Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and more – if you’re moving towards a plant-based diet, legumes are your friend.
They’re tasty, a great source of protein and are cheap, especially if you buy dried beans in bulk. The downside is that dried beans often need soaking in water overnight and boiling for a long time.
Fortunately, there is a solution better suited to a busy lifestyle, particularly if you are concerned about potentially harmful substances in tinned food – the humble pressure cooker.
How Do They Work?
I had always been a bit wary of pressure cookers, having never used one while growing up. So when I saw a friend use one I was intrigued by how quick and easy it looked.
Pressure cookers are similar to a regular saucepan except that the lid is sealed, trapping steam inside the pan at high pressure. A valve keeps the pressure at the correct level.
Normally, food in a saucepan gets no hotter than 100℃. This is because water at atmospheric pressure boils at this temperature. A typical pressure cooker however can get as hot as 121℃. This means that you can drastically reduce cooking time compared to boiling with the lid off.
Soaked chickpeas take just 10 to 15 minutes (or 30 to 40 minutes if you don’t soak them) instead of a couple of hours. With smaller legumes such as lentils and mung beans, you can skip the soaking step altogether and cook them in under 10 minutes, as opposed to 30 or 40 minutes.
And they’re not just great for peas and beans. Vegetables like potato, turnip and parsnip are done in a matter of minutes. No more stewing potatoes for ages only to find them still rock solid!
Pressure cookers can save you money as well as time. Since less steam escapes from a pressure cooker than from a regular saucepan, pressure cookers can use up to 70% less energy, reducing fuel bills and carbon emissions.
Another bonus is that you don’t have to stir the food while it’s cooking, which frees up your hands to do other tasks. I’ve also noticed that pressure cookers don’t steam up the kitchen much.
Choosing a Pressure Cooker
Are you tempted to try a pressure cooker? If you don’t already own one, select a size that suits your needs. Pressure cookers shouldn’t be under or overfilled. Personally, I prefer to use a large pressure cooker for cooking batches of soup or stew. I eat these throughout the week or freeze for later.
Check out a few buying guides (I like Well Rated or eBay) to compare your options in terms of capacity, functionality and budget. Just be sure to read the instructions for your particular model and follow them carefully.
If you decide to invest in a pressure cooker, there are plenty of recipes out there to help you make the most of it. Keep this handy reference chart bookmarked for cooking times of individual ingredients.