Under Pressure

In the spirit of the last few posts, tonight I’ll be going into a bit of minor detail on how to deal with a pressure cooker when making Indian style lentils. My household recently acquired one, after many weeks of deliberation over the huge range of styles, sizes, and brands. We were finally able to bust it out tonight and give it a spin. Luckily, it didn’t actually do any spinning, but we did duck for cover just in case.

Here is a picture of carrots, since it was requested of me to not include the picture of someone literally ducking for cover. I don’t like carrots, unless they’re candied, in pancakes, or, apparently, highly pressurized.

Our recipe for Curried Lentils came from a book we found at the NY Public Library called The Easy Pressure Cooker Cookbook. The ingredients were simple:
2 cups lentils (we used green)
1 cup coconut milk (we used light)
1 cup stock (we used vegetable)
2 tsp. madras curry powder (we used “hot curry” powder)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 tbsp oil (we used olive)

It doesn’t look very delicious when you start. Lentils are magic, though.

Basically, after sautéing the curry powder, carrots, and onion in the olive oil for two minutes, it was time to dump everything in, give it a stir, and pressurize! The directions in the manual as well as those in the recipe were not as precisely specific as first timers with basically no cooking experience would want. The directions said that after the steam begins to escape from the pot, you put the little dongle on top. Once that whistles, you know it’s at high pressure so you can “lower the heat” and start timing. The first time we tried, we must have lowered the heat too much, because after cooking for 6 minutes, the lentils were still hard and a bunch of the liquid remained in the pot. We got a bit more aggressive after that, bringing the pot back to full pressure and keeping the heat up at medium-high for an additional four minutes. That did the trick. The lentils were not mushy when they came out; they retained their texture very well. The carrots, however, were delightfully gushy.

The little piece on top lifts up and lets just enough steam out to make a terrifying whistle every few minutes to let you know it’s at high pressure.

When it’s time to depressurize, you have the option of going in the fast lane or the slow lane. This recipe called for the speedy method, which means you may remove the pressure cooker from the heat and dump it into a bowl of cold water, then pour cold water all over it. This helps the steam escape. Once the steam has basically stopped pouring out the top, it’s safe to open the lid. Alternatively, if you want to take the slow lane, you just reduce the cooking time a bit (about a third) to account for the extra time you’re going to leave it on the stove to depressurize “naturally.” If the recipe calls for the slow method, but you want to do it quickly, increase the actual cooking time by one-half before depressurizing. Despite the assurance of the internet, the cookbook, and the manual, we still covered our faces as my handy kitchen assistant unhinged the top of the pot. Good pressure cookers will have a safety feature that doesn’t allow you to open the lid while the pot is pressurized. I would recommend staying away from any pots without a plethora of snazzy safety features like that.

Taking the fast lane.

As you can see, we have a pretty basic style of pressure cooker – a Hawkins whistling model – rather than one of those combo cookers that’s also a slow cooker and a rice cooker. This is especially nice for those of you with limited counter space, since the pot can double as just another regular pot, and takes up quite a bit less space, even at the 6-litre size, than those electric countertop models. The electric models also don’t reach that golden 15 psi assumed in most recipes. The pressure cooker goes directly on the stove top, which does leave more room for human error (see above) as compared to the electric programmable ones, but at least I still felt like I was cooking rather than just dumping things into a machine and hoping for the best. Also, some people pay for electricity in their apartments but not gas, so that’s another thing to keep in mind when considering a small appliance like this.

It looks quite different after cooking. All the liquid gets absorbed very quickly. I know there’s great things possible when you cook food slowly, but on a typical weeknight, speed is a blessing.

I think the moral of the story here is that pressure cooking is really quite simple and extremely fast compared to regular stovetop simmering – I think we saved about 25 minutes with this recipe. If you can get your hands on a pressure cooker (small Prestos go for about 30-35 dollars on amazon), go for it! You almost definitely won’t die.

I am not responsible if you injure yourself. Please read the manual for the pressure cooker you choose, and follow accordingly.

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