Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Pressure to Own a Pressure Cooker

About eighteen months ago I purchased a pressure cooker. It was during the time when we were renovating our kitchen. 

Knowing absolutely nothing about pressure cooking, I got all confused and thought that all pressure cookers were electrical appliances (like a blender or a crock pot) and that I could plug it into an outlet, which would have been perfect since that was how I was doing all of our cooking for eleven weeks. 

Imagine my surprise when I received my new pressure cooker and realized there are two types of pressure cookers--one type which does plug into an outlet and the other type which you put over heat from a gas or electric range, neither of which I had access too. I ordered the second type. Since I'm the kind of person that is usually too lazy to return anything that I have purchased, I naturally decided to hang onto my new, yet totally useless for me, pressure cooker.


I went back to using my crock pot and I was happy.

When our kitchen reno was complete I gave that pressure cooker a few good tries. I made batches of beans, and yes, they came out better than any beans that I tried to make with the regular stove top method. I purchased a pressure cooking cookbook called Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna J. Sass.

But there was a cost to making beans in a pressure cooker--my mental health. The appliance basically scares the shit out of me. Each time I used it I poured over the instruction booklet as I carefully followed the directions to a T. I had heard one too many stories about people getting badly burned using a pressure cooker . . . 

and eventually I went back to using canned beans.

My mental health improved. I never looked back. The pressure cooker is collecting dust on a the shelf next to my rice cooker, which I love and use all the time.

When I pull out the rice cooker, I think about the pressure cooker that I had such high hopes for, and I let out a sigh.

All I need is one little shove in the right direction and that appliance could fulfill its God-given potential. Maybe that thing is this essay by Chef Aj?

The One Kitchen Appliance You Really Need
by Chef Aj

I have been teaching plant based cooking in Los Angeles for the past 12 years and one of the questions I get the most is what equipment do I recommend to make this lifestyle sustainable. When people attend my classes they see that I have both a Vitamix and a BlendTec, a Breville and a Champion juicer, a Yonanas machine, an Excalibur 9 tray dehydrator, a 16 cup food processor, an immersion blender and several pieces of waterless cookware, to name just a few. While I certainly enjoy all of these “toys”, none of them are truly necessary to sustain a plant based lifestyle. There is one piece of cooking equipment, however, that I do recommend and don’t think I could live without. I received one of these as a gift last Christmas and have used it every single day since. I even travel with it and use it in my hotel room. In fact, I often joke that if there was a fire, after my dog Sparky, this would be the one thing I would grab. This one kitchen essential I am referring to is my electric pressure cooker.

People often say that the reason they cannot eat a healthy plant based diet is because it takes too much time and costs too much money. Using a pressure cooker completely shatters both of these myths. A plant based diet is only expensive if you are dining at restaurants or eating processed, designer plant foods like faux meats and cheeses. When you eat WHOLE FOODS like whole grains, beans and legumes and purchase them in the bulk section, these items are so inexpensive they are practically free! And as far as time is concerned, with a pressure cooker, you can have a meal ready in less time than it would take to microwave a box of Amy’s frozen vegan macaroni and cheese!

My favorite soup has always been split pea soup but it takes at least 90 minutes to cook so I rarely make it. With a pressure cooker, I can now make split pea soup in 8 minutes and have it every week!!! I can prepare brown rice in 15 minutes, beans from scratch in 10 minutes, steel cut oats in 5 minutes and quinoa in only one minute! Artichokes are done in 7 minutes, potatoes in 5 minutes and dark green leafy vegetables in just 2 minutes! Corn on the cob is done is 3 minutes and the best part is that the husks and silks literally slide right off.

If you have ever made beans from scratch you know that they take about 2 1/2 hours to cook on the stove. In a pressure cooker they take only 10 minutes. Once you taste beans made from scratch you will never want to eat canned beans again. Even if you buy them in a BPA free can, beans from a can taste like, well, a can! They are so much more tender and flavorful when you make them yourself. For the price of a single can of beans, you can purchase a whole pound of organic dried beans! And not having a can is so much more environmentally friendly.

It’s true you will have to spend money initially to invest in a pressure cooker but it will pay for itself in no time. I have both the Cuisinart 6 quart electric pressure cooker which I purchased at Costco for $69 and the Instant Pot 6.33 quart electric pressure cooker which I purchased for $114.95. If Costco is out of the Cuisinart electric pressure cooker you can get the same model at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $99. If you use the 20% off coupon they offer on line that will take the price down to $79. You can purchase the Instant Pot at www.instantpot.com. If you us the code “AJ” you will receive $45 off the purchase price. These are both wonderful pressure cookers. The main difference is that the Cuisinart has a nonstick insert and the Instant Pot has a stainless steel insert.

I prefer the electric pressure cooker to the stove top for several reasons. First, I travel with my pressure cooker so that I can eat greens in my hotel room. To use an electric pressure cooker all you need is an electrical outlet. No oven is required. Second, I can leave my home with the electric pressure cooker on whereas I would never leave my home with the oven on. With the electric pressure cooker I can simply set it and forget it. When I get home from work I simply throw all of the ingredients in and literally just push a button. I can safely take my dog for a walk while it cooks because when it’s done it automatically shuts itself off and switches to the warm setting. There are only 3 buttons on the electric pressure cooker. If you can use an Iphone, you can use an electric pressure cooker.

