An Ode to the Pressure Cooker

pressure cooker failIf you’re like me, the first thing you probably think of when you hear the words “pressure cooker” is that scene from I Love Lucy where Ricky explodes the pressure cooker and the chicken ends up on the ceiling of the kitchen.

But guys! I officially faced my fear and, as it turns out, pressure cooker cooking is not all that terrifying! Case in point: these days we have modern doo-dad additions like emergency pressure-release valves that will release if it gets dangerous in there.

Still though, I won’t blame you if you feel a little intimidated the first time you use one. Luckily, I converted one of my favorite soup recipes to pressure cooker instructions, so I’ll hold your hand and walk you right through it, step by step.

The Pressure Cooker

First of all, you’ll need a pressure cooker. No, not one of those canning monsters. That’s like trying to cook with, I don’t know, a witch’s cauldron. No, no, no. Just get a 4-quart little guy on Amazon. I purchased the Presto version, because it was so well reviewed. No complaints at all.

What you need to know about it is this: you can use it pretty much like any other old pan, except that, as an added bonus, you can do what I call MegaSimmering. So instead of simmering a lentil soup or a dal for an hour, you can cut that time down to three minutes by MegaSimmering it under pressure.

A Word on MegaSimmering

If you’re thinking, “Wow! A three-minute cooking time! I must’ve really been wasting my time in the kitchen all my life,” you would be both right and wrong. Because recommended MegaSimmering times are ~*after*~ the pot pressurizes and the dingle-dangle starts its jiggling (actual technical terms). And even after that three minutes, you have to give the pot time to de-pressurize. As I learned, this can take time–like, a half hour or more. The good news is, that time is entirely hands-off and you can spend it cackling over Thirty Rock. (That said, some recipes will have you quick-depressurize the pot by putting it in a cold water bath. I haven’t tried this yet, because I literally have one MegaSimmered dish under by belt so far, but I can imagine it would be convenient.)

So are you ready for the recipe? Okay, here it is:

French Lentil Soup
Adapted for the MegaSimmerer from Epicurious


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery stalks
1 cup chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups lentils
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
Balsamic vinegar (optional, but highly recommended)


First, you’re going to treat that MegaSimmerer like a regular pot, like I said before. Heat the oil medium-high heat, and add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Sauté until the vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes. (Less, if you’re impatient.)

Now here’s where the pressurizing comes in. Add the lentils, diced tomatoes, and broth. No need to bring it to a boil. Lock down the lid like the MegaSimmerer instructions tell you to do, stick the pressure regulator jiggly thingamabobby on the top, and get set to watch your pot boil. When the jiggler starts gently jiggling back and forth, start your timer for three minutes. Adjust the heat so it’s got a nice jiggle to it–not too violent, but not too slow, either. It seems scary, but really–you’ll be fine and the soup will turn out.

After three minutes, turn off the burner. You’re done! Now go watch an episode of 30 Rock while the soup finishes cooking and the MegaSimmerer depressurizes. (Note: do not remove the Jiggler.)

Not sure when it’s done? Looks like the locked-up thingy is down? It’s probably not. You’ll know when it’s down. And if you still think you’re right and it is down, take off the Jiggler. If something hissy and scary happens, you were wrong–the locked-up thingy is still up, and the pot is still depressurizing again. Go sit on your hands and try again later.

And when it is done, enjoy! The soup is seriously, unbelievably delicious. Simple ingredients for such massive flavor.

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