Though not a vegetarian, of late lots of pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc), have been finding their way into my diet, the more so since I started tinkering with food that has a pronounced Spanish influence (the flavourings, rather than the actual recipes, though my home-made versions of chorizo and morcilla are rather good).
The trouble with pulses, though, is that they can be a bugger to cook and, improperly cooked, not only are they unpleasant to eat, but they will wreak terrible revenge on your innards. And badly-cooked red kidney beans can be fatal,** which is why ALL bean packs tell you to boil the bejesus out of them for 10 minutes. Which isn’t actually necessary at all, as long as you cook beans until they’re properly soft. High temperatures destroy the toxins, it’s true, but so does proper cooking at sensible temperatures.
**In the eighties, a few young people (students, I believe), whose collective cooking skills would probably have burned water, made a chilli with red kidney beans that were, by any definition, uncooked. Some died, hence the paranoia and the needless labels on all pulses now. That they actually ate almost raw beans does rather suggest a high level of stupidity in the first place. Didn’t they notice, ffs? Being young is no excuse for having the brains of a turnip.
Anyway, the main problem is that you never know how old pulses are when you buy them, the BBE date being relatively meaningless in this context. I recently cooked a dish of dried baby chickpeas, roasted red peppers and panceta, and very good it was, except for the bullet-like chickpeas. They must have been a lot older than the BBE date of March 2013 suggested.
I soaked them for a good 12 hours (I’d usually soak the normal-sized ones for 24-36 hours), and simmered them for over three, the handful I fished out towards the end were acceptably tender – they must have been the only ones that were! Having been cooled, then reheated the next day, they were positively hard. Not just firm, but don’t-eat-me solid. So I didn’t, though they did taste amazingly good.
Which set me thinking about the days when I was a veggie, and the fact that I almost invariably cooked pulses in a pressure cooker. Now, I don’t know if you’ve looked at these things lately, but some manufacturers have gone to extremes to complicate what is, at heart, an extremely simple device – a sealed pot which cooks food at around twice atmospheric pressure – and in consequence, jack the prices up into the stratosphere – look, guys, you can’t make things idiot-proof, as idiots will always find a way – see the bean farce, above! There are even some with electronic controls which, since electronics don’t like heat, seems a tad ambitious. You don’t need electronic controls, which just add needless expense and complexity, you just need a timer, which any half-decent cook will have anyway.
Back in the mists of time, there were two companies big in pressure cookers, Prestige and Tower, and both, as a rummage on Amazon showed, still make sensibly-priced models. Prestige, though, has a problem – they can’t be bothered telling potential customers what’s in the box. Do they, for example, come with trivets, steamers, and separators, or do you just get a bare pan? I have no idea, as even their website is mute on the subject, so too bad, Prestige, you lost a sale. Probably lost plenty of others too, which serves you right for having such a useless website (yes, it looks good, but pretty pictures are no substitute for information).
Tower, though, could be bothered to provide information (the answer is yes, a steamer at least), and I got a 4-litre pan for £19.99. It might not be as highly polished and nicely photographed as the Prestige pans, but what the hell, at that price I don’t care.
Incidentally, pressure cookers are fantastic at cooking things, like vegetables, that you would normally boil and, as they actually steam rather than boil (but way faster than a steamer), the flavours are excellent – even the humble spud tastes better and, yes, I know the microwave has rather taken over from pressure cookers, but for me, at least, while they’re excellent at reheating stuff, they’re really pretty crap at cooking, and with vegetables the texture is invariably changed in the process, and not for the better. There is also the unresolved question of whether nutritional changes take place, but for me that’s secondary to the naff texture.
For spoonies, a pressure cooker is good for almost everything**see footnote – you can even cook porridge, but how you’d stir it I have no idea! Soups, stews, pot roasts, almost anything that you can cook long and slow can be knocked out in minutes, and the results are pretty good.
I don’t agree with pressure-cooking aficionados who claim that the results are as good as traditional methods, as some things really do benefit from long, slow cooking, the leisurely interchange of flavours, and the textural changes that take place gently, plus an overnight wait in the fridge while the flavours snuggle up to each other. But if savings in time and effort are important, as they are to we spoonies, then it’s at least worth a try.
