PHOTO: iStock

Slow cookers are like magic. Assemble and prep your ingredients, pop them inside, and lift the lid hours later to reveal a flavor-packed dish that can provide meals for days. One-pot recipes make the most of everything you put in them. They’re great for feeding a whole family or cooking in bulk and freezing portions for later. Not to mention that standing over a hot stove is a far cry from summer fun.

We asked Georgia restaurateur and “Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson for a few favorite dishes from his cookbook “The Chef and the Slow Cooker.” Find out what you’ll need and see Acheson’s expert tips for each recipe, below.

"Top Chef" Judge Hugh Acheson
"Top Chef" Judge Hugh Acheson PHOTO: Jason Travis

Lentil Soup with Kale & Sour Cream

Lentil Soup with Kale & Sour Cream
Lentil Soup with Kale & Sour Cream PHOTO: andrew thomas lee photography

“I love lentils. They cook quickly, are incredibly nutritious, very inexpensive and have a culinary dexterity about them,” Acheson says. This classic soup is made with green lentils, which keep their shape as they cook, especially if you opt for the French or Puy variety. “Lentil soup is about a 4:1 ratio of liquid to lentils, but you can make it as brothy as you wish,” Acheson says. He recommends pairing it with a piece of toasted baguette for a fine meal. Soups are classic meals that can go straight into the freezer until those nights when no one feels like cooking or ordering dinner.

Makes 3 quarts.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 cup finely diced carrot
  • 1 cup finely diced celery
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander
  • 1 pound green lentils
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cups chopped, stemmed Red Russian Kale (pieces cut to be ½-inch squares)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • Sour cream, for serving
  • Chopped flat leaf parsley, for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat the slow cooker on high for at least 15 minutes. In a pot, warm the stock over medium-low heat so it will be hot when you add it to the slow cooker.
  2. Place a large frying pan on the stove over medium heat. Add the olive oil; when it shimmers, add the shallot and cook for two minutes. Add the carrot and celery and cook for two more minutes. Add the thyme, smoked paprika and coriander. Stir well and place this all into the slow cooker set on high heat.
  3. Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh colander under cold water. Add them to the slow cooker and then add the hot stock. Add 2 teaspoons of the salt and cook for three hours on high heat.
  4. Remove 1 cup of the soup with a ladle and puree it in a blender, or alternately just take a hand blender and quickly buzz the soup a bit to make it a little smoother and bring it all together a bit.
  5. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter. When the butter bubbles and froths, add the kale and cook, stirring, for about two minutes. Season the kale with a pinch of salt and add it to the soup.
  6. Add the lemon zest and sherry vinegar to the soup and season, liberally or to taste, with salt. Garnish each bowl with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of parsley. Chill and pack leftovers to serve later.

Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings
Chicken and Dumplings PHOTO: andrew thomas lee photography

“Chicken and dumplings is the coq au vin of the American South,” Acheson says. “A classic that really gains deep flavor with the slow cooking, this is a dish that should be in your repertoire.” Chock-full of fresh vegetables and plump dumplings, this recipe makes for a hearty, well-balanced meal. This recipe easily doubles to make leftovers for both the fridge and the freezer.

Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 6 to 8 chicken legs (about 2 pounds)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 quart basic chicken stock
  • 1 cup small diced sweet onion
  • 1 cup small diced celery, plus ½ cup finely diced celery
  • 1 cup thinly sliced oyster mushrooms
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon fine chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley

Directions

  1. Preheat a slow cooker on low heat for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Season the chicken with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Sear the chicken legs for five minutes, then flip and sear another five minutes on medium heat.
  3. Add the stock, onions, small diced celery, and mushrooms to the slow cooker. Add the chicken, cover with the lid, and cook on low for four hours.
  4. When you’re about 30 minutes out from completing the four hours, make your dumplings. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, buttermilk, 1 teaspoon of salt, and the baking powder and mix with a fork, until just combined (a few lumps are OK).
  5. After the four hours of cooking the chicken base, add the dumplings by dropping heaping spoonfuls (golf ball-sized) directly into the slow cooker. Cover with the lid and cook for 30 minutes, then flip each dumpling and cook 30 minutes more.
  6. Place a medium skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the finely diced carrot and remaining ½ cup of finely diced celery and a pinch of salt. Sweat the vegetables down for three minutes, then remove from heat and add the thyme and parsley. Add this to the slow cooker and fold in before serving.