I run a program for people who are emotional overeaters based on the work of Dr. Roger Gould, author of “Shrink Yourself”. One of the things that is mandatory in our program is eating greens daily. Trader Joes now sells bags or organic prewashed greens, and with the electric pressure cooker consuming greens daily is easy to accomplish because they take only 2 minutes to cook. You simply add a bag of the greens with a half a cup of water and cook on high pressure for 2 minutes. Sometimes I add a half a capful of liquid smoke for a smoky flavor. If you want to lose weight or just feel great, eating greens is the best thing you can do. If you don’ t like the taste at first, try eating them with lemon, lime, Louisiana hot sauce or one of these two delicious oil-free dressings below.

Many people are afraid to use pressure cookers because they have heard stories of them blowing up. I think that most of these stories are urban legends or perhaps happened with the older stovetop models. I have never heard of a documented case of an electric pressure cooker blowing up. Once the contents come up to pressure the lid locks so that you can’t open it. The electric pressure cooker beeps when it’s ready. If you were truly afraid of releasing the pressure, you could always wait and let the contents come down to pressure naturally.

I use my pressure cooker daily and it has completely changed the way I cook and eat. I no longer need to plan ahead. Even if I get home from work late I can have a hearty, healthy meal on the table in less than 20 minutes. I always loved making lentil tacos in my slow cooker but it would take all day. Now when I feel like having a taco night I follow the same recipe in my book UNPROCESSED but put everything in the pressure cooker and it’s ready in less than 10 minutes! In fact, every recipe I used to make in the slow cooker I can now make in the pressure cooker in mere minutes. I hope you will consider giving the pressure cooker a whirl and that it changes your life as it did mine. Who knows, with all the time I save slaving over a hot stove, I may even have time to exercise!

Here are four easy, delicious and nutritious recipes from my upcoming book “The Unprocessed 30 day challenge.”

8 Minute Split Pea Soup 

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one pound of yellow split peas
one large chopped onion (I use the 10 ounce bag, precut from Trader Joes)
one pound carrots, sliced
One celery heart, sliced (you can actually buy mirepoix, celery, carrots and onions already chopped at TJ'S)
2 Large Sweet potatoes , cubed
8 cups boiling water
6-8 cloves garlic, pressed
4 teaspoons chopped parsley (dried, not fresh)
1-2 Tablespoons salt-free seasoning*
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
1 capful Wright’s Liquid Smoke, optional

Place all ingredients in an electric Pressure Cooker. Cook on high for 6 minutes. Let pressure release naturally. Stir in one capful of Wright’s Liquid Smoke, if desired. Tastes even better the next day!

Chef’s Note: You can substitute green split peas for the yellow ones and white potatoes for the sweet potatoes.

*my favorite is Benson’s Table Tasty available at the Pasadena Farmer’s Market or at www.BeansonsGourmetSeasoings.com

Lentil Tacos 
When the doctor told my husband he could no longer eat tomatoes my whole world was turned asunder. This recipe was developed out of that requirement and it is now one of our weekly favorites.

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1 pound of dried lentils
4 cups boiling water
10 ounces of sliced mushrooms (approximately 3 cups)
10 ounces of chopped onion (approximately 2 cups)
4 teaspoons roasted cumin
One tablespoon oregano
2 Tablespoons salt-free Chili Powder or salt-free Taco Seasoning
2 Tablespoons salt-free seasoning
6 cloves garlic, pressed

Place all ingredients in an electric pressure cooker. Cook on high for 8 minutes.

Chef’s Tip: My favorite salt-free seasoning is called Benson’s Table Tasty. It is available at www.BensonsGourmetSeasonings.com. If you can’t find roasted cumin, regular is fine. McCormick’s makes a whole line of roasted seasonings like cinnamon, coriander and ginger available at Ralph’s and Kroger’s.

Dressings for Cooked Greens
Here are some delicious oil-free dressings to put on your pressure cooked greens: 

Quick 6 - Fat-Free Salad Dressing 
With equal amounts of 6 simple ingredients, this homemade dressing comes together in minutes. You may never eat bottled dressing again!!!

2 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons low-sodium Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons low-sodium miso*
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Date Syrup**

Place all ingredients into a jar and shake until smooth. For a less sweet, tangy dressing reduce the amount of date syrup or omit entirely. Keep in the refrigerator. 

*Both Cold Mountain and South River make low sodium brands which are available at Whole Foods Markets, Erewhon and on line.

** www.ilovedatelady.com is my favorite brand of date syrup. You can also buy date syrup at ethnic markets but it won’t be organic. You can also use whole dates in place of the date syrup but then you need to blend all of the ingredients together in a blender.

Chef AJ’s House Dressing

½ cup water
4 tablespoons tahini
6 tablespoons lemon juice, plus zest.
4 tablespoons low sodium tamari or raw coconut aminos
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon date syrup (or 2-3 whole dates)

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. You may also use salt-free stone ground mustard and/or lime juice
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Thanks Aj, for this guest post and for re-inspiring me to use my pressure cooker. I really am in dire need of ways to get dinner on the table fast.

How about you? What's your pressure cooker story? Do you own one? Do you use it?

Do you want one? Sounds like electric is the way to go . . .
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