The benefits of using a pressure cooker plus 5 easy recipes

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When you’re in a hurry a pressure cooker is the best appliance you can have hidden away in the cupboard. They are perfect for making simple yet healthy meals made in half an hour or less (with a few exceptions). I would recommend everyone goes out and buys a pressure cooker this weekend. However, I do realise you might need a bit of convincing first.

Pressure cookers vs slow cookers
If you’re after lazy preparation of meals then a pressure cooker or slow cooker are ideal as you just throw all your ingredients in the bowl and turn the machine on. Slow cookers are great for long cooking meals like casseroles with cuts of meat that need quite a few hours to cook. Its a great way to cook if you plan ahead and can get everything ready before work. The disadvantage of it is that it does require forethought – its not the type of machine where you’ll have a meal ready in half an hour. 

On the other hand, if you’re just home from a busy day and are staring into the fridge with no idea what to make then the pressure cooker is the way to go. When you’re starving and haven’t put any thought into dinner you can have a meal ready in only 5 minutes with a pressure cooker (yes it is possible!). Pressure cookers are the best option for unorganised or busy home cooks. But they’re also a great time saver for organised and prepared home cooks as well.
How to use a pressure cooker
Pressure cookers use steam and heat to cook the food. As the food heats up the pressure builds up and a tight seal prevents the steam created from escaping. It means that your food cooks faster – about 3 times as fast actually.

The cardinal rule for using a pressure cooker correctly is that you need some form of liquid so you can create steam. Each pressure cooker will have different requirements (read the instructions that came with your machine) but most often you’ll need a minimum of 1/5 of a cup of liquid. This might be water, stock or anything else you use for flavour. And because of the liquid requirement it means some meals are more ideally suited to a pressure cooker than others. Keep reading to find out which ones are best.

In some pressure cookers you’ll be able to use different heat setting, in others its only time settings. Which ever setting your pressure cooker has will depend on the type of pressure cooker you own – an electric or stove top pressure cooker.

Electric vs Stove Top Pressure Cookers
Some pressure cookers are electric which means they need to be plugged into the power. Usually these pressure cookers will have pre-set buttons for different times or types of foods. For instance, my electric pressure cooker has a setting for fish, one for rice, another for casseroles and another for meat. Electric pressure cookers take care of the heating and the timing themselves, and all you need to do it turn it on and hit the right button.

My electric pressure cooker has pre-set buttons for ease of use.

Other pressure cookers are suited for use on the stove so you’ll need to follow the instructions for heating and setting the pressure for the machine you have. These stove top pressure cookers will let you use various temperatures that the electric ones can’t do – i.e. you can use it like a fry pan on the stove to brown meat for a casserole before you add the other ingredients. Electronic pressure cookers don’t allow you to do this.

Each type of pressure cooker has their own advantages and disadvantages so think about your needs when buying one. I recommend you get an electronic version when you’re just learning to cook or haven’t had one before. The electric versions don’t require a lot of skill to master and are less dangerous. Its also easy to remove the inner bowl and put the food straight on the table for easy serving. Plus they can be a lot cheaper than the stove-top pressure cookers.

Things to remember when using a pressure cooker
  • To get the food out of the pressure cooker you need to release the steam first. Always be careful around the steam. When you release the pressure the steam will come out fast and if your hand is in the way you’ll get burnt. Likewise, make sure you release the pressure in an open space, so you don’t pour hot steam onto the surface above you. I always rest my pressure cooker on the island bench and never on the bench under the cupboards for this reason.
  • The food straight out of a pressure cooker will be very, very hot. Give it a few minutes to cool before you eat it or you’ll burn your tongue.
  • If you’re using an electric pressure cooker you can keep it on the “keep warm” phase while you’re eating your meal, but remember to unplug the cable once you’ve removed the food.
  • Don’t submerge the pressure cooker lid under water. Wipe it clean rather an putting it in a sink of soapy water. This preserves the valves and seal for longer.
  • If you’re using a pressure cooker with a non-stick bowl (on the electric models usually) don’t use metal utensils to get the food out – always use plastic.
  • Leave the seal or the entire lid to air for 24hrs after you’ve cooked in the pressure cooker. Strong smells can build up in the pressure cooker even if you’ve washed it.
  • As a general guide a pressure cooker cooks in about a 1/3 of the time. For example, if it takes 15 minutes to cook rice on the stove, then I takes 5 minutes in the pressure cooker, and if it takes 3 hours in the oven then it only takes 1 hour in the pressure cooker.

Recipes for a Pressure Cooker
The best meals to make in a pressure cooker are:
1. Casseroles, stews and tagines.
2. Soups.
3. Porridge.
4. Rice and rice dishes (like pilaf).
5. Dried beans (cooking them after soaking them takes half the time in a pressure cooker).

Simple Beef Casserole
Chop up about 200-500g chuck steak into 2cm cubes (or buy them already cut from a butcher). Add them into the pressure cooker (you can fry them first to brown the meat if you like), and then add in a chopped onion, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic (or 2 teaspoons of minced garlic from a jar), a tin of diced tomatoes, 1-1.5 cups of beef stock (or use chicken or vegetable if its all you’ve got – put less stock in now and top it up later if need be), and a few bay leaves and some dried oregano. You can also throw in some dried chickpeas if you like. Cook the meat in the pressure cooker for 30-40 minutes. Release the pressure and add in some chopped carrots, potatoes and any other veg you like. Cook again for another 30 minutes. When the cooking is done, leave the pressure cooker alone for 10 minutes before you release the air. If you release the air straight away you risk exploding the chickpeas and potatoes (so you get mushy food). Check the salt and serve with some rice.