Beer-Braised Pork Tacos

Beer-Braised Pork Tacos
Beer-Braised Pork Tacos PHOTO: andrew thomas lee photography

Slow-braised pork makes for a tender, flavorful filling for at-home taco night. Acheson calls this recipe both easy and redeeming: “You can garnish up the tacos further as you wish, maybe with avocado, lime, cotija cheese and some charred scallions,” he says. A wide mixture of toppings make a big piece of meat like this serve tacos for days — or use it for delicious pulled pork sandwiches to mix things up. Definitely garnish the tacos with Acheson’s Tomatillo Salsa Verde, the recipe that follows.

Serves 12.

Ingredients

  • 8 pounds bone-in pork shoulder
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup lard
  • 1 cup large diced sweet onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 6.5-ounce can chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 1 can of Natty Light beer
  • 2 cups Tomatillo Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Preheat a large slow cooker on low heat for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Season the pork shoulder all over with 2 tablespoons of salt and the pepper. Place a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, and when the oil shimmers, add the pork and sear it for five minutes per side, for a total of 10 minutes. Remove the pork shoulder and place it into the large slow cooker.
  3. Add the lard to the same skillet over medium heat. Once the lard has melted add the onions and garlic and cook for five minutes. Transfer it to the slow cooker and also add the coriander, cinnamon, lime juice, the entire contents of the can of chipotle and the beer. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 12 hours.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

Makes 2 cups.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped tomatillos (washed after the husks are removed)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped sweet onion
  • 1 packed cup cilantro (stems, leaves and all)
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ tablespoons sliced seeded serrano peppers
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Blend all the ingredients in a blender until smooth. Season with salt, to taste.

Tools for cooking big meals in a slow cooker

Cosori Slow Cooker 11-in-1 6-Quart Programmable Multi-Cooker ($99.99; amazon.com)

Cosori Slow Cooker 11-in-1 6-Quart Programmable Multi-Cooker
Cosori Slow Cooker 11-in-1 6-Quart Programmable Multi-Cooker

With 11 functions, a 24-hour delay feature, and a lower price point than its bigger-name competition, this slow cooker can help get loads of delicious meals on the table at a great value.

All-Clad Cast-Iron Dutch Oven Slow Cooker ($299.95, originally $360; williams-sonoma.com)

All-Clad Cast-Iron Dutch Oven Slow Cooker
All-Clad Cast-Iron Dutch Oven Slow Cooker

Acheson’s personal favorite from All-Clad features a Dutch oven insert, which can be used to sear meat on the stove before transferring back into the base for slow cooking.

Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Skillet ($29.95; surlatable.com)

Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Skillet
Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Skillet

A cast-iron skillet also works great for searing meat separately before transferring into a slow cooker, and Lodge makes some of the best ones on the market.

T-fal Titanium Nonstick Dishwasher-Safe Cookware Fry Pan with Lid, 12-Inch ($44.99; amazon.com)

T-fal Titanium Nonstick Dishwasher-Safe Cookware Fry Pan with Lid, 12-Inch
T-fal Titanium Nonstick Dishwasher-Safe Cookware Fry Pan with Lid, 12-Inch

Our top pick for the best nonstick pan of 2020, this is a versatile kitchen staple you’ll definitely put to good use.

9” Kitchen Fine-Mesh Strainer with Sturdy Handle ($16.90, amazon.com)

9" Kitchen Fine-Mesh Strainer with Sturdy Handle
9" Kitchen Fine-Mesh Strainer with Sturdy Handle

This sturdy fine-mesh colander is great for rinsing all sorts of small grains, beans, berries or lentils.

Oxo Good Grips 3-piece Mixing Set ($27.99; amazon.com)

Oxo Good Grips 3-piece Mixing Set
Oxo Good Grips 3-piece Mixing Set

Sturdy plastic mixing bowls are great for mixing ingredients, marinating, whipping up dumplings, and more.

Vitamix Venturist V1200 Blender ($349.95; vitamix.com)

Vitamix Venturist V1200 Blender
Vitamix Venturist V1200 Blender

A powerful blender is a worthwhile investment that you’ll use for everything from homemade soups and salsa to smoothies and frozen desserts. This Vitamix was our top pick for best luxury blender when we tested nine of the most popular blenders to see which is really the best.

Calphalon Contemporary Hard-Anodized Aluminum Nonstick Cookware, Sauce Pot, 5-quart ($61.31; amazon.com)

Calphalon Contemporary Hard-Anodized Aluminum Nonstick Cookware, Sauce Pot, 5-quart
Calphalon Contemporary Hard-Anodized Aluminum Nonstick Cookware, Sauce Pot, 5-quart

A 5-quart pot has tons of uses in a home cook’s kitchen, including heating stock for the lentil soup above.

Spring Chef Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Metal Measuring Spoons, Set of 6 ($12.97, originally $24.97; amazon.com)

Spring Chef Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Metal Measuring Spoons, Set of 6
Spring Chef Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Metal Measuring Spoons, Set of 6

Every kitchen should have a set of dependable measuring spoons like these, which come with a leveler to get measurements just right.

Pyrex Glass Measuring Cup, 3-Piece Set ($17.99; amazon.com)

Pyrex Glass Measuring Cup, 3-Piece Set
Pyrex Glass Measuring Cup, 3-Piece Set

Classic glass measuring cups make it easy to measure and pour exactly the correct amount of just about anything. They’re safe to heat in the microwave and throw in the dishwasher.

Oxo Good Grips Wooden Spoon Set, 3-Piece Set ($11.99; amazon.com)

Oxo Good Grips Wooden Spoon Set, 3-Piece Set
Oxo Good Grips Wooden Spoon Set, 3-Piece Set

A classic set of wooden cooking spoons can last a lifetime if properly cared for — don’t leave them in a sink full of soapy water to soak. They prevent scratching of nonstick and ceramic surfaces.

Zulay Soup Ladle Spoon with Comfortable Grip ($6.99, originally $7.99; amazon.com)

Zulay Soup Ladle Spoon with Comfortable Grip
Zulay Soup Ladle Spoon with Comfortable Grip

A ladle is an essential kitchen staple if you’re making soup. This one has loads of great reviews and is ergonomically designed to be extra comfortable on the wrist, scoop after scoop.

Microplane Premium Classic Series Zester Grater ($14.95; amazon.com)

Microplane Premium Classic Series Zester Grater
Microplane Premium Classic Series Zester Grater

This zester is a secret weapon of many home chefs. The handle makes it easier to zest lemons or limes than a traditional box grater, and it’s perfect for grating Parmesan right over hot pasta.

Glass Meal Prep Containers with Lifetime Lasting Snap Locking Lids, 5-Pack ($28.99; amazon.com)

Glass Meal Prep Containers with Lifetime Lasting Snap Locking Lids, 5-Pack
Glass Meal Prep Containers with Lifetime Lasting Snap Locking Lids, 5-Pack

When you’re cooking in batches, storage containers are a necessity. These glass containers are freezer-safe and won’t leach chemicals into gourmet concoctions as plastic can.

Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife ($31.30; amazon.com)

Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef
Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef's Knife

Cooking at home requires a serious chef’s knife like this Amazon best-seller, which is a great knife for under $100.

McCormick Gourmet Coriander Seed, 0.87 oz ($4.99; amazon.com)

McCormick Gourmet Coriander Seed, 0.87 oz
McCormick Gourmet Coriander Seed, 0.87 oz

Coriander seeds come from the cilantro plant, but aren’t as easy to find at the store as the fresh herb. This little jar of seeds will last a long time and keeps the flavor of the seeds fresh. Just use a grinder (see below) to release the full flavor experience.

Golden Bell 4 Piece 2” Spice Herb Grinder ($12.99; amazon.com)

Golden Bell 4 Piece 2" Spice Herb Grinder
Golden Bell 4 Piece 2" Spice Herb Grinder

A spice grinder like this best-seller doesn’t take up much space and does its job perfectly, with a little elbow grease.

’The Chef and the Slow Cooker’ by Hugh Acheson ($19.27; amazon.com)

'The Chef and the Slow Cooker' by Hugh Acheson

Pick up a copy of Acheson’s cookbook to discover more versatile and delectable ways to put your slow cooker to good use.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.