If you’ve ever been around when the subject of pressure cooking came up, you’ve probably heard some story about how Aunt Martha’s pea soup exploded onto the ceiling. Because of such horror stories, more than a few of these old-fashioned cookers have been banned from the kitchen or sold for a pittance in a yard sale.

What a mistake!

A pressure cooker can dramatically improve your cooking and eating life. Pressure cookers, particularly the newly designed, second-generation kind, are totally safe and  –  if used to cook the right foods  –  can produce delicious soups, grains, beans, and stews in record time. Delicious, wholesome meals cook in one-third or less of the standard cooking time. For vegans and vegetarians (who depend on long-cooking grains and beans as dietary staples) a pressure cooker is essential.

In addition to simply saving time, the pressure cooker produces slow-cooked taste. Natural juices and flavors are locked in and do not cook off as they do m open pots. As a result, a nine-minute lentil soup will have the quality of a dish that’s been simmering ford hours, and risotto-ready in five minutes-will taste like it’s been stirred over a hot stove for half an hour.

There are also some little-known health advantages: Because the cooker melds and intensifies flavor, little or no fat is required to create a flavor-packed dish. And for the same reason, salt can be kept to a minimum.

How the Pressure Cooker Works

The pressure cooker works so quickly because it cooks foods at a higher than normal temperature. Once the lid is locked into place and the cooker is set over high heat, the boiling liquid produces steam. Because the steam is sealed inside the pot, pressure builds and the internal temperature rises, increasing the boiling point from the standard 212 degrees to 250 degrees. Under high pressure, the fiber in food is softened and flavors mingle in a flash.

Because there has to be sufficient room inside the pot for the steam pressure to build, pressure cookers are filled anywhere from halfway to three-quarters of total capacity, depending upon the type of ingredients and the manufacturer’s specifications.

Traditionally the cooker is brought up to pressure over high heat. Once high pressure is reached, it is essential to lower the heat to a simmer to maintain the pot’s internal pressure. If the cook forgets to lower the heat, the pressure continues to build and the cooker makes loud hissing noises. Eventually, a safety backup mechanism is triggered to release the excess pressure. With any of the newer, better-designed cookers, there will be no soup on the ceiling no matter how careless the user may be.

The pressure cooker works best with ingredients that normally require long cooking, such as dense vegetables (potatoes, beets, etc.), whole grains, and legumes. There is no benefit to cooking ingredients like spinach or asparagus in the pressure cooker because they can be steamed to perfection in a minute or two.

Cooking under pressure closely resembles standard stove-top cooking with a few noteworthy exceptions:

* Once the lid is locked in place, you can’t conveniently taste and add ingredients. (You can, of course, make adjustments at the end.)

* Because of the intense heat of pressure cooking, greens quickly turn an olive colon In order to brighten up the final product-both to the taste buds and the eyes stir in fresh herbs or other quick-cooking ingredients with vibrant color or flavor shortly before serving.

* Because cooking under pressure melds and mellows out flavors, recipes require more herbs and spices than you might be accustomed to using.

Selecting a Pressure Cooker

Here’s what we have learned when it comes to buying the right pressure cooker.

There are three basic types of pressure cookers on the market. Older models feature a weight balanced loosely on top of a pipe vent to maintain pressure. The weight jiggles as it releases bursts of steam hence the name “jiggle top” cookers. Although these pots can turn out excellent food, frequent heat adjustments are usually required to keep the pressure at a constant level. In addition, the user must pay careful attention to the rate at which the weight is jiggling in order to gauge the pressure level in the pot Invariably, this type of cooker, which is still made by most American manufacturers, is prone to miscalculations.

Newer models from Europe rely on a spring valve to set the pressure. A pin or rod indicates the pressure level, and little steam is released from these relatively quiet cookers. Because spring-valve cookers release less steam, they require less cooking liquid and food emerges with a more intense flavor. In addition, it is entirely safe to cook previously “forbidden” foods like beans and grains, which produce a lot of foam, in these newer cookers. These models also generally have a button for quick release of steam right on the stove.

