An informal poll of the Saint Albans Messenger Facebook community found that 33 percent of respondents use a pressure cooker at home.
That local percentage reflects a growing community of pressure cooker users across the U.S. So, what’s the big deal about pressure cookers? First, they build a lot of flavor into food quickly. And, they make cooking with traditionally troublesome foods a lot easier. For example, the pressure cooker changes the game entirely when it comes to cooking with beans or legumes (e.g., lentils or chickpeas), certain meats, and to some extent, grains.
The normally long soaking and cooking time required for dried beans or lentils means many people resort to canned options or avoid them altogether. The pressure cooker, however, brings the handling and cooking time to something far more reasonable.
Pressure cookers are also especially well-suited to meats that would normally require long cook times to reach an edible tenderness. A beef soup, for example, must cook for an hour and a half to two hours for the meat to become tender. That time drops to about 40 minutes for a pressure cooker.
All that said, pressure cookers also are not particularly well-suited to some foods and dishes. It doesn’t make steaming vegetables any faster or better for you than a stove-top approach. The same can be said for cooking pasta. And, any dish that is low on liquid will be a challenge for a pressure cooker.
Because liquid is so central to using a pressure cooker, what liquid you use becomes a very special ingredient to great pressure cooker foods. A well-made stock will be the difference between good and amazing pressure cooked dishes. What’s more, the pressure cooker is ideal for making stocks faster than the long, slow cook stocks usually require in order to build up flavor.
You can make a stock in the pressure cooker, keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze the stock as cubes in an ice tray for longer-term storage.
If you make a lot of vegetable scraps, you’re well on your way to regular stock making. Just put the vegetables scraps (onions, carrots and celery are best) in a bag in the freezer so they are ready for use when you are. You don’t have to fuss too much over pressure cooker stock. The machine does the hard work for you. Essentially, you add your vegetable scraps, water and seasoning, and set the cooker for 40 minutes. When it’s done, release the cooker manually, and strain the liquid to remove the scraps.
Here are a couple great soup recipes that will keep you warm in the deep of winter.
Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup
small sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 tsp olive oil
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground spice blend (dried basil, dried oregano, garlic powder, dried chives)
2 cloves, garlic
1/4 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery
1/2 cup lentils
6 oz crushed tomatoes
2 1/2 cups stock
salt to taste
1/4 cup feta
Using the sauté function on the pressure cooker, heat oil, and sauté the onions, celery and garlic for five minutes.
Add ground spice blend, pepper flakes, crushed tomatoes, lentils, sweet potatoes, and stock.
Add salt to taste.
Cancel the sauté function, lock pressure cooker lid and cook on high for 12 minutes. Allow to release naturally for 10 minutes, then manually release the steam before unlocking the lid.
Serve with a sprinkle of feta on top.
Winter Vegetable Soup
1 cup chopped
1 cup peeled and chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped parsnips
6 oz diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp ground spice blend (dried thyme, dried rosemary, garlic powder, dried chives)
3 cups stock
1/4 chopped, fresh basil
salt to taste
Place all the ingredients into pressure cooker. Lock pressure cooker lid and cook on high for 10 minutes. Allow to release naturally for 10 minutes, then manually release the steam before unlocking the lid. Garnish with chopped basil.