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Want a way to cook and eat that is tasty, healthy, convenient, and comforting? This is where slow cooking really comes into its own. Slow cooking whole, unprocessed foods turns out to be the perfect way to make healthy, home-cooked food with maximum flavour and minimum fuss.

Beetroot curry

Serves: 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 7 hours (slow cooker) 1 hour 20 minutes (stove-top)
60g ghee or butter
2 small red onions, halved, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1½ teaspoons brown mustard seeds
2 tablespoons fresh or dried curry leaves
3 long green chillies, thinly sliced
1.5 kg baby beetroot, peeled and quartered, leaves and stems kept separate and cut into 5cm pieces
100ml coconut vinegar
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
steamed rice, to serve
Heat ghee in a large frying pan over medium heat and cook onions, garlic, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, curry leaves and half the chilli for 4 minutes.
Transfer to the slow cooker and add remaining ingredients except the beetroot stems and leaves. Cook on low for 6½ hours until the beetroot is tender. Stir in beetroot stems and leaves and cook for a further 30 minutes until wilted.
Check the seasoning, then serve with the remaining chilli and steamed rice.

Time to buy?
If you're investing in your first slow cooker, there are a few things to keep in mind. The capacity of slow cookers ranges from modest versions, perfect for small households, to bigger models (up to 7 litres) that will feed a crowd, often with a meal or two left over for the freezer as well.
Dishes made in the slow cooker require less liquid than those cooked on the stove-top or in the oven, as the liquid cannot evaporate (as a general rule,you'll need about half the amount of liquid in the slow cooker). Since slow cookers take a while to heat up, resist the urge to lift the lid while cooking; if you do need to stir or check the food, replace the lid as soon as possible so the slow cooker doesn't lose too much heat. As with any kitchen equipment, there are some safety points to remember when using your slow cooker:
* Never cook any meat from frozen, or partially frozen, in a slow cooker, as this can allow food-poisoning bacteria to multiply. Always thaw meat fully before cooking.
* If your slow cooker's ceramic insert has been refrigerated or frozen, let it come to room temperature before cooking, or the sudden change in temperature could cause it to crack.
* Never cook dried kidney-shaped beans from their raw state in a slow cooker, as the temperature won't be high enough to destroy the natural toxin found in these beans. Tinned beans are safe for immediate use, but dried red kidney beans (and other similar-shaped beans) should be soaked overnight, then boiled vigorously in fresh water for 10 minutes before being added to the slow cooker.

Olivia Andrews is the author of Whole Food Slow Cooked (Murdoch Books; $35.00), from which these recipes and images are reproduced with kind permission, and available now in all good bookstores and online.