A third design, which is also fairly new, relies on a weighs that is concealed under a piece of molded plastic. These machines, which are often called developed weight valve cookers, are quieter than standard jiggle tops, but the cook must still gauge the pressure by listening to the pot hiss.

My recommendation is to choose a spring-valve pressure cooker that has a capacity of six quarts (or larger if you often cook for a crowd).

Pressure Lingo

Here are general explanations of phrases you’ll encounter in the recipes. Check your manufacturer’s instruction booklet for specifics.

Lock the lid in place: Nest the lid in the pot and turn until pot and lid handles line up. Some cookers have an additional locking mechanism that involves pushing a small lever into place.

Over high heat, briny to high pressure: High pressure is achieved as rapidly as possible by setting the cooker over maximum heat. By adding boiling (rather than room temperature) liquid, high pressure is reached more quickly.

Under high pressure: On newly designed cookers, high pressure is indicated by a line on the pressure indicator. Cooking time is calculated from the moment high pressure is reached.

Use a quick-release method: When cooking time is up, bring down the pressure by placing the cooker in the sink under cold running water. Many cookers offer a stovetop option of manipulating a button or liver to release the pressure in a steady stream. To avoid steam burns, always tilt the lid away from you when removing the lid.

Allow the pressure to come down naturally: cooking time is up, turn off the heat and let the cooker sit until the pressure drops of its own accord. (If using an electric stove, move the cooker to a cool burner).

Before You Begin

All of the following recipes except the risotto dish are designed to be prepared in a six-quart (or larger) cooker. The risotto may be prepared in a two-and-one-half-quart (or larger) cooker.

Remember that timing begins once high pressure is reached. Larger pots containing a greater volume of ingredients take slightly longer to come up to pressure, but cooking time under pressure remains the same. Because a few extra minutes under pressure can ruin some dishes, it is essential to use a timer. If in doubt, always err on the side of undercooking, then finish the dish with conventional cooking.

We have selected the recipes chat we chink make the most sense for pressure cooking. All involve tremendous time savings and yield superb results. Before trying the following recipes, look over the manufacturer’s instruction booklet chat came with your cooker and see “Pressure Lingo” for definitions of some common terms.

BASIC VEGETABLE STOCK

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

Because the pressure cooker produces such a full-flavored stock so quickly, you may find yourself feeling more inclined to collect odds and ends of vegetable parings and roots for the stockpot. Consider this recipe a rule of thumb and add what’s at hand. Avoid members of the cabbage family, turnip greens, collards, and any other vegetables that might impart a bitter taste. Regular dried mushrooms (not porcini) are fine for this recipe. Shiitakes (along with cilantro instead of parsley stalks) may be used to give this stock an Asian flavor. This stock tastes best when freshly made. Because it contains no fat, flavors fade upon storage.

  • 8 cups cleaned and coarse-chopped miscellaneous vegetables such as corn cobs, asparagus, broccoli stalks, potatoes, and winter squash
  • 1 large leek, green part chopped
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 2 large carrots, cut into chunks
  • 3 large celery stalks, cut into chunks
  • 1 5-inch strip kombu sea vegetable
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/4 cup dried split peas
  • 1/4 cup (about 1/4 ounce) dried, sliced mushrooms
  • Small bunch parsley stalks
  • 2 large bay leaves
  1. Bring 8 cups water to boil in 6-quart (or larger) pressure cooker as you prepare and add remaining ingredients. (Do not go over maximum fill line indicated by manufacturer.)
  2. Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Lower heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook 10 minutes. If time permits, allow pressure to come down naturally Otherwise, reduce pressure with a quick-release button. Remove lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape.
  3. Cool stock slightly. Pour stock through strainer into one or more storage containers. Press vegetables against sides of strainer with large spoon to extract all of liquid. Cool and refrigerate stock up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.

