How many people do you know own a pressure cooker?
I have a lot of foodie friends here in PA and inevitably we always talk about food, food storage, what’s in season, where to get this, how to make that, and all of the gadgets we own and use and how we use them. In all these years I haven’t run into a single one of my American friends that owns a pressure cooker (most of my Brazilian friends do, though). I know quite a few people that own a pressure canner but not a pressure cooker. Believe me, I’ve asked. In one instance, an über-gourmet friend of mine looked at me in horror and balked at the notion of using a pressure cooker, exclaiming that they’re like ticking time-bombs. Whether it’s a cultural thing or just the lack of knowledge of the benefits of using a pressure cooker, for some reason they’re not as popular here in the US as they should be. They’re extremely easy to use, huge time-savers and energy efficient. If you’re into conserving energy to save the planet, you should be using a pressure cooker!
Pressure cookers have been present in my home my entire life, no exaggeration. My mother has always used them to cook everything from beans and other legumes, root vegetables, soups stews and tougher cuts of meat. When you have six mouths to feed, time is of the essence. I’ve also had one since I got married and use it quite frequently to cook mostly beans and root vegetables. So when Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, aka “The Veggie Queen”, contacted me on twitter asking if I wanted to review her new cookbook, The New Fast Food – The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals, I jumped at the opportunity with glee.
The book is an excellent resource that covers all of the basics of pressure cooking. There are 29 easy-to-read pages chock-full of information from different types and sizes of cookers, the benefits over using a slow cooker, to caring for your cooker, cooking guidelines and time charts for all sorts grains, legumes and vegetables. I highly recommend reading this section even if you are a seasoned pressure cook, it’s a good refresher on little details that get forgotten over the years.
Once I started flicking through the recipe pages I realized that I wasn’t using my pressure cooker to its full potential. Why didn’t I think of making steel-cut oats in the pressure cooker? I’ve made them in the slow cooker and really disliked the mushy texture. I guess I lacked information on water to grain ration and cooking time, so I never really bothered to research it. Needless to say, now that I was armed with tried-and-true recipes I was fearless to experiment with my pressure cooker.
The book has tons of recipes for legumes, grains, soups, stews, and even recipes of what to make with pressure-cooked grains and beans (e.g. bean burgers, bean dip, grain salads, etc). I tried a basic bean recipe, the quick quinoa perfection and the three-minute steel-cut oats, pictured below.
I own a 6-quart pressure cooker, so whenever I make beans I cook enough for an army. I usually cook anywhere from 2-3 pounds (dry weight, which ends up being a lot more after they’re soaked overnight and cooked) and then freeze 2/3 of the batch in portioned sized container for future use. Since none of Jill’s recipes are for such a large batch, I followed the bean to water ratio chart and the cooking time chart. What I found was that I could cook beans in a lot less time than I was used to and wait for the pressure to release on its own, finishing the cooking process. The beans came out perfect.
I had never tried cooking quinoa in the pressure cooker because I thought it wouldn’t make much of a difference. I tried it anyway. I cooked 4 cups for 10 minutes at high pressure, turned off the heat and let the pressure release naturally (about 5 minutes). When I opened the pan I discovered the most beautiful and perfect batch of quinoa I had ever cooked. There was no excess moisture and they weren’t mushy or clumpy. They were loose when I fluffed them up and fully cooked yet firm. Score! I will always make quinoa in the pressure cooker from now on.
As I mentioned above, my previous experience with steel-cut oats left me with a bit of distaste for them. I love oats but steel-cut oats were too tricky and too much work. When I saw the three-minute steel-cut oats recipe in this book I decided to give it one last shot. I didn’t have to pre-soak it or do anything special. I just followed the recipe and ended up with a pot of delicious and chewy oats. Now mine took a bit longer to cook (5 minutes at high pressure*, plus natural release time) because I have a large 6-quart cooker. But I’m not complaining, it’s a lot better and much quicker than the slow cooker. This is definitely something you can make for breakfast in the morning, or even the night before and just reheat the next morning.
*Note: The high pressure time isn’t the total cooking time, it’s only the span of time when the cooker has built up pressure and is letting off steam. Depending on what you’re cooking an how much of it, it may take some time to build up pressure. The steel-cut oats took about 5 minutes to get to high pressure and when I turned the heat off it took about 5-7 minutes to release the pressure naturally. So the whole process took about 15-20 minutes. That’s quick considering they weren’t soaked. It’s actually the amount of time it would take to cook old-fashioned rolled oats.
In my opinion, The New Fast Food is a great cookbook for seasoned pressure cooks or for novices who want to learn all about it. I’m definitely keeping this book close at hand in the kitchen.
If you don’t have one yet, a pressure cooker is a great addition to any cook’s arsenal of cookware. It will save you time and is much more energy-efficient than conventional pots and pans. So go get one and get The New Fast Food as well, while you’re at it.