There are two kinds of people — fans of slow-cookers and those who haven't tried them. I'm definitely the former.
I just love my slow-cooker. I make everything in it, from summertime ribs to baked potatoes to spaghetti squash. But in the winter, there is nothing quite as satisfying as a thick stew or hearty soup that bubbles away gently all day, slowing filling the house with welcoming aromas while I'm off at work, running errands or spending the day at my daughters' school.
My kids' slow-cooker favorite? Probably Southwestern stew. It has all the flavors they love, plus they are allowed to have (baked) corn chips at dinner, which is exciting stuff around the d'Arabian house.
I make a version that is trimmed down and healthier, full of fiber and protein thanks to the combination of black beans and chickpeas. But the star of this soup is the ground beef. I love ground turkey, and I certainly have made this soup with it, but lean ground beef is, calorie-wise, a close peer of most ground turkey.
In fact, many of the ground turkey packages offered will have higher fat and calorie count than 95 percent lean ground beef. For a 4-ounce serving, lean ground beef boasts 24 grams of protein and just 160 calories and 4 grams of fat! And, ground beef just feels more like comfort food (since I grew up in an era before we regularly ground up our Thanksgiving bird to eat it year-round).
Slow cooker Southwestern stew
To make this dish even easier, you can prep it up to the step of layering all of the ingredients in the slow cooker, then refrigerate it overnight. In the morning, just pop the slow cooker insert into the cooker and walk away.
Start to finish: 4 hours on high, 8 hours on low (20 minutes active)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (93 percent or leaner)
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
12-ounce bottle light beer
1 cup prepared tomato salsa (mild or hot)
15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn (do not thaw)
1 cup frozen chopped spinach (do not thaw)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Crushed baked tortilla chips
Low-fat plain Greek yogurt
Chopped fresh cilantro
Shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
In a large saute pan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the beef and cook until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Spoon the beef into a slow cooker, then layer the remaining ingredients (except the lime juice, salt and pepper) over it. Cook on high for 4 hours or 7 to 8 hours on low. Stir in the lime juice, then season with salt and pepper. Serve with optional toppings.
Nutrition information per serving: 540 calories; 170 calories from fat (31 percent of total calories); 19 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 1190 mg sodium; 49 g carbohydrate; 15 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 43 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget.