Vegan 101: The Pressure Cooker–The Vegan’s New Best Friend

by JL Fields on May 23, 2011

I bought a pressure cooker last fall after I read this post by my friend Gena.  It. Changed. Everything.  I was terrified to use it at first (memories of my mother shooing us out of the house when she canned tomatoes came flooding back).  Now? I use it all the time.  I rarely buy canned beans.  I’m cooking with grains like millet and farro.  I’m making split pea and lentil soups with kale and cabbage .  Truly, the pressure cooker is a game changer. I even started creating pressure cooker recipes (check out a link to my latest pressure cooker recipe, a vegan risotto, at the end of this post)!

I overcame my fear of the pressure cooker and started getting creative with it when I started reading Jill Nussinow, The Veggie Queen, for tips and tricks.  I was so excited when she announced her latest cookbook that I wrote to her and asked her to consider contributing to the Vegan 101 series–she said yes!

***

Jill Nussinow is a Registered Dietitian who has been teaching people how to cook with plant foods for the past 25 years. She has been teaching people to use and love the pressure cooker for more than 15 years. She uses her pressure cooker almost daily. Check out her website at www.theveggiequeen.com.

The Pressure Cooker:  The Vegan’s New Best Friend
By Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, The Veggie Queen

If you eat what I consider a healthful vegan diet, you need long cooking foods such as beans and whole grains in your life. I am not sure about you but I don’t want to spend a good chunk of my life in the kitchen cooking. I’d rather spend it eating tasty food and playing the rest of the time.

Let me share the story of how I got into pressure cooking and why I want to encourage you to do the same.

I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 25 years, and been vegan for the past 9 or 10. My mother used a pressure cooker but not for anything that I would eat but I knew what that hissing pot was—it was just scary. I had heard, though, that you could quickly cook beans in it and I knew that I wanted one. I wasn’t sure, though, how to use it.

In the late 1980s, I was in a writing group with someone who knew Lorna Sass (my pressure cooking mentor) well. That person kept talking about how Lorna was writing about pressure cooking. At that point, I knew that I needed a pressure cooker. They seemed to be making resurgence then so I went out and bought one – a nice one. I brought it home and let it sit, still scared to open it or use it. On day 13 of a 14-day return policy, I brought it back to the store, and quickly put pressure cooking out of mind. Or so I thought.

I knew, though, that cooking beans and grains, the staple of my vegetarian diet, took too long. Fast forward a few years. I had a baby. That changed a lot (well, that’s an understatement). I had to learn to cook faster and more efficiently and that pressure cooker was on my mind often. When my vegetarian son was just 2 years old, I told my mother in law to buy me anything she wanted from Williams Sonoma cookware store for Christmas. She did.

I took my goodies and went to the store. I traded them in for my first pressure cooker. I was so excited and started using it right away. I bought Lorna’s book Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure and I never looked back. My son’s favorite soup was lentil so I made up a recipe for Shane’s Fabulous Lentil Soup and he ate it frequently. He had a preschool friend who loved risotto, and I cooked that for him when he was over playing. I learned to cook all manner of foods from beans to grains, soups, stews, chili, vegetables, fruit and desserts. It was an amazing journey.

Let me share a bit about pressure cooking and the modern pressure cooker. Here’s how a pressure cooker works: you put food and liquid into the shiny, stainless steel pot that has a small valve that rises when the liquid boils and creates steam. The steam pushes the air out of the pot and the pot is sealed. Once pressure is achieved (when the valve pops up), you turn down the heat and start timing your food. The pot is relatively quiet since the new, modern pots no longer have jigglers on them. They also have a number of safety valves so they’re very safe.

To give you an idea of what you can do in your pressure cooker, here are some cooking times: black, pinto or kidney beans (presoaked) take 6 minutes at pressure, garbanzo beans (presoaked) take 12 to 14 minutes at pressure. Most grains cook in half the time of stovetop cooking. Brown rice takes 22 minutes at pressure and quinoa takes just 5 minutes. Artichokes usually take less than 15 minutes at pressure, depending up on their size (medium artichokes work best). Amazing vegetable soup takes just 3 minutes at pressure, as do cut up potatoes, winter squash or other root vegetables.

People often ask why I cook vegetables in the pressure cooker when they’re easy to cook on the stovetop. The answer is that they taste best when cooked in the pressure cooker. The pressure cooking process, even though it’s at high heat, seals in the flavor and color of the vegetables to make them taste great. You don’t have to imagine perfectly cooked, bright green kale or carrots in 2 minutes because that’s what you get.

The pressure cooker also preserves nutrients as well as color, shape and texture. Tofu and tempeh in the pressure cooker have never been more delicious. Using the cooker infuses flavor into food.

