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February 22. 2012 12:02PM

Under Pressure ... and cooking faster and more efficiently


Indira Shelat, proprietor of Food & Fashion of India in Nashua, says she uses a pressure cooker four times a day. Proponents of the device say it saves time, nutrition and energy. (SIMÓN RÍOS)

NASHUA - DECADES ahead of other energy savers like the fluorescent light bulb and the hybrid vehicle is an item that sits in the kitchen cabinets of an all-too-small number of American households.

It's called a pressure cooker, and it can save today's chef time, energy, and nutritional value in the preparation of many dishes.

“Americans don't know about pressure cookers,” said Indira Shelat, owner of Food & Fashion of India in Nashua.

“They think I open a can of chick peas and just throw it in, and I say ‘No, I take them raw, soak them in water over night, and the next day put it in the pressure cooker, close it, and it gets done in about 20 minutes.'” An Indian born in Uganda and trained in pressure cooking since she was a young girl, Shelat now gives cooking classes at her store —and there's no more fundamental instrument than the pressure cooker.

“Any kind of grain,” she said, “if you want to cook it faster, pressure cooker. Even they can do chicken in there, or any kind of meat, you can put it in there.”

A staple in many parts of the world, the pressure cooker is still something of an oddity in the United States. According to Wikipedia the first pressure cooker was built by French physicist Denis Papin in 1679. (It was also described in Darwin's travel writings as “Papin's digester.”) By 1864 they were being sold in Europe, and in 1939 they appeared at the World Trade Fair in New York.

Yet somehow it's still not that prevalent here. For this, some proponents of the device are attempting to bring into the mainstream what is commonplace in countries like Cuba and India.

Leslie Chylinski works as researcher in a neuroscience lab in Rochester, N.Y. She's also the owner of Pressurecookerdiaries. com, a site devoted to the device she says can save up to 70 percent on cooking time.

In an email Chylinski explained three areas where the pressure cooker shines: energy, nutrition, and time.

“Chili is a great example of a huge time saver — you cook the whole thing in eight minutes instead of simmering for an hour on the stove,” she wrote. “Even factoring in the time it takes to reach pressure and naturally release, you still are eating in half the time it would take to cook the same chili on the stove.”

She even conducted an informal study to prove the pressure cooker was more efficient, comparing it with a slow cooker (like a Crock-Pot) and a conventional pot. The slow cooker used 2.5 times the energy the pressure cooker used, where the stovetop used two times more power.

On the nutritional end, pressure cookers can also give added value. The more time spent cooking something, the more nutrients are cooked away.

But Chylinski said that the pressure cooker allows her to eat more fresh food.

“The biggest nutritional benefit I've seen from pressure cooking comes from the fact that I'm much more likely to cook a meal at home after a long day of work,” she wrote.

“I'll make a whole chicken on a Monday because it cooks so fast. I'll make beef stew on a Tuesday because I can eat in under an hour instead of waiting for three hours of simmering, and the meat is actually more tender.”

She added that because of the time savings, she eats a lot more fresh food than she used to.

Pressurecookerdiaries.com recommends a six-quart Fagor pressure cooker for those looking to enter the fray.

Back at Food & Fashion of India, Indira Shelat said: “How much do I use the pressure cooker?” raising her eyebrows. “Four times a day.”

Easy Pressure Cooker

Chili Recipe

Courtesy of pressurecookerdiaries. com

1 lb ground beef 2 teaspoons olive oil 1 sweet onion 1 green bell pepper 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded 2 cloves garlic, minced 4 cups of diced tomatoes, 2 cans un-drained 2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed 3 tablespoons tomato paste 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste 2 tablespoons chili powder 2 teaspoons ground cumin 2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste 1 1/2 cup water Brown the ground beef in the pressure cooker pot on medium heat, about 8 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and drain some of the grease if you want.

Put the pressure cooker back on the stove and add the olive oil, onions, green pepper, and jalapeno pepper. Cook on medium heat until the onions are clear, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Next throw in the garlic and give it a few quick stirs. Finally, add everything else into the mix: the meat, kidney beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, cocoa powder, red pepper flakes, chili powder, cumin, salt, and water.

Stir well and lock the lid. Bring the pressure cooker to pressure (15 psi) on high heat, then immediately lower the heat to maintain this level. Cook for 8 minutes.

When the time is up, remove the pressure cooker from the heat and use the natural release method to cool.

When the pressure cooker has equalized, carefully open the lid.

Stir and serve. If you find it needs to be thicker just boil it on the stove for a few extra minutes.

Cheese and Oyster crackers are the traditional garnish.


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