CHICKPEA CURRY SCENTED WITH LEMONGRASS

Serves 4

The lemongrass and dried coconut add complexity to this colorful curry. As the chickpeas become tender, the finely chopped squash is pressure-cooked to a puree, creating a thick sauce. Serve over steamed jasmine or basmati rice.

  • 1 1/2 cups chickpeas, picked over, rinsed, and soaked overnight in ample water to cover, or speed-soaked
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled and chopped fine (about 3 cups)
  • 2 large onions, chopped coarse (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 1/2 cup dried shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 2 fleshy stalks lemongrass (light part only), trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
  • 2 cups fine-chopped fresh spinach or Swiss chard leaves
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt to taste
  1. Drain chickpeas; place in cooker Add 2 1/2 cups water, squash, onions, pepper, coconut, lemongrass, and curry. Stir well.
  2. Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Lower heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook 18 minutes. If time permits, allow pressure to come down naturally. Otherwise, reduce pressure with a quick-release button. Remove lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape.
  3. Remove and discard lemongrass. Stir well as you add spinach or chard and salt. Simmer until greens are just cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately over rice. (Stew can be refrigerated up to 2 days.)

LENTIL SOUP WITH NORTH AFRICAN SPICES

Serves 6

The pressure cooker really shines in the soup category because of its capacity to meld flavors and create deep, rich taste so quickly. Cooked under pressure, healthy lentil soup gives new meaning to the term “fast food.” In this recipe, the bright orange of the carrots and a bit of parsley stirred in at the end add vibrant color and taste contrasts to the wholesome brown lentils. Cinnamon and fresh ginger add exotic levels of flavor. This chunky soup is a meal in itself, accompanied by a salad and a good loaf of bread.

  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 1 large leek white and light green parts sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons minced or grated fresh gingerroot
  • 5 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 cups brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3/4 pound potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold or Red Bliss, peeled, if desired, and cut into 1-inch dice (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  1. Heat oil in pressure cooker. Add garlic and saute over medium heat until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add leek and ginger and saute another minute, stirring frequently. Add water (watch out for sputtering oil), lentils, carrots, potatoes, pepper flakes, and cinnamon. Make sure no small bits of food are sticking to bottom of cooker
  2. Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Lower heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook 9 minutes. If time permits, allow pressure to come down naturally. Otherwise, reduce pressure with a quick-release button.
  3. Remove lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape. Stir well as you add tomato paste, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. If soup is too thick, thin with a bit of water or vegetable stock. Serve immediately (Soup can be refrigerated 4 days.)

CHUNKY RATATOUILLE SOUP

Serves 4

This soup is based on the ingredients that are typically used to make a traditional Provencal vegetable stew. Within just a few minutes, the pressure cooker melts the eggplant and tomatoes to a luscious consistency, creating the soup’s liquid base in the process. The fresh basil leaves that are stirred in after cooking offer a dramatic finishing touch to summer’s bounty.

  • 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts sliced thin, or 2 medium onions, chopped coarse
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 3 or 4 slices dried porcini mushroom, rinsed (optional)
  • 4 strips fresh orange peel (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 2 small eggplants (aft out ¾ pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 large red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 9 medium plum tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and chopped coarse
  • 1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves, snipped or cut into thin strips
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in pressure cooker. Add garlic and saute over medium heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Add leek and saute another minute, stirring frequently. Stir in stock (watch out for sputtering oil), porcini and orange peel (if using), oregano, pepper flakes, and salt. Make sure no bits of food are sticking to bottom of cooker.
  2. Add eggplants and peppers and set tomatoes on top. Do not stir at this point. It’s best to keep tomatoes away from bottom of pot, where their sugars can cause scorching.
  3. Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Lower heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook 4 minutes. Reduce pressure with a quick release button. Remove lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape.

4 Stir well, pressing eggplant against side of pot with large spoon to create chunky puree. Add remaining tablespoon oil and basil. Remove orange peel, adjust seasonings, and serve immediately (Soup can be refrigerated 4 days.)