Now, I know that I sound like an infomercial. After using the pressure cooker for more than 15 years and teaching thousands of people how to use it, I am still in love with the process and the incredible food that it produces.

Let me share a story: my friend Laurie, who helped edit my first book, The Veggie Queen™: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment, which by the way does have a chapter on pressure cooking, could not be convinced that she needed a pressure cooker. One day Laurie changed her mind, and got her first pressure cooker. She had moved to a home that uses propane for fuel and wanted to conserve energy. She also lives with a vegan man who eats a lot, and she wanted to cut down on cooking. Laurie now loves pressure cooking and actually bought her second pressure cooker. Laurie puts me to shame, cooking in her pressure cookers more often than I do.

I say that the pressure cooker changed my life. Other people have said it too. Cooking in a pressure cooker makes so much sense if you’re vegan and want to eat “real” food. I often cook in bulk and freeze the rest. It’s amazing to pull packages of already cooked beans and grains out of the freezer and know that I can have dinner on the table in less than 20 minutes I often pretend that someone cooked for me, because no one else does.

Here’s a recipe that I just made with a friend, who is co-owner of Lotus Foods, which has the best rice on the planet. Caryl has a pressure cooker that she had never used. Now, she, too, is hooked on pressure cooking.

Brown Jasmine and Red Lentil Rice
Serves 4 to 6
18 minutes at pressure; natural pressure release

We made this rather simply but you could easily add spices to it if you like. Once cooked this is quite tasty served mixed with green peas or edamame, a splash of tamari and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. This rice usually cooks at 35 minutes on the stovetop so I just cut the cooking time in half.

  • 2 teaspoons oil (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups Lotus Foods brown jasmine rice
  • 1/2 cup whole red, French green or beluga black lentils
  • 3 1/4 cups water or broth

Heat the cooker over medium heat. Add the oil, if using, and then the garlic and ginger. Stir for a minute or so. Add the rice and stir to coat with the ginger and garlic. Add the lentils and the water. Stir once and lock the lid on the cooker. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Once at pressure, lower the heat to maintain high pressure (the button must stay up but the pot should not be hissing). Set the timer for 18 minutes. When the time is up, move the pot to a cool burner and let the pressure come down naturally. Carefully open the lid, tilting it away from you. Add salt to taste.

Find many more of my recipes in the downloadable e-book The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen™ Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 Minutes.

***

I had to try Jill’s recipe…

…and it is delicious! You must try this!

Thank you, Jill, for the recipe and for the really great primer on the pressure cooker.  As someone who essentially lives on beans, greens and grains, I am completely convinced that the pressure cooker is an essential appliance in a vegan kitchen. (If you’re curious, I use this pressure cooker –yep, with a scary jiggler top which, turns out, isn’t scary at all!)

I wanted to mention that when I invited Jill to write a Vegan 101 post she kindly offered me the chance to be an affiliate sales point for her new e-book which I happened to purchase the day it was released!  I took her up on it and want you to know, in the interest of full disclosure.

Today, on One Green Planet, you will find my latest pressure cooker recipe creation, Lentil-Kale Vegan Risotto.

JL's Lentil-Kale Vegan Risotto

Please check it out!

What do you make in your pressure cooker?

  • Lauren Conover

    I’m loving these Vegan 101 posts!  They are so helpful!  I’m wondering about a pressure cooker vs a rice cooker.  I’ve read that it is possible to make beans in a rice cooker.  Is there an advantage of using one over the other?  Are they different enough to own both?

    • Thanks, Lauren! I own both a rice cooker and a pressure cooker. I tend to make my beans (and definitely soups, such as lentil or split-pea) in in my pressure cooker. it takes less time to cook beans in the pressure cooker. I make rice, quinoa, and many grains (as well as plain lentils) in my rice cooker. I think they are definitely different enough to own both!

  • Elizabeth @ RunWithSneakers

    OK, OK, OK…. maybe I shouldn’t be afraid of a pressure cooker.  I’ve been using my fancy rice cooker for grains and beans but maybe I also need a pressure cooker????  Both recipes on your post look worth the investment.

    • Elizabeth, I love, love, love my pressure cooker. I use it at least three times a week (even more in the winter). I soak beans in the morning. After work I have a been dish in in less than 20 minutes.

      • Georgette

        Hi! Just bought a pressure cooker, mostly for cooking beans like garbanzo beans for hummus. I’ve read you don’t need to soak the beans but I notice you do…. Why is that or what’s the difference 🙂

        • JL

          @disqus_40EuzcATnB:disqus, I soak beans for a couple of reasons. I think it can aid in digestion – while I have a pretty tough tummy these days, if I’m having people over who may not beans as often as I do, I definitely soak. Also, it helps the beans cook evenly and or getting hard. Most often, though, I soak because they cook up much faster (if I forget to soak I opt for the quick soak method – bring beans to pressure, immediately quick release, rinse and drain well, then follow the quick-soak cooking time chart). Hope this helps!

