Pressure Cookers Are for Lovers: "Vegan Under Pressure"

A pressure cooker self-portrait

A pressure cooker self-portrait

You can keep your sous vide machine. Slow cookers? Blech. I’m a fast cooker, and proud of it. You can be, too. Pressure cooking is more mainstream than ever, which is great news.

I’m biased, of course. I own five pressure cookers. This may seem excessive, but since I teach pressure cooking classes, I need a whole fleet of them. In fact, I’m game to acquire a few more, because every time I’ve taught a pressure cooking class, it has sold out. This is not so much because I’m awesome, but because pressure cooking is a positive trend was can be happy about.

I was skeptical about pressure cooking at first, but now it’s a way of life for me. And, in large part, I have The Veggie Queen—a.k.a. Jill Nussinow--to thank. I got into pressure cooking because I had to, but Jill made it welcoming and rewarding.

A number of years ago, I worked in a fancy cookware store. I’ve always been a cookware gearhead, plus I have a background in professional kitchens, so I was good at moving the high-end stuff: All-Clad, Mauviel, Le Creuset. The store also offered Fagor and Kuhn Rikon pressure cookers, and on the rare occasions a customer asked about them, I froze up.

This drove me crazy, because I do not like to be poorly informed, but lo! One day I got an email from Jill Nussinow, who I’d interviewed once as an expert on whole grains. She offered to send me a copy of her DVD, Pressure Cooking: A Fresh Look. Hmm, I thought. This could be the key.

Her short video and affable yet straightforward manner took away all of my misgivings about the thing. I borrowed the store’s demo model, a Fagor Duo 6-quart, and began experimenting at home. Long story short, I fell in love. Not only did I become the store’s go-to pressure cooking authority; I never returned their demo model. The Fagor Duo 6-Quart remains my favorite model to this day (don’t fear; the store had a spare).

There are some differences between how Jill and I cook. For one, she’s vegan, and I’m not. I use a more generous hand with fats and salt than she does. I eat a lot more gluten. Jill’s a Registered Dietitian, and I consider hot dogs to be a fun and special treat.

But the funny thing is how much our pressure cooking styles intersect. We rely on pressure cookers to turn out fresh, flavorful, healthy meals for our families and for ourselves. We rely on pressure cookers to make whole foods, like dried beans and whole grains, speedier to incorporate into our daily menus. We both like having soup for breakfast. Pressure cookers deliver on all of those fronts.

I had the opportunity to test some of the many quick and colorful recipes in Jill’s newest book, Vegan Under Pressure: Perfect Vegan Meals Made Quick and Easy in Your Pressure Cooker, and I’m delighted to see it hit the shelves. I teach some of her recipes in my pressure cooking classes, and I’ll gladly refer my students to this inspiring volume. Just looking at it makes me want to break out one (or two or three) of my pressure cookers. The Barley, Shiitake, and Walnut Burgers are favorites, as is the That Red Curry with Winter Squash, Mushrooms, and Broccoli. Even though I consider myself a pressure cooking expert, there's always something new to learn, and Jill's book showed me how to rig up a set of foil helper handles to lift hot bowls from the interior of a pressure cooker (before, I'd just fiddle with tongs, which is unwieldy and unsafe). So even though the recipes are fantastic, the tips and tricks are a big draw, too, making this a cookbook useful for pressure cooking novices and veterans alike. 

Here’s a recipe from Vegan Under Pressure I’m sure I’ll come back to. It’s fast and flexible, because you can swap out some of the vegetables for others if you don’t have everything on hand. My carnivorous husband found the tofu and tahini combination satisfying, and the kick of sriracha was just what we needed on a slushy winter evening. Serve this over hot brown rice, like I did (the brown rice I made in an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker, another item Jill got me into). So it was a 2-pressure-cooker dinner, which is always an indication of a gratifying meal. No worries, though--you only need one pressure cooker to make yours.

© Lauren Volo

© Lauren Volo

Sassy Sesame Tofu with Sweet Potato, Carrots, and Sugar Snap Peas

from Vegan Under Pressure by Jill Nussinow, MS, RDN

Serves 4

"This crowd-pleasing recipe is a simple and delicious way to prepare tofu, which gets firmer under pressure and absorbs the flavors of the cooking liquid. It cooks very quickly. It’s best to cook the sugar snap peas on low pressure for just a minute so they don’t become mushy. The sweet and spicy sauce at the end makes it even more special. Serve this over any type of rice or other grain."

  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 medium yellow, white, or sweet onion, sliced from top to bottom to equal about 2 cups
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut on the diagonal into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup diced peeled sweet potato
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 pound extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons tamari
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • ⅓ cup vegetable stock
  • 2 cups sugar snap or snow peas, cut in half [Sausagetarian note: I substituted chopped napa cabbage, using the same cooking times, and was very pleased with the results.]
  • 2 tablespoons sriracha
  • 2 tablespoons tahini, optional, for a richer dish [Sausagetarian note: I really liked the flavor kick and body this gave to the dish, and recommend using it if you’re a fan of tahini]
  • 2 tablespoons chopped scallion, for garnish

1. Heat a stovetop pressure cooker over medium heat or set an electric cooker to sauté; add the sesame oil. Add the onion, carrot, and sweet potato and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 tablespoon of the sesame seeds and sauté another minute. Add the tofu, tamari, vinegar, and stock.

2. Lock the lid on the cooker. Bring to high pressure; cook for 3 minutes. Quick release the pressure. Carefully remove the lid, tilting it away from you.

3. Add the peas and lock the lid back on. Bring to low pressure; cook for 1 minute. (If you do not have a low pressure option, lock the lid on and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes.) Quick release the pressure. Remove the lid, carefully tilting it away from you.

4. Stir in the pepper sauce and tahini, if using. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame seeds and the chopped scallion and serve.

Variations: Use broccoli florets or 1-inch pieces of green or wax beans instead of the peas. Cook at low pressure for 2 minutes with a quick release.

Text excerpted from Vegan Under Pressure, © 2015 by Jill Nussinow. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.