Most people with diabetes know that what they eat can have a profound effect on their ability to achieve their blood glucose goals. Dietitians and doctors alike recommend a low-fat diet and minimally processed, complex carbohydrates like whole grains and beans for good blood glucose control as well as the prevention of heart disease and other long-term complications.
Unfortunately, many people become discouraged with their first attempts at preparing such foods. Whole grains, legumes, and lean cuts of meat can require extended cooking times as well as unique preparation skills that can be unfamiliar to new and experienced cooks alike. A pressure cooker may be the perfect tool to help confused and frustrated cooks easily and quickly prepare nutritious foods. In fact, many cooks already own one, though it may be long forgotten and stored in a dusty cupboard somewhere.
At home in American kitchens since the 1940’s, the pressure cooker reduces the cooking time for beans, grains, and other foods by at least a third, and uses less energy. It can also be used as a conventional saucepan for browning, sautéing, or simmering foods, allowing for one-pot preparation of multistep recipes. Because foods cooked under high pressure retain their moisture, many recipes can be prepared with minimal added fat. Even lean cuts of meat, which often take several hours of slow cooking to become palatable, can be made fork-tender in considerably less time. Pressure-cooked foods retain flavor as well, reducing the need for added salt in many recipes.
How pressure cooking works
A pressure cooker cooks foods at temperatures higher than those attainable with other stove-top methods. These temperatures (up to 250°F) develop under conditions of high pressure, which promotes both faster cooking and tenderizing of foods. Beans that can take 45 to 90 minutes to cook on a stove top, even after being soaked overnight, are ready in 20 to 40 minutes if placed dry in a pressure cooker and half that long if soaked in advance. However, the high heat and pressure raise some safety concerns that home cooks should be aware of. Pressure inside a cooker can build up to dangerous levels if a pressure-release valve is blocked. Steam can produce serious burns, especially if a cooker is opened before pressure is released.
Fortunately, pressure cookers have many safety features built into them. Older pressure cookers usually have two or three pressure-release mechanisms: the steam vent, a pressure valve, and/or a gasket that can blow out if the pressure inside the cooker becomes too high. Although some older cookers are safe to use, it’s a good idea to replace cookers with fewer than three safety mechanisms. It’s also important to examine the gasket (the rubber or silicone seal that fits between the pot and lid) for cracks and test it to see if it seals properly. (See “Pressure Check” for instructions.)
If your old cooker fails any of these tests, you might strongly consider buying a new model. Newer models, in addition to improved pressure-release mechanisms, may also have locks that prevent lid removal before all the pressure is released, a variety of visual indicators of pressure, and safe quick-release valves.
Getting good results
Like any unfamiliar kitchen gadget, a pressure cooker may require some trial and error to learn to use successfully.
Choosing recipes. Liquid is needed to prepare anything in a pressure cooker, so it is best used for recipes that utilize moist heat cooking methods, such as soups, stews, steamed vegetables, and simmered grains and legumes. All cookers need a minimum amount of liquid to reach high pressure (at least one cup), so it is important to check the manufacturer’s specifications as to how much liquid your model needs. If you are following a recipe devised for a pressure cooker, be sure to always use the amount recommended. If you are using a recipe that was developed using conventional cooking methods, be sure to use at least the minimum amount of liquid required for your cooker.