‘Head Cold Helper’ Slow Cooker Sausage and Chickpea Stew

With a baby in daycare and a husband who teaches full-time, our home has become a cold and stomach bug black hole. Beware all ye who enter: there is no escape.

Health-wise, I lucked out as a kid. Beyond a few winter colds and the chicken pox rite of passage, I had little excuse for a sick day. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I moved to the Nevada high desert that my mighty sea-level immune system took an unexpected beating. So much for reenacting the restorative sanitarium scenes from Mann’s Magic Mountain.

These days I’m trying to embrace the inevitable sickness that comes from sending my baby out into the world. Not easy when every instinct makes me want to encase her in a bubble so she can avoid coughs, sinus congestion, ear infections, and the horrible bronchiolitis that landed her in the PICU last spring. After another unplanned visit to an urgent care last week for a nasty cold and all the other crap that likes to hitch a ride to infant colds, she’s been hanging close and recovering just in time to pass along her sniffles to me.

Even though the weather hasn’t gone full fall yet over here in Denver, when my head feels like it’s in a vise and my energy level is nil, I want a nutrient-dense soup or stew to drown my head cold sorrows. Today’s recipe is just that kind of hearty, restorative stew. And fortunately the prep is minimal with the help of my trusty slow cooker. (If you’re looking for a sturdy, family-size slow cooker that yields good results, I recommend this one.)

Beyond browning sausage in a pan and then sautéing onion and garlic, the recipe involves opening some cans and tossing everything into a pot to cook for a few hours. If you’re vegan, trade out the chicken sausage for your favorite plant-based sausage, and you’re good to go. I found the original recipe several months ago, and with some minor modifications, Cameron and I now have this stew on rotation every few weeks.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have an invincible immune system, this stew is the perfect fall or winter one-bowl meal to help you weather the long nights ahead.

Slow Cooker Chickpeas and Sausage Stew
Image by author.

Slow Cooker Sausage and Chickpea Stew
(adapted from a Kalyn’s Kitchen recipe)

– 2 tsp olive oil (or slightly more, depending on your pan)
– 1.5 lbs Hot Italian Chicken Sausage (you can substitute with your favorite sausage, vegetarian or otherwise, but I recommend one with good spice.)
– 1 cup chopped onion
– 2 TBS minced garlic
– 1 tsp ground fennel (I only had fennel seeds. They don’t blend into the sauce, but they cook down just fine, becoming chewy.)
– 2 tsp dried oregano
– 2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, rinsed well and drained
– 1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes
– 1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
– 3/4 cup water
– 1/2 cup basil pesto
– Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
– Parmesan or Asiago cheese for serving

1. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan, add the ground chicken sausage, and cook the sausage over medium-high heat until it’s nicely browned, breaking it apart with a turner as it cooks. It will take about 10 minutes to brown the sausage. (I buy the Sprouts chicken sausage that’s not in the casing. If you’re using encased sausage, be sure to squeeze the meat from the casing since you’re aiming for ground meat, not sausage chunks.)

2. When the sausage is nicely browned, push it to one side of the pan, add onions, and cook until they’re starting to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add minced garlic, ground fennel, and dried oregano, and cook 1 minute more. Transfer sausage/onion mixture to the slow cooker.

3. Drain garbanzo beans into a colander placed in the sink and rinse well with cold water. Once the beans have drained off, add to slow cooker with the diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and water. Cook for about 4 hours on high or 8-9 hours on low. I like the long, slow cook time because not only does it work better for the busy work week when I’m away from the house for much of the day, but also stews benefit from slow cooking. The flavors have time to meld, and the meat has time to tenderize.

4. When the beans are soft and the flavors are well-combined, add the pesto and cook about 20 to 30 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and serve hot, with cheese. You won’t need much extra salt here since you’ll be getting salt from the tomatoes, sausage, pesto, and cheese.

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