I love home canning! What better way to preserve a good garden harvest than to turn tomatoes into diced tomatoes and sauce, hot peppers into pickled peppers and leftover zucchini into zucchini pickles? Alas, since getting our glass-top stove, I haven’t been able to can. The only canner we had that was big enough was far too heavy for the stovetop. Which is why, when my dad asked if there was anything in particular I wanted for Christmas, I asked for a pressure cooker/canner.
Knowing it was a bit of an expensive request, I didn’t know if I would get one. But lo and behold this was under the tree on Christmas morning! I couldn’t have been more excited. A pressure cooker/canner with a flat bottom, just the right size for our stove, perfect for cooking or canning just about anything I set my mind to? Best practical present ever. (That, and I’m still a huge kitchen gadget geek!)
Another reason I wanted a pressure cooker is that I’ve been wanting to switch to dried beans. I know you can soak and cook them in regular pots, but it takes so long that it’s one of the things I truly don’t have time for with the way my schedule is right now. With a pressure cooker, you don’t even have to soak the beans first if you’re in a hurry. I learned this thanks to Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna Sass, recommended to me by the fabulous, pressure-cooker-loving JL over at JL Goes Vegan. If you’re wondering what to do with a pressure cooker and why they’re so amazing, check out JL’s blog. She has a wealth of information and recipes for anyone who needs help getting started.
Of course, once she recommended the book to me, I had to get it out of the library. Flipping through it, I discovered a recipe that would let me do three things that I’ve been wanting to do, all in one go. The recipe was for 12-bean soup and started out with dried beans. I just so happen to have some Bob’s Red Mill 13-bean soup mix hanging around from this year’s vegan package swap that has been waiting for just the right soup recipe. Cooking with dried beans? Check. Using a special ingredient? Check. Tossing it all in the pressure cooker? Oh yeah.
At 16 quarts, my cooker is a bit big for recipes meant to feed just one family, but all that means is that it takes some time to come to pressure and then to release the pressure naturally. Before cooking, I took the advice of the owner’s manual and did a test run to see how long each process would take. That way, I could time everything accordingly. The soup itself required 14 minutes at 15lbs. of pressure. Add to that around 5 minutes to come up to pressure and 20 or so for natural pressure release, and I had enough time to make breadsticks and salad to go along with the meal!
The soup started out with a pretty basic combination of carrots and onions with beans and seasonings, but there were several variations listed at the end. I chose the Mediterranean one, adding oregano, basil, paprika and crushed red pepper to the mix along with fresh spinach and chunks of white mushrooms. I also swapped parsnips for a portion of the carrots to create even more variety. The combination of everything smelled delicious almost immediately. A couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar rounded everything out once cooking time was done and it was safe to open the cooker.
I’ve gotta tell you, I don’t know if it was the mixture of beans, the smoothness of the spinach or the way the pressure cooker cooked everything, but this was one of the creamiest soups I’ve ever eaten. The broth was rich and thick and the flavor was excellent. I did wind up soaking the beans beforehand, which might have contributed to the texture; I can’t be sure. Whatever the case, I’m extremely happy with my pressure cooker and plan to try out a bunch more recipes in the future! Since making this soup, I’ve canned some homemade tomato sauce with good results. Next, I want to try something with rice or quinoa to see how that comes out when cooked under pressure.
Do you have a pressure cooker? What’s your favorite thing to make in it?