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Whole food slow cooked, like this delicious curry, is the solution to nourishing friends and family with ease and style, says Olivia Andrews.

Fish, coconut and sweet potato curry

Serves 4
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours (slow cooker) 1½ hours (oven at 140°C)
2 tablespoons grapeseed or rice bran oil
4 shallots, halved, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely shredded ginger
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 young coconut, juice reserved, flesh scooped out and thinly sliced
1 x 270ml tin coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce
½ teaspoon raw sugar
juice of 1 lime
500g sweet potato, halved lengthways, cut into 1cm slices
1 x 700 g snapper, cleaned
steamed brown or white rice, lime halves and coriander sprigs, to serve
Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook shallots, garlic, ginger and curry powder for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Combine coconut juice, flesh, milk, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice in the slow cooker, then add the sweet potato. Make two incisions in each side of the snapper, cutting to the bone. Rub the cooled shallot mixture all over the fish, pushing it into the incisions and cavity, then lay the fish in the slow cooker.
Cut out a circle of baking paper to fit the cooker and lay it directly on the fish. Cook on low for 2 hours, turning halfway through, until the fish is cooked and the sweet potato is tender. Check the seasoning.
Serve with steamed rice, lime halves and coriander sprigs.

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.