Note: Small Japanese eggplants do not require peeling, but it is necessary to peel larger eggplants.

BASIC WHOLE GRAINS

Makes 2 to 3 cups

Adding whole grains to your diet becomes more feasible when they cook in fifteen minutes rather than an hour or more. It’s most practical to pressure-cook whole grains in an abundance of water and then drain off the excess liquid (which you can reserve for stock). For best results, add salt after cooking To subdue the foaming action characteristic of grain cooking, always add a tablespoon of oil per cup of dry grain. The oil prevents the grain from being catapulted into the vent, where it might interfere with the release of excess pressure. Increase the water by one cup for each additional cup of dry grain you plan to cook. However, do not fill the cooker beyond halfway. One cup of dry grain yields two to two and one-half cups when cooked, except for barley, which yields about three and one-half cups.

  • 1 cup whole grains such as brown rice, pearl barley, whole oats, kamut, spelt, triticale,
  • pot barley, rye, or wheat berries
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  1. Add grain, 3 cups water, and oil to cooker. Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Lower heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook 15 minutes for brown rice, pearl barley, and whole oats or 18 minutes for all other grains.
  2. Quick-release pressure by placing cooker under cold running water. (Do not use stovetop quick-release method, which could result in sputtering at the vent.) Remove lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape.
  3. If grains are not sufficiently tender – remember that whole grains are always a bit chewy-replace (hut do not lock) lid and simmer until they are done.
  4. Drain, reserving cooking liquid for stock, if desired. Fluff grains with fork and serve immediately

Note: Clean the lid of the cooker thoroughly after cooking grains to keep steam vents clear.

WHOLE-GRAIN TABBOULEH

Serves 4 to 6

Here’s a twist on traditional tabbouleh, using whole grains rather than refined bulgur wheat. You can use one type of grain- kamut is a personal favorite or a mixture. Serve this hearty salad on a bed of radicchio, garnished with fresh orange segments and some high-quality olives. Small Kirby (pickling) cucumbers are my preference because they are less watery than large cucumbers and don’t have to be peeled. If regular cucumbers are used, make sure to peel them.

  • 3 cups freshly cooked whole grains (from about 1 1/2 cups dry), cooled
  • 4 large plum tomatoes, cored and diced small (about 2 cups)
  • 3 Kirby cucumbers, seeded and diced small (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup fine-chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup fine-chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup fine-chopped fresh mint leaves tablespoons
  • 3 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Ground black pepper

Combine grains, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, onion, and mint in large bowl. Drizle oil and 3 tablespoons lemon juice over mixture while stirring. Add salt, pepper, and enough additional lemon juice to give salad a nice puckery edge. Any leftovers will require a bit more lemon juice to perk up flavors.

SHIITAKE RISOTTO

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a first course

The pressure cooker makes quick work of risotto, which normally requires about a half hour of frequent stirring. This fusion recipe adds an Asian touch to an Italian classic.

  • 1 ounce dried whole shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon light sesame or canola oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced or grated fresh gingerroot
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin (separate white from light green rings)
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup mirin or dry sherry
  • 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable stock (see note below)
  • 2 tablespoons tamari or shoyu
  1. Place mushrooms in medium bowl and pour 2 1/2 cups boiling water over them. Cover and let steep until soft, about 10 minutes. Remove shiitakes with slotted spoon. Slice off and discard stems. Cut caps into thin slices. Set shiitakes and mushroom stock aside together
  2. Heat oil in cooker. Add shallots, ginger, garlic, and whites of scallions and saute over medium heat 1 minute. Stir in rice and mirin or sherry. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until mirin has evaporated, about 30 seconds. Add 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock (watch out for sputtering oil), tamari, reserved mushroom stock, and sliced shiitakes.
  3. Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Lower heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook 5 minutes. Reduce pressure with a quick-release method. Remove lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape.
  4. Stir vigorously. If rice isn’t sufficiently cooked (it should be tender but still chewy), or risotto is too soupy, cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until risotto reaches desired consistency. If risotto is too dry, stir in remaining 1/2 cup vegetable stock during this time.
  5. Add extra tamari to taste, if needed. Add scallion greens and serve immediately in shallow bowls.

