When spoon weather rolls around, we have to satisfy the craving. While spooning with your partner is all warm and fuzzy (spoon away, you lovebirds!), we're referring to the utensil you need for soups and stews. Chilly weather requires it. But just because you toss a bunch of ingredients into a Crock Pot, press "cook," and head to work doesn't mean you'll have a meal to be proud of at the end of the day. Yet these 21 beautiful soups and stews make cooking with a plug-in appliance taste more sophisticated. Soup is a great make-ahead meal that's even better the next day ... and the next ... and the next, if you still have some left over. This idea works well for weeknight dinners, when you have a time crunch.
This classic Chinese dish flavors beef brisket with ginger, star anise, garlic, and chu hou, a paste made of soybeans. You can use steamed rice or rice noodles along with a good broth, which is best if you have your own, but it will still be good if you get store-bought broth. With this stew comes the low-and-slow beauty of making tough meat tender in a slow cooker. Get our Chinese Brisket and Turnip Stew recipe.
2. Ethiopian-Spiced Chicken Stew
This staple in Ethiopian cooking is a heady mix that usually includes garlic, fenugreek, allspice, red pepper, ginger, chiles, coriander, cinnamon and black pepper. If you can't find it, use a mixture of 4 tablespoons garam masala, 1 tablespoon hot paprika, 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek and 1 teaspoon salt in this recipe. Get the recipe.
This stew is wonderful for so many reasons. Let's count the ways. One, it utilizes the root vegetables available locally in the winter season (well, for those in the Northern hemisphere). Two, the spices — saffron, cayenne, ginger, cinnamon — are so pungent, they make parsnips and potatoes exciting. And three, those spices are medicine for your immune system, a great thing during cold and flu season. Get our Slow Cooker Root Vegetable Stew recipe.
4. Sweet Potato, Chicken, & Quinoa Soup
Chelsea has it going on with this healthy, rich, filling, sweet, spicy, and savory soup. Plus, you'll be a part of the ancient grain game, by using quinoa, which has become so popular these days, it's available in regular supermarkets. Photo and recipe from Chelsea's Messy Apron.
5. Moroccan Lentil Soup
Leave out the chicken, and you still have a hearty, protein-filled soup spiced with curry, Sriracha, and cinnamon. With this soup, you really can toss it in a pot and leave it to cook for eight to 10 hours while you work. Photo and recipe from This Gal Cooks.
The dry red wine, Dijon mustard, and cremini mushrooms deepen the earthy, savory essence of this class wintertime stew. Get our Slow Cooker Beef Stew recipe.
7. Indian Cauliflower and Potato Soup (Aloo Gobi)
Creamy and smooth, this Aloo Gobi recipe even re-purposes your leftover mashed potatoes. It's a soup after our own hearts (located in the belly, of course). Photo and recipe from Better Homes and Gardens.
What could be easier? You load diced butternut squash, a bell pepper, sliced carrots, and an onion in the Crock Pot, add vegetable broth, maple syrup, and a pinch of cumin, and let it simmer away for four hours. Purée it with an immersion bender (or tip it in the blender), and you’re left with something smooth, rich, and long-simmered, perfect for sprinkling with our Spicy Oven-Roasted Chickpeas. Get our Slow Cooker Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup recipe.
9. Pork Ramen
“Here is a simplified, yet still delicious, [ramen] that boasts plenty of succulent braised pork,” writes cookbook author Kim Laidlaw. “Serve the soup with your favorite ramen embellishments. I like to top my bowl with a soft-boiled egg and some baby spinach.” Get Kim Laidlaw’s Slow Cooker Pork Ramen recipe.
10. Chicken Soup
Throw a whole chicken in the Crock Pot with a few aromatic herbs and veggies. Let it simmer away until the chicken falls apart in a rich, concentrated broth. Shred the meat and add it back to the slow cooker, then stir in cooked egg noodles, or steamed white or wild rice. Done. Get our Slow Cooker Chicken Soup recipe.
11. Split Pea Soup
When split peas break down into a thick, creamy soup, it’s pretty much the best thing about cooking, a patient transformation of raw ingredients. Use a slow cooker, and the transformation is slower and arguably more dramatic. Here. Green split peas cook with carrot, celery, onion, and a smoked ham bone to yield an epically comforting soup. Get our Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup recipe.
12. Chicken and Corn Congee
Congee (rice porridge) is a Chinese breakfast favorite. Here, thanks to pulled chicken and kernels of sweet corn, it becomes a complete meal. Top it with chopped scallions, Sriracha, and a drizzle of sesame oil for pizazz. Photo and recipe from The Red Gingham.
13. Crab and Corn Chowder
With this Crock Pot version of crab and corn chowder, you can re-create sunnier days at the shore with little more than your slow cooker insert. To beef it up, go crazy with more mix-ins, like diced potatoes, red bell pepper, and even bacon. Photo and recipe from Taste and Tell Blog.
14. Shio Ramen with Chili Oil
Enjoy ramen the not-so-instant way by simmering up a batch of slow-cooked shio broth. Not only will you wind up with a full-bodied broth, you’ll have found a way to make the most of your leftover chicken bones. Photo and recipe from The Stay at Home Chef.
15. Sopa de Ajo
Sopa de ajo, or garlic soup, is a peasant-style potage that hails from Spain’s Castile-León region. Its intoxicating aroma is sure to warm your kitchen and ward off all signs of cold or flu. We recommend throwing pieces of stale bread in the slow cooker for extra oomph. Photo and recipe from girlichef.
16. Beef Pho
Yes, good Vietnamese noodle soup can be coaxed out of a slow cooker. Don’t skip toasting the spices and browning the aromatics—they’re essential to the synthesis of a complex beef broth, and you’ll be enjoying rice noodles in a delicate beef broth for days to come. Photo and recipe from Steamy Kitchen.
17. Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Use this versatile recipe to make chicken and sausage gumbo with okra and tomatoes from the farmers' market in season, or canned tomatoes and frozen okra when the weather turns cold. Photo and recipe from Healthy Seasonal Recipes.
18. Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup
Have the foresight to prep tom kha gai, or Thai chicken and coconut soup, and you won’t have to worry about what restaurant to call for takeout. Photo and recipe from Little Spice Jar.
19. Farro and Cannellini Bean Soup
Ancient grains and slow cookers aren’t often seen together, but this recipe for farro and cannellini bean soup proves they can conjoin to create a soup that’s healthy and substantive. Photo and recipe from Pinch and Swirl.
The Spanish word birria means rubbish, but this Jalisco-style stew is anything but, thanks to the addition of guajillo chiles, cumin, and Mexican oregano. The recipe calls for lamb but would work just as well with beef or, if you can get your hands on one, goat. Photo and recipe from Nibbles & Feasts.
21. Matzo Ball Soup
Don’t tell your bubbie that your new go-to soup tastes just as good as hers yet requires a fraction of the effort. Who knew? Photo and recipe from Gimme Some Oven via Tablespoon.
— Head photo: Chowhound.
— Article by Susannah Chen Oct. 10, 2014; updated by Amy Sowder Oct. 24, 2016.