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 quietand 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 bookThe 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).
- 5 to 6 minutes high pressure; natural pressure release
- 1 cup black beans, soaked overnight or quick soaked
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 4 to 6-inch piece kombu seaweed
- 1 sprig epazote (a Mexican herb), if available
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- Salt for after cooking
- Put the soaked beans, water, kombu, garlic, herb and spices in the pressure cooker.
- Bring to high pressure over high heat.
- When the button pops up, start timing.
- After 5 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and let the pressure come down naturally.
- Taste to be sure that the beans are cooked through. If not, put them back on the heat and bring to pressure for another minute or two.
- Repeat bringing them to pressure and letting the pressure come down naturally.
- Open the pot, tilting the lid away from you. Remove the kombu and epazote. Salt the beans, to taste.
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
- 1 tablespoon water*
- 1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika or chipotle powder
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 medium red pepper, diced
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup dried, red, pinto or black beans, presoaked
- 1 cup diced tofu (optional)
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup diced potatoes, any color
- 1 cup diced sweet potato or winter squash
- 1 1/2 cups chopped eggplant
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme or other herbs
- 2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat the water in the cooker over medium heat.
- Add the paprika, onion and pepper. Sauté for 1 minute.
- Add the garlic, beans, and stock and lock on the lid. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Lower the heat to maintain high pressure and cook for 2 minutes; then quick release the pressure.
- Remove the lid, tilting it away from you.
- Add the remaining ingredients except tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir the stew.
- Add the tomatoes on top of the other ingredients (do not add salt and pepper, yet). Lock on the lid, return to high heat and bring to high pressure.
- Reduce the heat to low and maintain high pressure for 3 more minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally. Remove the lid, tilting it away from you.
- Remove the thyme sprigs. Make sure that the beans are cooked through. (If not, return the pot to the heat, adding more liquid, if necessary, and bring back to pressure for another minute or two.)
- Add the salt and pepper.
- Serve hot over rice or quinoa.
*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 inmy new pressure cooker, I love it!