Note: If you don’t have homemade stock on hand, an instant stock is fine.

TRIPLE ROOT VEGETABLE PUREE

Serves 6 The pressure cooker comes in handy for making root vegetable purees because it softens the fibers of hard winter vegetables so quickly. Use the amounts below as a general guideline and experiment with your own combinations.

  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts sliced thin
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 large celery root (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 large parsnip (about 3/4 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • Ground black pepper (optional)
  1. Heat oil in cooker. Add leek and saute over medium heat 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 cup water (watch out for sputtering oil), rosemary (rub it between your palms to release flavor), salt, and vegetables.
  2. Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Lower heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook 4 minutes. Reduce pressure with a quick-release method. Remove lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape.
  3. Stir vigorously, pressing against sides of cooker with large spoon until vegetables develop consistency of chunky mashed potatoes. Adjust seasonings and add pepper to taste.

SMOKY BLACK BEAN CHILI

Serves 4 to 6

It is in bean cookery that the pressure cooker offers the most dramatic time savings. In addition, many people find pressure-cooked beans more digestible than those cooked by other means. Although you can pressure-cook beans without soaking, I prefer to soak them for greater digestibility and more even cooking. If you forget to soak the beans overnight, speed-soak them in the pressure cooker. Canned tomatoes flavored with green chiles save

Speed-Soaking Beans

Soaking beans before cooking results in more even cooking and increased digestibility. The pressure cooker offers the option of speed soaking, a technique that is roughly equivalent to soaking overnight.

Place water and beans in the cooker, in a ratio of three parts water to one part beans. (If using an old-fashioned jiggle-top cooker, add one tablespoon of oil per cup of dried beans to control the foam that develops during cooking.) Lock the lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure.

For small beans (such as navies), as soon as high pressure is reached, turn off the heat, and allow the pressure to come down naturally. For medium beans (such as pintos), cook for one minute under high pressure, turn off the heat, and allow the pressure to come down naturally. For large beans (such as chickpeas), cook for three minutes under high pressure, turn off the heat, and allow the pressure to come down naturally. Drain and rinse the beans and proceed as directed in the recipe. time but can be replaced by one and one-half cups diced fresh tomatoes and two seeded and minced jalapeno peppers.

  • 1 1/2 cups dried black beans, picked over, rinsed, and soaked overnight in ample water to
  • cover, or speedsoaked
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse-chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground chipotle peppers (see note, below)
  • 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 Drain and rinse beans. Set aside.

  1. Heat oil in cooker. Add cumin seeds and allow to size 5 seconds. Add onion and garlic and cook stirring frequently, over medium heat 1 minute. Add beans, red pepper, oregano, chipotle, fennel, cinnamon, and water.
  2. Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Lower heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook 12 minutes. If time permits, allow pressure to come down naturally. Otherwise, reduce pressure with a quick release method. Remove lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape.
  3. If beans are not sufficiently tender, either return to high pressure for a few more minutes or simmer them, covered, until done. Stir in tomatoes and add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. If chili is too thin, set aside at room temperature to thicken for a few hours, leaving cooker’s lid slightly ajar. If serving immediately, puree 1 cup beans and stir back into pot. Reheat as needed. Stir in cilantro just before serving. (Chili can be refrigerated up to 4 days.)

Note: To grind a chipotle, cut offend discard the stem. Snip open the pepper and remove all or most of the seeds. (Leaving in approximately four seeds per pepper creates a medium-hot dish.) Grind the chipotle in a spice grinder. One medium chipotle (about three inches long) yields one teaspoon when ground.