Saturday, January 7, 2012

Weekend Cooking: The Everything Vegetarian Pressure Cooker Cookbook

Anyone who knows me well knows that a cookbook is a great gift. My darling daughters went out in search for one for my birthday, and found one that seemed to combine two things I love: my pressure cooker and vegetarian food. Which is how I came to own Amy Snyder and Justin Snyder’sThe Everything Vegetarian Pressure Cooker Cookbook. I absolutely loved the idea behind it, and went right to work trying recipes.

I wish I could report it was a major success. But I really can’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great ideas and combinations here – the authors know a lot about mixing flavors, and they are not afraid of the spice rack, that’s for sure. But I have two main problems with the book. First, the recipes are unnecessarily complicated. Second, the directions, as written, assume quite a bit of culinary knowledge, especially for their vegan substitutions.

Pressure cookers are all about shifting cooking time – I think of mine as the “opposite” of my slow cooker. When my prep time for the day falls in the morning, I plan a slow cooker meal. But when the only prep time I’ll have is right before dinner, I often look to the pressure cooker for a quick soup or risotto. However, that convenience goes out the window if the recipes require lengthy prepping and soaking – and that is exactly how the bean recipes in this book are written. For example, the Chickpea-Parsley-Dill Dip (a yummy combination, right?) includes two separate pressure treatments of the beans: first under pressure for one minute, followed by a quick-release of pressure, followed by a 1 hour soak, followed by draining the beans, adding more water and putting under pressure for 20 minutes, followed by natural pressure release (which depending on the cooker, could take another 20 minutes). An experienced pressure cooker user would simply keep the beans under pressure for 35 minutes or so and be done with it. And in the cases, such as bean soups, where the beans are finished in broth, the book still calls for a soak in water before cooking. Why, when broth is so much tastier?

As for cooking know-how, the book claims to have a vegan version of every meal – and that’s true to some extent. In fact, the preface of the book makes it clear that the authors prefer and recommend a vegan lifestyle, rather than vegetarian. But the substitutions consist mostly of plopping vegan versions of dairy (and meat) products into existing recipes. There’s not a lot of thought or testing in that. And alternative products, such as smoked paprika, aren’t really called upon. It’s “top with vegan cheese, such as Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds,” or “use vegan margarine, such as Earth Balance.” I didn’t really like the product placement aspect of the substitutions. And I prefer my vegan recipes to be vegan by design, not veganized knock-offs of carnivorous or omnivorous fare.

That’s not to say that the gift was unappreciated. And I’ll definitely use it for inspiration. But I know I have to recalculate liquid amounts, because I don't soak beans. And I avoid recipes with substitutions. Simplifying the steps, I wound up with a lovely Creamy White Bean and Garlic Soup, scented with rosemary. Again, a great combination – but minus the 8-hour pre-soak of beans called for in the recipe. I just sautéed an onion and 6 cloves of garlic in olive oil in my pressure cooker, then added a pound of rinsed navy beans, 8 cups of veggie stock and a bay leaf to the cooker and held it under pressure for 25 minutes. After the pressure released naturally, I added a tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary and the juice of a lemon to the cooker, and let the soup thicken for 10 minutes before I pureed it with my motor boat. Salt and pepper, and a loaf of bread, and we had dinner!

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  1. Too bad the cookbook isn't better. I'm scared of pressure cookers!

  2. Totally, totally defeats the whole purpose of the pressure cooker.

    Too funny about the beans. Last night at 6:30 I rinsed pinto beans and threw them, broth, onions, garlic, hot peppers, and celery in the pressure cooker and we were eating Mexican beans over rice and topped with cheese and sour cream in under an hour. No crazy pre-steps, no extra cleanup.

  3. @Kathy -- Modern pressure cookers are completely safe. And you don't even have to buy an expensive one. I love my Fagor set (although I use the bigger one far more than the little one.

    @BFR -- My older daughter is a good cook, but hasn't ventured near the pressure cooker yet, so she didn't have a background to gauge the recipes. Really, I love the combinations, but using the book will definitely take some fiddling around.

  4. My husband and I used to own a Mexican fast food restaurant, and we used a pressure cooker to make our refried beans. It scared me at first, but I got used to it, and it made delicious refried beans.
    Your White Beans with Garlic Soup sounds yummy!

  5. That's too bad about this cookbook. The idea sounded like a good fit for you.

  6. Your version of the white bean soup with rosemary sounds wonderful!

  7. I've never used a pressure cooker before but have heard good things. I already have too many kitchen appliances that I don't use often enough. Too bad about the book!

    On another note, is your background picture from Argentina? Reminds me of La Boca.

  8. I neither own a pressure or a slow cooker, only a rice cooker. I guess that if I would purchase one more kitchen appliance, my BF would go nuts ;) But this book sounds good :) And sometimes I wish I had a slow cooker so that I could prep in the morning and be done with it ;)

  9. Too bad the book was a disappointment but it sounds like you made the best of it with a fantastic sounding soup!

  10. I'm too nervous to use a pressure cooker on my own, but I love watching my friends use them in their kitchens! And of course, eating the rewards! lol!

  11. My mom use to use a pressure cooker all the time without problems, but my husband tells a story about when his mom's pressure cooker sent the whole chicken up to the ceiling...LOL

    I don't own one personally.

  12. Thanks everyone! The soup did come out well. And like I said, the book has potential.

    @Trish -- It IS La Boca! I took the picture when I was there 2 summers ago. Good catch :)

  13. As much as I love my slow cooker, I have never used a pressure cooker...I think I'm stuck in that fear of pressure cooking mode, you know the beets on the ceiling nightmare, lol.

    I'm sorry this turned out to be a flop. I am a vegetarian, who flirts with the idea of going vegan every so often and am always on the lookout for new cookbooks. Like you, though, I am not a fan of the fake meat thing and I tend to shy away from recipes that overuse substitutions that are highly processed chemical-laden protein alternatives.


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