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Why You Might Love a Pressure Cooker by Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, The Veggie Queen™
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian and count on a host of typical veg foods such as beans, grains and vegetables as the basis for your diet, then meet your new best friend: the modern pressure cooker. I know, either you are either cringing in the corner because you are afraid of the pressure cooker or you are scratching your head because you don’t know what a pressure cooker is or does.
First, let me address the fear part. Unlike the old-style, mostly aluminum pressure cookers with a jiggler on top that make lots of noise and hiss steam while at full force, the new cookers are quiet and have at least 3, but often more, safety features built in.
If you don’t know what the pressure cooker does, here’s an extremely brief explanation. The pressure cooker is a a pot with a special lid that locks on in a variety of different ways but most often it is self-locking or has a small button to push. To build up the pressure, you must use liquid in your recipe. You put the pot with the locked lid on high heat (on just about any kind of heat source) and the liquid in the pot boils, causing steam. That steam goes out a vent, raises the button or rod, and the pot is now sealed and under pressure. The pot is safe because it cannot be opened until the pressure goes down.
There are 3 ways to release the pressure: the natural release, where the hot pot is moved off the burner and you wait for the rod to fall down the quick release, where you turn the dial or push on a valve (depending upon your particular pressure cooker model) to make the steam come out quickly the running water release, where you take the hot pot over to the sink and run water over the pot, but not on the pressure valve.
During the natural release period, most often it is between 1 and 10 minutes, our food is still cooking. The time that it takes for the pressure to come down depends upon how full your pressure cooker is and what is in it. I most often use the natural release for cooking beans or grains.
The quick release method is used for fast-cooking foods such as vegetables. See the video of Curried Cauliflower on You Tube to see the quick release. You will find this around the 5 minute mark and at around 6:25 minutes. The running water release was what you had to use for the older style pressure cookers to release the liquid more quickly. I rarely use this technique because I don’t have to as my cookers have a quick release button. If the pressure in your cooker seems to be staying high “too long”, you can use the running water release as a last resort. Food in a pressure cooker cooks at 250 degrees F. not the typical 212 degrees F. of boiling water which is why the food cooks more quickly. When you open the lid, be sure to tilt it away from you so that you don’t get burned by the hot steam. Also, remember that the food is quite hot, too.
The nice thing about using the pressure cooker is that you can cook ingredients in it first before adding the liquid. I often dry sauté ingredients without oil which is possible because these are stainless steel pots and have very thick bottoms. I discuss this in more detail in the book.
Using a pressure cooker is fast, easy and produces incredibly tasty food because the pressure seems to infuse flavors into the food which doesn’t happen easily with stove top cooking.
Here are two recipes from my newest book The New Fast Food™: The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in less than 30 Minutes to get you started.
Best Black Beans
Makes 2-3 cups
Pressure cooking takes so little time that there’s no need for me to buy canned beans any more (and be concerned about the BPA in the cans) except to have them around for an emergency. They taste better from the pressure cooker, too. I like to always presoak my beans but you can do them from dried but they take much longer (25 mins) and require more water (3 cups).
Autumn Sunset Stew (featured on the cover of the book)
You can use any vegetables that are fresh in the fall for this recipe. It is highly adaptable and very delicious. Season it any way that you like. Here I use thyme and smoked paprika. You could just as easily use Herbs de Provence, chili powder or curry – it’s your call.
3 minutes high pressure; quick release; 2 minutes high pressure, natural pressure release
*The recipe originally called for oil but since I do not cook with oil, I omitted it and sauted with water like I normally do. I made these recipes in my new pressure cooker, I love it!