Did you ever hear the story about the cook who suffers injuries while using a pressure cooker to prepare a meal? It usually involves the word exploded or explosion, or “boom!” and is followed by a warning to be very careful because one mistake in handling the cooker, or even buying a pressuer cooker that is not high quality will lead to the same fate. I did as a kid, and for fear of being the one *lucky* person whose pressure cooker would definitely explode, I swore I’d never buy one of those things. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment as the pressure cooker’s volatility has been the basis for it’s reputation, causing fear in many, many pepole. Admit it, somewhere deep down in your psyche resides the fear of an exploding pressure cooker… A few years ago I was fortunate enough to spend time with a family that made the most amazing homemade Indian food I’ve ever had. I always enjoyed the company and the meals, until the pressure cooker came onto the scene, at which point my fight-or-flight response would kick in and, not wanting to admit the flight response was winning, I’d silently debate on whether to stay in the room or slowly make my way out. It’s funny now, but back then I really hated being close to the one thing that could explode if it was faulty in any way.
My aversion to pressure cookers began reversing when I started learning more about them. Pressure cookers save an incredible amount of time, which is especially useful when so many of us have busy schedules. Black beans take 2 -4 minutes in a heated pressure cooker while cooking on the stove takes hours. Pressure cookers also allow food to retain more nutrients than boiling because less water is used. Quick and healthy…not sounding so bad but not convinced yet…maybe it would be worth experimenting with one some day. What brought me over to the pressure cooker camp was the fact that I’d reduced the amount of meat I eat and wanted to make sure I was consuming an adequate amount of protein in my diet by incorporating more lentils and beans into it, but needed a fool-proof way to make them. Fool-proof? Beans and lentils are suppoosed to be fool-proof…anyone can make them?! Right and Wrong!
Let me tell you about my relationship with lentils and beans. I could eat them every day but, having grown up on homemade black bean soup, lentil soup and first-round fried beans made from small red central american beans, the idea of canned beans turns me off. Even after rinsing them very well I just can’t bring myself to enjoy them. Sadly, beans are the one dish I always ruin when I try to make myself. It seems ironic that someone from Central America who likes beans can’t cook them without ruining them. Unrequited foodie love. Rejected by the legume family. Part of the problem is I usually end up forgetting to check on them, plus preparing them, though in reality simple, feels like a pain. Soaking overnight requires dirtying a bowl that I’ll have to wash, and boiling them for two minutes, draining and setting them aside for an hour seems pointless. Both the overnight and quick soak methods work and I can at least get through that part of the process successfully, but if I can get one batch of beans or lentils to come out perfect it’s because the stars are aligned and not because of my skill. So, here comes the pressure cooker to the rescue! Yes, the one kitchen tool I feared the most is now the hero of this story.
Some basic pressure cooker info:
I opted for a stainless steel pressure cooker because stainless steel will last forever if you take good care of it, but they come in aluminum also. Buy the largest size cooker you will need. Food like legumes and grains expand, limiting how much you can cook at once, so depending on the amount of servings you need to prepare, a larger pressure cooker will save you some additional time. The cooker will take under five minutes to heat up, at which point the pressure regulator will start rocking and you will hear a hissing and rattling sound. Start timing once the rocking begins. Use a timer if you have a tendency to forget because it is possible to dry food out in a pressure cooker.
To break in my newly acquired pressure cooker, I made a batch of black beans. Here are general directions for making black beans in a pressure cooker:
Soak the black beans. There’s no getting around it, but the quick soak method doesn’t seem so bad when the beans will only take a few minutes instead of hours to cook. Don’t forget to drain them!
Put 1.5 cups soaked black beans in the pot and add enough water just to cover them.
Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and some salt to taste.
Turn the cover of the cooker so that its handle is lined up with the bottom handle and add the pressure regulator to the cover.
Turn the heat on high, and cook according to directions. In this case the time was about 6 minutes after the pressure regulator started rocking.
After the beans are cooked, turn off the heat and allow cooker to cool on its own.
Here is a pic of the first batch of black beans made in my pressure cooker:
Amazing isn’t it…no having to constantly check on them, and in under ten minutes they are tender and delicious. I think my diet is about to get much healthier. Eat your lentils and beans!