You don’t, by the way, boil pulses in a pressure cooker, as to do so will get you a spray of superheated foam through the pressure valve. All pulses produce froth, when boiled, which has to be skimmed off. In a pressure cooker, which is sealed, you can’t do that, hence the foam fountain. The secret is to steam them.
Put them, pre-soaked of course, in the perforated container, put a ramekin in the bottom, in the centre, full of water (for stability when you add water to the pan), add water to the specified level (as per the manual), sit the beans on the ramekin, and proceed as usual. The beans will steam to wonderful fluffiness with absolutely no drama, and lose none of their taste in the process, as they do when boiled. Beans cooked this way are absolutely perfect for making bean burgers, which is what I used to do back in the day, stirring in herbs, seasoning, and olive oil while they were still hot.
By the way, when cooking pulses in a pressure cooker for use in a recipe, always allow the pressure to drop naturally, as this will reduce any tendency for the beans to burst, as they almost certainly will if you reduce the pressure quickly; it also shortens the cooking time. Bursting isn’t a bad thing, though, if you’re making burgers, as it allows them to take up flavours from the oil, herbs and seasoning more thoroughly.
In writing this, I’ve realised that I’ve pretty much forgotten what I knew about pressure cooking (pulses need about 10 minutes, other than that it’s a blank).
So I need a book. I don’t need pictures, just information, so a Kindle book will be fine – question is, which one. As I’ll primarily be cooking vegetables and pulses, one for vegetarians would seem to be the best bet. I also have my own notebooks from my veggie days, but I can’t remember if they contain timings for pressure cooking. I’m sure the bean burger recipe does – if I can find it.
The book search isn’t going well. I don’t need recipes I have shelves full of cookery books going back over a century. I read them for inspiration, or just for the hell of it; I almost always never use anyone else’s recipes. I don’t need to.
Arrogant? No, not really, just confident in my own abilities to create recipes myself. One, a work in progress in my head, involves the large Spanish butterbeans, Judion de la Granja, cooked with roasted peppers, garlic, paprika, ground coriander, and studded with my own chorizo-ish sausages. As these beans take over 3 hours to cook – they’re over twice the size of our normal butterbeans – they’re a perfect candidate for the pressure cooker, while the sauce and sausage get the long and slow treatment, combing the two near the end, then leaving them overnight to snuggle up.
The perceptive among you will realise that the above isn’t a million miles away from my Fabada Wirraliana, though without the morcilla and panceta, but with the addition of roasted peppers and garlic.
Anyway, abandoning the book idea, I’ve found a website which has a veritable plethora of pressure-cooking times, including pulses (I was right about 10 minutes), which will be downloaded, pasted into Word and printed out in the very near future. It’s here. And I might very well take advantage of Amazon’s system to have it converted to Kindle format (not a breach of copyright – it’s for my own use, not publication).
** I’m unsure, incidentally, whether this genuinely counts as a spoonie item, despite how quick and easy they are to use, as although pressure cookers of this size are described as “light” I remember mine as being pretty heavy, though as I was a hell of a lot stronger then than now, it didn’t matter. Amazon say the weight is 2.1kg, which sounds about right. Still, I’ll know better when I get mine, at which point I’ll update this if necessary. However, using a pressure cooker is certainly spoonie-friendly, because of the greatly reduced time you spend in the kitchen on your feet. Sadly, it does nothing to reduce prep time and that, for me, is the biggie.
Note: People, like me, used to the pressure cookers of the eighties and earlier, may be surprised to learn that pressures are now lower. Aluminium pressure cookers, like mine, are now typically around 0.88 bar** or 12lb psi (per square inch), while vastly more expensive stainless steel models are still 15lb psi (or, more likely, 1 bar). Frankly, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I’d stump up £100 or more just to save a couple of minutes cooking time, and the aluminium will cause dementia paranoia of the last 20-odd years has proven to be unfounded. Yes, there is a lot more dementia about, but there are also a lot more old people about too – these facts are not unrelated.
**1 bar is atmospheric pressure, 14.7lb psi.