breast probably went down like a rock, even though it is meant to be lean and healthy. Many people cannot understand why their “clean diet” still makes them bloated? It is because your gut is working really hard to digest it. Slow cooked foods enable the connective tissues, fat, proteins and fibre to be broken down so it is basically pre-digested.
Improves nutrient absorption and protein utilisation: For all the supplements I need to prescribe for people to be able to digest normally, some simple cases can be avoided by the foods eaten and methods of cooking.
Slow cooking produces an amino acid called glutamine. You will find glutamine in most gut healing formulations. It is known to heal the gut lining making it less permeable to infections, parasites and inflammation.
Anxiety and depression: As the brain and the gut are in constant communication, it makes good sense to feed the brain mindfully. Compare the feeling of eating a takeaway chicken and salad after a hard day. The mind is still ticking over and sleep is often compromised. I am not suggesting that lamb shanks are going to be prescribed over Prozac any day soon but consider the difference in mood. Slow cooked lamb shanks are warm, satisfying and makes you feel calm and nourished.
Interestingly slow cooking features heavily in GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet. The reason being that for Autism Spectrum Disorder children, their digestion is extremely sensitive and this effects their whole well being. Slow cooking is much kinder on their digestion, therefore, supports their behaviour and learning.
Supports liver health: as slow cooking breaks down fats and proteins this takes a welcome load of the liver. Slow cooking is actually good for liver detoxification. It produces glycine which converts to glutathione, our livers key antioxidant. This is why a bone broth should be part of any effective detox program.
Repairs joints and connective tissues: slow cooking produces collagen which is required for healthy joints, hair skin and nails. It is also ideal for anyone who suffers autoimmune conditions such as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis or Scleroderma as it supports the health of the connective tissues.
Enticing for Fussy Eaters: slow cooked foods make ideal first foods for babies. Many babies will refuse a spoon of sloppy puree. Try giving them pieces of slow cooked meat and vegetables and the will really thrive. Many children will detest hard chewy meats and vegetables but will devour a bowl of osso bucco.
Supports weight management: I bet you think I am joking? Yes indeed, something that is comforting and tastes amazing can help you lose weight and keep it off. Of course, portions are and your choice of sides are key. That means that it is not two large lamb shanks on a mountain of mash potato with bread to mop up the juices. It is one lamb shank with sides of green vegetables and a cup of cauliflower rice.
Tips for successful slow cooking:
Bone broth: using a bone broth as a base for slow cooking really improves the nutritional benefits. Not to mention it gives a depth of flavour that a nasty old stock cube just can’t match. Bone broth also makes the meal more satisfying, so you feel fuller for longer.
Meat: choose meat that has some fat that can be rendered in the cooking process. Lean meat will often give a dry result. There is no reason to waste time slow cooking mince, the end result is the same, it taste and texture is the same as mince! My favourite cuts of meat to slow cook are lamb shoulder, lamb shanks, beef shin and chuck, beef ribs, chuck steak and pork neck. Game meats like goat, venison, and rabbit are also excellent.
Herbs and spices: my pantry always has an abundance of spices that really lift slow cooking. Herbs such as rosemary, lemongrass, bay leaves, thyme and lime leaves add so much life to a simple casserole or stew.
Choice of pot: I think every kitchen should have a cast iron pot and a slow cooker. The cast iron pot is fantastic when you have the time to check the progress of the dish. Slow cookers are a lifesaver for every busy family. Slow cookers allow a meal to cook while you are working. Coming how to wafts of a ready cooked meal is a sensation that ordering takeaway just cannot compete with. When choosing a slow cooker always go for the one that has a ceramic pot. I really do not believe it is healthy to use Teflon for slow cooking.
Make extra: left over slow cooks make wonderful lunches, think slow cooked pork or lamb baguettes, yum. Freezing slow cooked meals is an excellent solution for busy nights and highly recommended.
Slow cooked Moroccan lamb shoulder
As my family are becoming older and eating more I often add an extra lamb shank or two. This is my guarantee that there will be some available for seconds.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 onions sliced
500ml of chicken bone broth or good quality stock
1 tablespoon of raw honey
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
½ teaspoon of saffron threads (optional but lovely)
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon of ground turmeric or freshly grated turmeric
1 orange zested and juiced
10 prunes or dates, pitted
1/3 cup of blanched almonds
Freshly ground pepper and sea salt to season
1.5 kilo lamb shoulder
Heat olive oil in a heavy pot, or fry pan, brown lamb on both sides. Remove from heat and saute onions until soft, then add spices and cook until the aroma of the spices fills the kitchen. Add stock, honey, orange juice and zest then bring to the boil. Return the lamb to the pot and season with sea salt and pepper.
Add prunes and almonds about 1 ½ hours before its done.
Cook in a slow oven for as long as you have time. No less than 2 hours. If you are using a slow cooker 8 -10 hours on slow is ideal.
Serve with your choice of quinoa, brown rice, mashed cauliflower, pureed kumera or parsnip mash.
For additional reading on bone broths and slow cooking see my past blogs: