The Secret to Fast, Healthy Meals: Pressure Cooking

IMG_3053Over the weekend, I went to Omnivore Books to see Lorna Sass, a friend from my New York days. Not only did I want to see Lorna, I wanted a copy of one of her cookbooks, Short-Cut Vegan, Great Taste in No Time. I know it will have great ideas my clients will love. In 2007 she won a prestigious James Beard Award in the healthy focus category for her Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way. She told me, “It was good to be recognized and a little daunting to get up in front of 2000 people and say ‘thank you’”.

Lorna stood behind a gleaming pressure cooker and told us what to look for: stainless steel outside and in, no less than a 6-quart capacity, and a heavy, aluminum or copper sandwich bottom for even, fast heat distribution. As proof that she was there early and has earned her title “the queen of pressure cooking”, her Cooking Under Pressure has just been reissued in a 20th Anniversary edition by Harper Collins.

Pressure cooking saves time and energy, and makes it easy to cook healthy, meals based on whole foods. Just that morning, I had proved her point in my own kitchen, whipping up a mushroom-barley soup in my pressure cooker. I love hulled barley and it takes even longer than pearled barley to cook conventionally. But in the pressure cooker, it takes hardly any time at all, about 15 minutes vs. an hour or so.

Lorna shared some great tips for pressure cooking, for instance, to add a little oil to ingredients that might foam a bit such as beans and grains. Also, she adds herbs, especially fresh herbs, at the end of cooking to maximize their flavor, while spices such as cinnamon can be added at the beginning.

One great question was: “What are the worst mistakes people make?” Answer: “Turning on the pot and then taking the dog for a walk! You don’t have to watch the pot, but it would be wise not to go off and forget it.” Lorna also pointed to overfilling as another mistake—which proves her point to invest in a larger pot than you think you need. Because you will soon be making generous beef stews in 25 minutes and cooking whole chickens in 20.

What surprised me during the Q&A was the persistence of the “my mother had a disaster with her pressure cooker” stories. I wonder if we have repeated them so often that they have taken on a life of their own. For some years now, pressure cookers have been built with redundant safety systems unknown in the days of jiggle-top cookers. The new ones, sleek, stainless steel machines with sophisticated engineering are not your mother’s pressure cooker! Unless, of course, she, in her wisdom, traded in her old cooker for a new one.

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4 Responses to “The Secret to Fast, Healthy Meals: Pressure Cooking”

  1. Jill, The Veggie Queen
    1. April 2010 um 09:56

    I have to thank Lorna for being my pressure cooking mentor. I’ve been teaching people how to pressure cook for almost 15 years now, and I love spreading the word. It helps people eat healthier food faster. And that’s what we all need.

  2. penniw
    1. April 2010 um 14:52

    Glad to hear you are another of Lorna’s fans and that you are spreading the pressure-cooking gospel!

  3. Can Crusher %0B
    29. January 2011 um 17:22

    ‘`. I am very thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information `:”

  4. penniw
    2. February 2011 um 09:36

    glad it’s useful to you. Happy pressure cooking to you.


One of the more knowledgeable wine and food writers on the scene today. I have watched her over the years and have always been impressed with her dedication to quality, literate style and organized mind.

-Chuck Williams, founder Williams-Sonoma

About Penni

Over 30 years as a food and wine professional, writer, and editor.

Cookbook author including:
'The Tra Vigne Cookbook' for Michael Chiarello,
'The Basque Kitchen' for Gerald Hirigoyen
and 'BurgerBar' for Hubert Keller.

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