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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