I grew up in a suburban Houston household where my Mom’s kitchen constantly emitted loud noises as if it were a vehicle itself: the Osterizer blender for chutneys, the metal pots clanging, fresh curry leaves splattering in hot oil and, most obnoxiously loud of all, the old-school pressure cooker’s whistle blowing a few times every day, starting right around 5 p.m.
In that pressure cooker were two stacked pans, one with hot basmati rice and another filled with a sour-sweet lentil curry. While the two dishes cooked, Mom and I rolled out and pan-baked the Indian flatbreads known as chapatti. Dinner was served in 30 minutes, by 5:30.
To me, this vessel is a must-have in the kitchen, saving time even with complicated Indian food.
I've been using my old pressure cooker from India for years, but when I started teaching cooking classes, I couldn’t believe how many students didn’t have experience with one.
Here are just a few ways a pressure cooker makes my dinnertime easier, healthier and still just as tasty. It allows me to have a variety of types of foods and cuisines because, frankly, I need more than just Indian food in my life.
With a pressure cooker, you can cook dried beans in minutes, pre-soaked or not. I put these in salads, have taco night or use them in Mediterranean and Indian recipes.
With a pressure cooker, I can often cook a whole meal in the pot or use it twice in a row for multiple recipes. I end up using fewer pots and pans and not even using the stovetop.
Instead of making a broth on the stovetop, I can make an easy vegetable or chicken stock in minutes. And I can then use that broth as cooking liquid for a meal that same night or freeze it for another day.
For simple foods like steel-cut oats, brown rice, legumes, perfect boiled eggs and applesauce, I don’t even have to plan ahead. If I have the ingredients on hand, it's cooked in minutes. Sometimes I'll make things while I'm in the shower, taking out the trash or going for a short walk or errand.
It's easier to make meals like chicken and rice, curries, casseroles, chicken noodle soup, stews, taco filling, gumbo, curries, soups and even pasta dishes (with raw pasta going right into the vessel).
You can make cheesecake, apple cake, lemon curd and custards.
My kids will try more foods if I use a pressure cooker, again because the time investment is lower than “regular” cooking, so I have time to create more things.
In a pressure cooker, the pressure builds up appropriately and enough for frozen foods to thaw and cook within a given time. But, of course, you’d have to consult your manual to be sure about cook times.
Some pressure cooker fans say it helps foods retain more nutrients. The evidence isn't conclusive, yet. But I would just say that if a pressure cooker gets you to do more cooking at home, mostly from scratch, that makes for healthier eating.
Many home cooks fear pressure cookers because of old stories from their grandmothers, who would tell kitchen tales of pressure cookers exploding and not being safe to use. In my 25 years of using a pressure cooker, old-school or new styles, this has never happened to me. In fact, most pressure cookers are now electric.
The newer, electric pressure cookers have loads of features, like programming capabilities. Many have multiple functions like yogurt-making and slow-cooking.
Before you go, check out 50 one-pot meals for an easy comfort food fix
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