  • Michelleberkovitz

    What brand, model, and size pressure cooker do you recommend?

    • Michelle — I use a 6 quart Presto pressure cooker. I hope Jill will pop in with what she uses, too!

    • Jill

      I use whichever one of mine is closest at hand: I have a 4 quart, 6 quart and 8 quart Fagor Duo cooker. And also a 3 and 6 quart B/R/K set. I can go on but this ought to be enough to start. I discuss choosing a cooker in the ebook and recommend getting the biggest one that fits and works for the number of people that you cook for. Often a 6 quart is just about right for everyone. I guess JL thinks so, too.

  • Wow! Look what I started!

    • You sure did start something, Gena! And I’m grateful!

  • Time to take the plunge! I’ve been buying canned beans at $2-3 per can, but just saw that I can get a whole bag of uncooked beans for the same price. There seems to be no excuse now – healthier, faster, cheaper. Looks so versatile too. Thanks for the info and the nudge.

    • EXACTLY! I rarely can bring myself to buying a can of beans now. I just buy some in bulk and store them in mason jars. I also have them on hand and they are so economical!

  • Great post, thanks! I’ve been thinking about getting a pressure cooker as a faster way to cook beans and rice, maybe after my office re-do project. Your recipes look wonderful!

  • pressure cookers scare me because of the food network and top chef. someone’s pressure cooker always malfunctions and they’re all “it might explode!”

    jl, you know mine would explode! 😉 

    • Jill

      I have been teaching people for 15 years and none of the pressure cookers have ever exploded. Using one is quite simple. My junior college students do it well with about 5 minutes of instruction.
      Fear not, it will change your life.

    • You are too cute, Andrea. I’ll be if we could figure out a vegan chocolate pudding recipe for the pressure cooker you would be on it! 🙂

  • My name is Laura and I have an irrational fear of the pressure cooker… but this may have swayed me.  Now I just have to figure out where in my jam-papcked cabinets I’d fit one… 🙂

    • Ha! 🙂 Believe me, I get it. You will be amazed at the ease. I had to clear a spot on a pantry shelf….and had to do that again last weekend when I got an ice cream maker (Hello my name is JL and I have a serious kitchen appliance problem)

    • HereHere

      I just got a library book about pressure cookers; waiting for some newer books to come in to find more about the newer electric models, which I prefer as I have been known to burn a few pots. Yes, a few. (I’ve seen chef AJ demo it on the Vegan Mashup DVD). Even that book from the 80’s or early 90’s says that today’s pressure cookers have safety features and are U/L underwitten, so they are not going to explode (maybe the rare risk is when the parts get old, such as the rubber gasket getting brittle or the release valve being clogged, so you have to check that each time with a toothpick, cake tester, or possibly a good eyeball. I’m totally convinced, and just want to pick a model I’ll be happy with for years.

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  • Shantelle Allen NYS LMT

    thank you sooooo much for writing this!  I am a vegan queen who is always on the go but need to eat real food this could be the answer! Thanks so much veggie queen lol 🙂 

  • Phil Vanderloo

    I was hoping you would have a recommendation for a specific pressure cooker. I’m ready to buy but confused about the choices.

    • jilltheveggiequeen

      Phil, you have to decide what size you need and if you want a stove top cooker or electric. Then there is the price.

      Also, JL likes her jiggle top cooker while I only buy “modern” pressure cookers.

      You ought to be able to figure it out. And maybe JL will chime in.

    • JL

      Hi @d44e23182ec8b6d0f9f20d2aca60b625:disqus! I use stovetop pressure cookers, both the Presto (jiggly top) and Fagor. I started with a six quart stainless steel Presto that served me well for nearly two years. Then I went a little nuts and picked up two 4 quart and one 8 quart PC. 🙂 I have friends that I have helped over the years who purchased the 6-quart Presto and they love it (and it’s reasonably priced). Hope this helps!

      • HereHere

        Have you heard of anything about the Big Boss? It is the least expensive electric model.

        • JL

          I have not heard of it, @disqus_Z9ONTdrYlg:disqus. I did just purchase an InstantPot and like it very much!

          • HereHere

            Thanks for your quick response! I’ve done a bit of research, and the Big Boss has some kind of non-stick coating, while the InstantPot is of a durable stainless steal. So I’ll be buying an InstantPot. It will be great not to have to watch over the pot. Just plug it in and walk away! I can hardly wait until it arrives!

          • JL

            Woo Hoo! Welcome to pressure cooker madness, @disqus_Z9ONTdrYlg:disqus! Be sure to read my blog tomorrow as I have a pressure cooking announcement! 🙂

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