Variations: you can add other herbs and spices to this basic recipe, like raj-el-hanout and mint for a more Moroccan flavour; red wine and rosemary; cumin, turmeric, coriander and chilli for something more Indian, etc. Also add some dried fruit like dates, prunes, apricots or dried pears at the halfway mark to make it really flavourful. Tip: If the sauce is too watery take a cupful of the sauce out and mix it thoroughly with a few teaspoons of cornflour. Add it back in to the hot pot and leave for 5 minutes before serving.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup*
Chop up about 6 large carrots and 500g sweet potatoes into medium size pieces. Put them in the pressure cooker with 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, 2 teaspoons of cumin, 1-2 teaspoons of garam masala, a pinch of chilli flakes and 2-3 tablespoons of desiccated coconut. Also add in 1/3 of a cup of red lentils (this will give no taste but helps make the mix thicker when you blend it). Cook for 20 minutes. When cooked release the pressure and then blitz the soup with a stick blender or transfer to a regular blender. Puree until smooth. Now that the soup is cooler add 1/4 cup of milk (or more) if the soup is not a soupy consistency. Test for salt and pepper and then serve with warm crusty bread. Alternatively leave out the coconut and add coconut milk at the end instead.

Variation: make any soup you usually would make on the stove, however reduce the amount of stock used in the recipe. As a general rule I use 3 cups of stock instead of 4 in my pressure cooker and that gets me the right soupy consistency I’m after. You might need to experiment with your pressure cooker. If your soup is too wet add in a handful of potato flakes (instant potatoes) and it’ll make the soup firmer again.

Sweet potato and carrot soup

Basic Porridge
Cooking porridge in the pressure cooker takes a little bit of adjustment. You can’t cook it with milk as you’d normally do because the milk will burn or split (separate) or both. So cook the oats with water and then add the milk or some yoghurt at the end for that creamy taste.

To a pressure cooker add 2 cups of rolled oats and 3 cups of water. You can add some sugar at this stage if you want a sweet base or add brown sugar at the end. Cook for 5 minutes in the pressure cooker and then release the pressure. Let the heat cool a little before adding some milk and brown sugar. Scoop into bowls and add toppings as desired.

Variation: add dried fruit like sultanas, dried apricots and pear or dried figs to the porridge before you cook it. The dried fruit will become soft with the cooking and will sweeten the porridge without the need for added sugar.

Easy Rice Pilaf
Chop up whatever vegetables you like and have on hand, or use a packet of frozen chopped veggies (which you don’t need to thaw first). The more vegetables you have the more you bulk out the meal so make sure you have 3-4 cups of vegetables at least. Throw them into the pressure cooker along with 1.5 cups of rice. Add in cumin, coriander, paprika or whatever combination of spices you like. Add in 3 cups of chicken stock and give everything a stir. Cook for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes give the pressure cooker 10 mins to cool (it will finish cooking the rice with the steam). Release the pressure and use a fork to separate the grains of rice and mix them around – its normal to have the rice on top looking drier than the bottom so mix it around to even out the texture. Serve the rice sprinkled with almonds, pine nuts and sultanas as a main meal or serve it beside fish or chicken.

Variation: play with the colour of the rice by adding different herbs or spices. I have made it yellow by using turmeric, red by basing it on paprika and green by using plenty of herbs like oregano and mint. You can also add small pieces of meat or ham chopped and thrown in at the beginning to make a meatier version.

My easy rice pilaf, made in the pressure cooker

Mexican Beans**
If you’re after a meatless meal, then beans are the way to go. But soaking them overnight and cooking them on the stove for two hours can be tedious (not to mention I keep boiling the pot dry because I forget to check it). The pressure cooker can cook the beans for you from scratch – even if you didn’t plan ahead and soak the beans overnight. Place 1/2 cup of black beans or kidney beans in the pressure cooker and cover with 3 cups of water. Cook them in the pressure cooker for 30 minutes. Leave the pressure cooker to naturally release its steam (i.e. leave the thing alone for 20-30 minutes). The beans will continue to cook in the hot water so they’re be soft when you take them out. Don’t release the pressure straight away as the beans will explode and you’ll have mush instead. Rinse the beans and use in your meal.
A simple way of cooking Mexican beans is to fry some onion and capsicum on the stove, add in a tin of diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato paste, the beans, a few shakes of dried oregano, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of ground coriander, a splash of lemon juice, a pinch of cinnamon and paprika to taste (I love heaps!). Mix it together and check for salt and then let it simmer for 15 minutes. Once cooked put the beans into tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas or any other meal you like.
Variation: use a packet of taco or fajita seasoning from the supermarket if you don’t have all the ingredients. Add in other vegetables you like, or swap out the capsicum and onion – its up to you to add what you like, but if its Mexican you prefer go with the classics of capsicum and corn. You can even make baked eggs out of this Mexican bean mix buy adding eggs to the pan and putting it under a grill until the eggs are cooked to your liking – it makes a great weekend brunch!

* This recipe is adapted from Spiced Sweet Potato Soup by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his River Cottage Veg cookbook.

** This recipe is adapted from the Tomato, Capsicum and Kidney Bean Braise by Callum Hann (ex-Masterchef contestant) in the September 2013 issue of Healthy Food Guide Magazine with his business partner Themis Chryssidis of

Question: What do you do when you need a quick, healthy and homemade meal?

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