I haven't used a crock pot, but how about adding spices such as basil, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, marjoram, italian seasoning, ground pepper, and so on - whichever ones you enjoy. Or perhaps adding them to the finished product before serving, especially if you are using fresh herbs/spices? Fresh herbs/spices, more so than their dry counterparts, add a substantial kick of flavour.
I've actually heard that it's bad to add lots of salt to beans while they're cooking - apparently, it can keep the beans from becoming tender. I like to make what I call "Louisiana" style beans (think red beans and rice without the rice). I saute onion, garlic, green pepper, celery, and diced carrots with a bit of cooking spray, add the beans which I've soaked overnight, a can of crushed tomatoes (I look for the lower sodium kind), about 6-8 cups water or low sodium chicken stock, cayenne pepper, thyme, sage, bay leaves, parsley, and cajun seasoning then simmer for a few hours. You'd have to saute the veggies ahead of time, but the main cooking can totally be done in a crock pot. I've never even felt the urge to add salt on the tail end of the cooking time (especially if I didn't have low-sodium varieties on hand). If I can find lower fat/calorie andouille sausage, I'll add it with about 30 mins of cook time left, or sometimes I'll just add turkey Keilbasa or smoked sausage. I took the following recipe, and "healthed" it up
I do crockpot beans alot, and season with all sorts of herbs, spices, and seasoning veggies and herbs.
Usually I saute seasoning veggies (onion, garlic, celery, carrot, bell pepper, parsley, cilantro, basil - not all of them, just what I have on hand and want to add).
If I'm being lazy, I'll just stir in the diced seasoning veggies (or if I'm really lazy I'll throw in a whole onion, a whole carrot, a whole slice of celery and I'll fish those out later).
I never buy low and reduced sodium products without reading the label very carefully, because many use potassium chloride (a common salt substitute) in place of sodium chloride (table salt). It has a salty taste, but also an extremely unpleasant bitter, metallic aftertaste. And in my experience, dilution doesn't seem to help (I ended up having to throw a huge pot of soup away, because I had used 1 small, 6oz can of low-sodium tomato juice that contained potassium chloride. And even in that small proportion, the metallic taste was still very noticeable and unpleasant to me).
Some people don't mind, or can't detect the aftertaste (which I can't even imagine because I find it so horrible, and I'll eat just about anything). So if you're going to try low sodium products that contain potassium salts, make sure you taste it before adding it to a recipe.
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I never buy low and reduced sodium products without reading the label very carefully, because many use potassium chloride (a common salt substitute) in place of sodium chloride (table salt). It has a salty taste, but also an extremely unpleasant bitter, metallic aftertaste.
Huh...learn something new everyday I'll have to add that to my list of unexpected ingredients to look for in canned food...kind of like corn syrup added to canned tomatoes or added sugar in low-fat stuff. I naively figured that they just didn't add as much salt, but otherwise it was pretty much the same stuff -
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SALSA!!!! I put that in even before I was a fat chick. Back then, I also added bacon.. Maybe some of the Oscar Meyer kind that is 3 slices for 70 calories...center cut...would work for you now, esp. if you just use a little and it would give great flavor. I also like canned green chiles, but I bet you could use fresh ones just as easily.
GOTTA GET OUTTA THE 180'S THIS TIME!
I often saute a slice or two of bacon to start off a pot of beans. Stretched over a large pot the calories don't add that much to individual servings and they add a lot of flavor (especially if you are cooking for people who object to your "healthy diet" like my stepdad). You can also slice up a kielbasa or bratwurst into the pot toward the end of cooking for those folks, and just not eat any yourself.
Watch out for the turkey bacon though, it seems MUCH saltier than the regular pork bacon.
Another consideration is the quality of your dried beans. When I switched from pintos in the bag at the grocery store to the high rate turnover bulk bin at Whole Foods (99cents a pound) I was amazed at the "beaniness" of the beans. I have not tried the high end heirlooms from Rancho Gordo but hear they are phenomenal. When I use good beans I want to taste the bean. I add some whole sprigs of fresh oregano during the last bit of cooking and it imparts just enough extra. Of course I eat them with super spicy homemade salsa I also do not pre soak and I do salt some from the beginning never having encountered the oft spoken of failure to tenderize.
Have you had the Gay Cabellero sauce from Rancho Gordo? Ohhhhh yum! I just looked on their website and don't see it. I wrote them and asked if they were still making it. Some other places online do sell it, though.
We're fat chicks, not doctors. Please see your physician before taking advice found on the internet.