Thursday, October 7, 2010

Viva la pressure cooker

A couple of months ago my brother decided to buy a pressure cooker, a frankly very uncharacteristic move, not only for him but also for your average American.  We´re not generally big on pressure cookers. I certainly wasn´t until I lived with Colombians and was ushered into their magical ways-- black beans in 20 minutes! Rice pudding in 10! I´m not sure if it´s due to our general reliance on canned beans or our use of the microwave for speed-cooking, but it´s just not standard equipment in the typical American kitchen. I was sent a pressure cooker from Colombia last year and since then 90% of the cooking that I do is either in there or in a cast-iron skillet (if you don´t use the lid on the pressure cooker it also works great as a stock pot, and as my kitchen is tiny and my brain tending towards the migratory I´m all about multi-use equipment...and really awful rhymes, thank you very much).

Anyway, since this purchase of his he´s been asking me for recipes, and I´ve been playing around a bit to find things that a) don´t involve an inordinate amount of chopping because certain people probably won´t do it; b) are very close to a complete meal by themselves and c) are very fast, even by pressure cooker standards. So for now I give you two: first, red lentils (that turn yellow from the turmeric; also, cooked red lentils without turmeric can look a little vomity) that is very dal-like but thick enough to be eaten as a soup on its own or with rice. The whole thing gets done in 10 minutes and it´s fantastic. The second recipe is a barley risotto. It´s not hard to make and it fills you up and it´s really really flavorful. You can make arborio (short grain rice) risotto in a pressure cooker even faster and that works great as well, but barley fills you up better, is more nutritious, and also happens to taste really good. I had a professor in college who was renowned for the traditional Italian feasts he would invite people to at his home. One time he invited some friends and me over for dinner, and while he finished stirring the risotto he told us, the rule at the end of risotto is add cheese until delicious. Then we had a 5 course meal, and I at least resolved privately to aim to eat that way for the rest of my life. Then I went back to eating lentils. And here we are. As my boss here would say, en fin...

Red Lentils 
     adapted from Deborah Madison

2 c. red lentils, sorted and rinsed (the tiny salmon-colored ones)
1 Tbsp. turmeric
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. butter (1 Tbsp. goes with the lentils, the other with the onions)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 c. cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 large lemon

Throw the lentils in the pressure cooker along with 4 1/2 cups of water, the turmeric, the salt, and 1 Tbsp. butter. Secure the top and bring it up to pressure. Cook for 8 min, then release the pressure.
Meanwhile in a saute pan over low heat cook the onions with the oil, 1 Tbsp. of butter, the cumin and the mustard seeds for about 10 min. or until the onions are soft.
You can puree the lentils with a blender (especially a hand one) or leave them whole.  Put the pressure cooker back over low heat. Add in the cilantro a cook for a minute or two and then throw in the onions. Add in lemon juice.
Serve with rice, and it's even better if you make it a day ahead.

Barley Risotto

1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 tsp. butter
1 tsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped, or 1/2 onion and 1/2 bulb fennel, chopped
1 tsp. fennel seeds (opt.)
1 c. barley
1/2 c. dry red wine
4 c. water
1 Tbsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
at least 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese (not the green canister kind, and freshly grated will taste better than the pre-grated kind)

Soak porcinis in 1/4 c. warm water. Heat the butter and olive oil together in the pressure cooker over medium heat. Throw in the onion and fennel seeds and saute until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add in the barley and saute for a couple of minutes, stirring well. Add in the wine and stir until it evaporates. Add in the water, salt, a couple of turns of pepper, the bay leaves, and the thyme. Chop the mushrooms and add them and their liquid to the pot. Put the lid on and bring up to pressure. Cook for 20 min. then depressurize. Take off the lid and let simmer until the barley is cooked through but still toothsome and the mixture is still very wet but not soupy. Turn off the heat and stir in parmesan cheese until delicious.


  1. Wow... the soup looks great! I love that pop-your-eyes-out color!

    Would you be interested in posting your recipe as a "Reader Recipe" on Hip Pressure Cooking?

    Either way, I look forward to reading the recipes for your brother - thank you for sharing!