This device can improve your quality of life


It’s easier to get work done if we use time efficiently and work to stay healthy. If I had to give a recommendation for something that can help out with those two things, near the top of the list would be: use a pressure cooker.

Don’t have time to cook a real dinner? With a pressure cooker, you do. If I sound like an infomercial, it’s only because I really am that enthusiastic about spreading the Good Word of pressure cooking.

photo of me and my pressure cooker

Me and my buddy, the pressure cooker

With a pressure cooker, you can spend less time cooking and eat a greater variety of healthful home-cooked meals. Pressure cookers make a variety of time-consuming and difficult cooking tasks quick and easy. You can expand the range of things you regularly cook. Some things that you’d only make when you have long stretches of time, you can make all the time.

One of the more magical dishes in a pressure cooker is risotto. It comes out perfectly after seven minutes at pressure with absolutely no stirring. I’m not kidding. Not that you should be eating risotto every night. As for other carby-things, you can brown rice in 20 minutes in a pressure cooker, and white rice in five minutes. Quinoa goes for one minute under pressure, then a ten minute wait. If I just want to have a stir fry, I’ll set rice to go in the cooker, and while it’s up to pressure I’ll just cook up the veg + protein that I have to go with it. BAM. Mostly healthful dinner in no time.

I most often use the pressure cooker for beans and other fabaceous foods. Brown lentils cook in 8 minutes. Beans cook super-duper fast, but even if you forget to presoak, you’re okay. Unsoaked black beans will be perfectly done in half an hour. Larger unsoaked beans like pinto or peruano might take an hour. I’m making some indian dishes regularly, as a dal cooks lickety split in a pressure cooker.

You might prefer to sauté, grill or roast veg ingredients, which isn’t for a pressure cooker. But when you want to steam, this is super-fast. Whole brussels sprouts get steamed perfectly in three minutes. Want to make mashed sweet potatoes? Cut it into big pieces and pressure cook it for five minutes, then mash. Steam broccoli? Just let it come up to full pressure. Sometimes I pressure-cook veggies and then put them to roast for several minutes to get a good roasted flavor. A large artichoke will steam in just 10 minutes.

Feel like making hummus? Garbanzos cook in about half an hour as well, then just mix in your tahini and lemon and whatnot and you’re good to go. Eggplants cook down for baba ganoush just as easily. For chili that tastes like it’s been simmering for several hours, just pressure cook it. Pretty much any kind of soup or stew or whatnot cooks in a pressure cooker, and fast. If you’ve been reluctant to cook with turnips, beets or winter squash because they take a long time to cook, a pressure cooker takes away that barrier. Cubed butternut cooks in about 5 minutes.

Don’t have space in your kitchen for yet another cooking appliance? A pressure cooker is just a pot, with a fancy lid. So you can replace a pot with a pressure cooker, and not use it as a pressure cooker if the occasion calls for it.

You don’t really need recipes, but it’s handy to learn how to do basic things, and some things do require being careful with ratios. (It doesn’t take much time or error at all to learn how to use one.) Once you’re familiar with this machine, it’s easy cook a good one-pot meal in a short period of time without a recipe. For example, this week started a lentil stew and it was done in 30 minutes, and I spent the last 20 minutes outside the kitchen. I chopped an onion and minced a couple cloves of garlic, and sautéed them in olive oil in the pressure cooker. I then added about water/stock, and while the it was heating up, I chopped up a couple potatoes, rinsed a bunch of lentils and some pearl barley, and put it in the pressure cooker along with a couple bay leaves and some sage. I closed the lid on the pressure cooker, it came up to pressure and I set a timer for 20 minutes. Then it was good to go. BAM.

I use the pressure cooker for about every other dinner. It’s a way of eating real food with convenient cooking times, instead of resorting to processed convenience foods. I know some folks are advocates for slow cookers for similar reasons. That’s great. I just don’t plan that far in advance and there are fewer things amenable to preparation in slow cookers (but it is by far the deliciousest way to have steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast in the morning if you remember to set it up before bedtime).

If you’re making baby food, just pressure cook the heck out of whatever you’re preparing and it’ll mash up or mill very easily.

The one book I regularly consult is Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna Sass. The book has great tables on the endpapers with cooking times for common ingredients, though there are also websites for cooking times too.

I recommend spending what seems like too much money (100 to 150 bucks, depending how you catch a sale) on a good medium-size cooker. And then you’ll use it for everything. If you go cheap with a starter pressure cooker that’s a old-school jiggle-top, you’ll find it’s not as handy as a more contemporary design that comes up to pressure quickly and without having to adjust the heat. (I now have three cookers, including an old, big 1st-generation jiggle-top that I only use for canning and making when cooking large quantities for events.) Are pressure cookers safe? 100% definitely. Yes.

Any questions about how to use a pressure cooker or getting started, I’ll be glad to respond to comments!

What does this have to do with research, teaching and academia? Well, the less time you spend in the kitchen, the more time you have for manuscripts or grading, and also hopefully a hike or a novel or something else fun.