Friday recipe: slow-cooker butternut squash chili

At Des Moines University, we’re very proud and fortunate that we have an outstanding wellness program. But don’t take our word for it: DMU recently earned the platinum-level Well Workplace Award for the second time, the highest distinction achievable from the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). DMU earned its first award in 2009 and is still the only educational institution in the nation to receive this honor.

Our highly energized, empowering and supportive wellness staff deserve a lot of the credit. They work hard to make it easy for DMU employees, staff, significant others and dependents to achieve wellness in its many aspects, from physical to social to community service. They also give great information and advice on eating healthfully, such as in a recent “munch-and-learn” session in our wellness center kitchen on nutritional slow-cooker cuisine.

Regular readers of our Friday recipe know I’m a huge fan of the crock pot. These relatively inexpensive ($25-$50) appliances allow you control what you eat, make marvelous and affordable meals and yet avoid getting stuck slaving away in the kitchen. Which gives you more time to be active outside the kitchen, including during these gorgeous fall days when playing, raking, exercising and otherwise being outside can work up an appetite.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll share some useful slow-cooker tips and tasty recipes from our wellness staff. Thanks to Joy, Nicole and Missy for taking care of the DMU community in mind, body and spirit!

Slow-cooker basics
Pasta should be fully cooked and added during the last 30 minutes of cook time. If you are converting a recipe that calls for uncooked pasta, cook pasta on the stovetop before you add it to the slow cooker.

Rice is difficult to cook well in a slow cooker. Most rice will turn to mush in the time it takes for other ingredients to cook properly. Whole grain rice and wild rice are your best options. If rice doesn’t cook completely after the suggested time, try adding an extra 1-1 2/3 cup of liquid per cup of rice.

Beans: Fully cooked and rinsed canned beans may be used as a substitute for dried beans, but they should be added at the end of the cooking cycle to maintain integrity of the bean. Dried beans, especially red kidney beans, should be boiled before adding them to a recipe. Cover the beans with 3 times their volume of unsalted water and bring to a boil. Boil 10 minutes, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. Soaking in water, if desired, should be completed before boiling. Discard water after soaking or boiling.

Dairy products sometimes break down with extended cooking, so when possible, add them toward the end of the cooking period, say, the last hour. With non-fat or reduced-fat sour cream or yogurt, stir in a little cornstarch or flour to prevent it from separating.

Butternut squash + slow-cooker = heaven.

Slow-cooker butternut squash chili

  • 1 medium butternut squash peeled, seeded and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 28-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 28-oz. can Bush’s pinto beans in chili sauce
  • 1 28-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ to 1 whole jalapeno, finely chopped (depending on personal taste)
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • A few shakes of chipotle flavor Tabasco sauce
  • Pepper, chili powder and cumin to personal taste
  • A few teaspoons of vegetable or canola oil
  • Grated cheddar or vegan cheese to top (optional)

The night before or early in the morning, saute the butternut squash in a little canola oil in a large pan for a few minutes on medium high and then add the onion, jalapeno and pepper. Saute until the onion becomes translucent. Add the garlic and saute 1 more minute. Turn heat off and add sauce, beans and seasoning; stir well. Add a little water, tomato juice or broth to bring to your desired consistency. Transfer mixture to the slow cooker. Refrigerate overnight if needed.

Place slow cooker on either low heat for the entire day or, if possible, on high heat for several hours and then move to low once heated through and the squash is tender. Our wellness staff had their crock pot on high for about 4 hours and low for 2 hours before serving.

Season to your own taste, and serve with cheese if desired.

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