Yeah for pressure cooking! When Jill Nussinow approached me about writing a guest blog on pressure cooking, I jumped at the chance. While I don’t yet own a pressure cooker (but am totally open to accepting gifts!), pressure cooking is something that I have long wanted to learn about – especially for making beans and whole grains quickly. In today’s guest post, we all get to learn about pressure cooking together.
Hardly anyone has a lot of time to devote to eating healthy, yet we want to eat this way so that we have more energy. I’ve been successfully teaching people how to use the pressure cooker to attain better health and vitality while spending less time than ever cooking. I call my latest book The New Fast Food because I see the pressure cooker replacing fast food in many people’s lives.
You might be thinking, “I have no idea how to use a pressure cooker and why do I need another kitchen gadget?” or “I’m afraid of the pressure cooker. I’ve heard horror stories, they can blow up.” I joke that if I had one dollar for every person who told me that they are afraid of the pressure cooker, I would no longer be working (still I persist).
I want to assure you of two things: one is that the pressure cooker is not a kitchen gadget, it is a serious cooking tool, kind of like having a knife or stove, if you cook, and second: the new modern, post 1990 pressure cookers are safe and cannot blow up – at least not as far as I can tell.
What a Pressure Cooker Can Do For You
A pressure cooker cuts cooking time in half or more for any foods made with liquid such as beans, grains, vegetables, soup, chili, stew, curries and for dishes that are normally steamed. Cooking times at pressure: brown rice: 22 minutes, presoaked black, pinto, white or kidney beans and lentil soup: 6 minutes, artichokes: 10 to 20 minutes.
What you need to know is that cooking under pressure infuses flavor into food quickly and easily. Even though you are cooking with high heat, the colors, textures and flavors of the food remain intact, and there is less nutrient loss than with other cooking methods because of the decreased cooking time and exposure to air. Food cooks at 250 degrees instead of the 212 degrees F. of boiling water.
How The Pressure Cooker Works
The pressure cooker is a pot with a special lid that has an attached pressure gauge (versus the old style with a jiggler). The lid locks either by pushing a button or is self-locking. (This depends upon make and model.) The sealed pot with ingredients plus liquid (there is often a recommended minimum amount of liquid) goes on high heat and comes to pressure. A button or rod pops up to show pressure is attained and the pot is sealed. You start a timer and reduce the heat to maintain the pressure for the specified amount of time. When time is up, you do one of three things:
Quick release the pressure by turning a knob that lets out the steam or bringing the pot to the sink and running water over it. (The second way is not necessary with the modern pressure cooker except for just a few recipes, which is the joy of the new-style pressure cooker.) Or you can do a “natural pressure release” which means that you take the pot off the heat and wait for the pressure to subside. During this process, the food is still cooking. (This method is often recommended for bean dishes.)
Check out this You Tube video to see the pressure cooker in action with the quick-release method for cooking greens in just 1 minute.
You can fill a pressure cooker one-half to two-thirds full, depending upon what you are cooking. With legumes: beans, peas and lentils, half full is the limit because they expand. You always need to leave room for the pressure to build.
If you cook for 1 or 2 people and don’t want to do any batch cooking or eat leftovers, a 3- or 4- quart cooker is fine. If you cook for 4 people, a 6- or 8-quart cooker is best. If you cook for more than 5 people, a 10-quart pressure cooker might be best.
You can cook just 1 cup of rice, quinoa or beans in any size cooker but it won’t necessarily be very efficient. Buy the largest cooker you can afford for your space and your needs. Most people purchase a 6- or 8-quart cooker, or buy a set that has two cooker bottoms and one pressure lid plus a glass lid. You can cook rice in one and curry or stew in the other and keep food warm with the glass lid.
Using a Pressure Cooker Can Change Your Cooking Life
Fresh vegetables in the frig and a well-stocked pantry of legumes, whole grains and spices gets you off to a great start.
I fell in love with my cooker when I started making Shane’s Fabulous Lentil Soup more than 15 years ago for my young son. I could make Shane tasty soup from scratch in less than 20 minutes. I always had to remember to add an ice cube because it was so hot.
The pressure cooker will change your cooking life all year long. In the summer, you avoid the heat of the kitchen and in the winter, you’ll have hot food in a hurry.
Once you try it, you might be hooked. As for those explosions, those are only in taste.
Jill Nussinow, MS, RD
Jill Nussinow is a Registered Dietitian, cooking teacher and the author of The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment, The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 Minutes and stars in the DVD, Pressure Cooking: A Fresh Look, Delicious Dishes in Minutes. Her website is http://www.theveggiequeen.com.
Photo Credit: jetalone / flickr