Cooking anything for 12 hours when on the most stringent of budgets sounds like an eye-popping luxury, but fear not bootstrap fans, there’s only as many hours actual cooking as you want to stretch to, and done in a slow cooker it costs less than keeping a lightbulb on. For the last few years readers have been asking me to venture into slow cooker recipes, and mine is this nifty little £12 number from Wilko (no I’m not on commission, unfortunately!). At 1.5l it just holds enough for a main meal for two hungry people or four smaller appetites. I have had mine for around 4 years and it is still going strong, so it is well worth the investment if you can afford it, for what you will save in energy costs, time, effort and headspace alone. It is no big secret that I am not always in the greatest of health, mental or physical, and on low spoons days I need something that delivers the maximum nutrition on the minimum of effort; I’m sure you all have days like that too. Slinging this into the slow cooker and ignoring it delivers on that front, and is luxuriously tasty, filling, and can form the base for a soup, Bolognese, lasagne, or just eat it straight from the pan.
Feeds 4 at 29p each
1 small onion or a handful of diced frozen ones, 9p (90p/1.5kg, Sainsburys Basics)
6 cloves of garlic, 12p (35p/2 bulbs, avg 10 cloves each)
1 tbsp. oil (optional), 2p (£3/3l, Sainsburys sunflower or vegetable oil)
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes, 35p (35p/400g, Sainsburys Basics)
2 tbsp. tomato ketchup, 1p (45p/460g, Sainsburys Basics)
1/2 a vegetable stock cube, 2p (35p/10, Sainsburys Basics)
approx. 400g tin of lentils, 55p (55p/410g, Sainsburys)
a pinch of mixed dried herbs, 1p (40p/14g, Sainsburys Basics)
First turn your slow cooker on to the high heat. Peel and finely slice the onion and toss it in to the pan. Peel the garlic cloves, halve them lengthways, and add those too. You can dice them up smaller if you like, but I personally love a soft little morsel of slowly cooked garlic melting in my mouth, a tiny nugget of soft sweet bliss, a reward for hours of cooking (even if, in this case, it is not particularly laborious, I am practically a dog, and will work for treats…)
Add the oil, tomatoes and tomato ketchup, and crumble in the stock cube. Pour in the water, and give it all a stir. Cook for an hour on high heat, then reduce to low for 3-11 hours more, depending on how much time and patience you have! The longer it is cooked, the sweeter and more caramelly the taste, but it starts to come into its own around the third hour and just improves from there.
However long you decide to cook it for, drain and rinse the lentils half an hour before the end and crank the heat up to high again to soften them and start to break them down, and then serve. Delicious with pasta or rice, or stuffed into wraps, layered into a lasagne, or used as the base for a casserole or stew.
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