Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Under Pressure - Beans in a Pressure Cooker

I grew up in Denver, Colorado, the mile-high city. One of our standard junior high science class experiments was measuring the temperature of boiling water. The higher in altitude, the lower the temperature at which water boils. So, when I grew up, I knew that things would take longer to cook than stated in recipes written for sea-level cooks. Then, I moved to Leadville, Colorado.

Leadville, at 10,250 feet, is the highest city in the U.S. - essentially two miles high. I had to learn to cook all over again. Quartered potatoes needed to boil for an hour! But there was a time-saving solution - with a pressure cooker, altitude ceases to be an issue. I could have tender potatoes, soups, or stews in less than 15 minutes time. That alone was worth learning to use this scary-sounding device.

My cooker is the type with a rocker-type weighted control with three different size holes for the differing pressures. It will hold 4 narrow-mouth pint canning jars, so can also be used for small-batch pressure canning. When it reaches pressure, regulated by which side of the pressure control is down, it rocks the weight and rattles and hisses as the steam escapes. I lower the heat until the hissing spurts are 1-2 times per minute. I can then set the timer and go about my business around the house, knowing to come check if the sound stops.

Where pressure cookers really shine is cooking beans. Dry beans are so economical, but the time involved in preparation leads a lot of busy women to buy canned beans instead. I'll sometimes soak my beans overnight if I'm making a crockpot recipe the next day, or I've also used the speed-soak method of bringing them to a boil for 10 minutes and letting them sit for an hour if I've got the time to then cook them for 3-4 hours. But with a pressure cooker I can make a soup or chili, from dry beans and scratch ingredients, in less than a hour (pre-soaking, if you have the extra hour, helps keep pressure-cooked beans intact as they cook).

Pick over and rinse your dry beans, then put them in the pressure cooker, without the inside rack, with 3-4 times as much water. In my pressure cooker, 2 cups beans and 6 cups water works out right. I just add water until it's at least an inch above the beans - as long as you fill the cooker only half-full. Seal the cooker, and bring to 15 pounds pressure. Most beans - pinto, red, white, black, and soy - take 30 minutes once the cooker is up to pressure (garbanzos take 45 minutes; do NOT cook split peas or pea soup in a pressure cooker - they can foam up and block the steam valve). When the time is up, cool the cooker under cold running water until the pressure drops, open it, and you've got cooked beans ready to eat, as is, or to add to the soup/chili ingredients you've prepared in the meantime. Tonight, I started some white beans in the cooker; cut up, then simmered butternut squash, carrots, and onions; and pureed them just in time to add the beans. Home-cooked bean soup for dinner in less than an hour.


Megan said...

You're inspiring me to use my pressure cooker. I've had the darned thing for 4 years now and never even unsealed the box because I'm such a scaredy-cat!

Going to have to get over it this year so I can can some veggies though.

Another great post - thanks!

silversewer said...

I love my pressure cooker too, have had it for over 20 years, dinner on the table in 20 minutes, stock for soup, and soup, steamed puddings jam, marmalade ....brilliant.

We used to visit california regularly to see OH's cousin, unfortnately she died last year, so no more visits...a lovely lady sadly missed