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Pressure Cookers
The Kitchen Appliance We Can’t Live Without!

By Sabrina Nelson

Late last year some wonderful new additions arrived in our family -- two pressure cookers and some fabulous books like "Cooking Under Pressure" by the queen of pressure cookers, Lorna Sass. One cooker is a stand-alone electric made by Farberware; the other is a stovetop model made by Kuhn Rikon -- both hold about 8 quarts. These incredible pots have transformed our eating habits for the better. Daily we're having the most exquisite soups, beans and stews in under an hour. The ability able to cook a feast in under four minutes is truly a miracle. The flavors are very intense, and we don't know how we lived as vegetarians all these years without a pressure cooker!

What we like about the Farberware model we purchased is its ease of use. Basically, you dump the ingredients in, press the timer and go do something else and forget about it. Plus: push a button, and you're cooking! Minus: it's a large pot and the timing of some of the recipes isn't precise and you have to figure out some adjustments, like adding a minute more or less with certain recipes. Once you figure that out, it works very well.

The Kuhn Rikon model we got is the Kuhn Rikon 7-Liter Stainless Steel.

On the plus side: It's a beautiful pot in a nice size that's not going to overwhelm your kitchen with its girth. Basically, we could happily get rid of every other pot we have in the kitchen and be satisfied with just this one. The timing of the recipes is very precise; if it says 4 minutes to cook a dish, it takes 4 minutes. Also, the documentation that comes with this machine is very impressive. Minus: You have to watch it, it doesn't have a timer. This means you have to spend at least 10 minutes in the kitchen making dinner!

I recommend all of Lorna Sass' pressure cooker cookbooks, especially Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure.

One of many great recipes of Lorna's we love:

Double Mushroom Barley Soup

18 minutes high pressure

2 teaspoons safflower or canola oil [may use water/tamari]
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
2 cups coarsely chopped onions or thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts)
6 cups boiling vegetable stock, approximately
1/2 cup pearl barley
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced or quartered
Generous 1/2 cup (1/2 ounce) sliced dried mushrooms, soaked if necessary [shiitakes are great]
1 large carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 large celery ribs, diced
1 large bay leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons dried dill, approximately
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil [or water/tamari] in the cooker. Cook the garlic and onions over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the stock, barley, fresh and dried mushrooms, carrots, celery, bay leaves, dill, and salt and pepper.

Lock the lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Lower the heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook for 18 minutes. Allow the pressure to come down naturally or use a quick-release method. (Set the cooker under cold running water if you experience any sputtering while quick-releasing the pressure.) Remove the lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape.

Discard the bay leaves and add a bit more dried dill, salt, salt and pepper if the flavors need a boost. The soup will thicken considerably upon standing. Thin it to the desired consistency with additional vegetable stock.

Healthy tip: Many recipes call for a tablespoon or two of oil in the pressure cooker to prevent foaming, especially for beans. However, if you put a strip of kombu (dried seaweed you can get at most health food stores or Whole Foods), you'll have no problem with the foaming and won't need oil. (Just remove the kombu before you serve the dish.) The higher-end pressure cookers seem to do just fine, in our experience, even when you use no oil or kombu.

To exchange recipes with other pressure cooker enthusiasts, visit http://www.vegsource.com/talk/pressure/

Sabrina Nelson is the owner of VegSource.com and cooks under pressure no matter what pot she uses.