Year of Gadgets: Is the Instant Pot the ultimate kitchen gadget?


It’s 5 p.m. already. The girls are home from school, and I’m in need of a quick, one-pot meal, so I turn to my Instapot.

That’s the shorthand for the Instant Pot, a 7-in-1 cooking machine that was one of the best-selling kitchen gadgets in the U.S. last year. It is an electric pressure cooker and slow cooker with yogurt-making and steaming functionality. It has button settings for beans and chili, and it has a timer for make-ahead meals, such as overnight oats or even boiled eggs, but the real selling point is that you can sear in the bottom and then slow or pressure cook in the same pot.

They cost about $100, and from what I’ve found, it’s so versatile, this handy gadget won’t sit untouched in your kitchen for long.

What can you cook in the Instant Pot? Well, almost anything. Casseroles, stews, pasta dishes, meat and potatoes, yogurt and some desserts, but one of the most common foods for beginners to prepare in the IP is simply a pot of beans, which cook in about 40 minutes.

One friend’s mother uses it to make all components of her dinner every day: layering rice, lentil curry and vegetable curry in three stacked containers. Advanced users can cook multiple dishes at once, but I couldn’t recommend buying the accessories needed to do so until after you’ve become familiar with the IP, as it’s known in the quickly growing online community of fans.

If you’ve never used a pressure cooker, you’ll want to stick with Instant Pot-specific recipes when you’re first starting. Too much water and you could have waterlogged potatoes or green beans, too little water and you’ll have undercooked food and have to repeat the process.

I find most of my IP recipes through Facebook groups, but I’ve enjoyed two new books, “Paleo Cooking With Your Instant Pot” by Jennifer Robins (Page Street Publishing, $21.99) and “The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for your Instant Pot” by Kathy Hester (Page Street Publishing, $22.99).

What can you not make in the IP? I’ll stick with my skillet to fry an egg, and I’ll want my saute pan for searing scallops evenly. Often, the timing doesn’t make sense for me to use the IP. If a recipe calls for the quick release of the valve and I’m not available to open the lever, the food can get overcooked.

Because it’s electric, people are using Instant Pots everywhere from a campsite or a hotel room to a home undergoing renovations.

I took it once to a family pool party potluck where we weren’t going to eat for a couple of hours. I didn’t want my contribution, mac and cheese, to congeal, so I lugged the pot and the ingredients to the party. About 45 minutes before mealtime, I threw the cheese, milk, macaroni noodles and dried spices in the pot with the assigned volume of water, hit the button for manual and set it to 6 minutes. After swimming, all 12 kids’ appetites were happily sated with hot, cheesy, homemade mac ’n’ cheese.

Unlike some of its biggest fans, I’m not cooking in the Instant Pot exclusively, but I do use it multiple times a week, especially for cooking a quick pot of rigatoni for the girls or a pot of beans to use in a number of meals.

On that recent weeknight, I decided to make meatballs from Robins’ paleo Instant Pot cookbook.

I chop the onion, scrape the pieces into a mixing bowl and forage for the dried spices. I add them to the bowl along with the meat, egg and breadcrumbs. I mash the ingredients together and use a cookie scoop to shape all the meatballs into spheres.

To sear the meatballs, I turn on the electric pot to the saute setting and add a little cooking oil. The stainless steel insert, the actual cooking vessel, resembles a large stock pot without handles. The bottom of the pot is a bit convex, so cooking fats and liquids will collect around the edges, but you can still evenly brown ingredients like these meatballs.

After a quick sear, I pour in a jar of good quality marinara, close the lid, hit the manual button and set the timer for eight minutes. Meanwhile, I prep my sweet potato “noodles” with the spiralizer, steam them in the microwave and assemble a platter of salad vegetables so everyone in the family can pick the parts they like.

The timer of the IP goes off. Using a wooden spoon, I nudge the lever to release the pressure, staying vigilant of the steam pouring out. Once I open the pot, the smell of meatballs and marinara fills my kitchen, and I pour the meatballs and sauce over the sweet potato noodles. Dinner is done in less than half the time it would have taken with traditional kitchen appliances, and I only had to use one pot to do it. That’s a winning gadget if you’d ask me.

Multigrain Khichdi

2 tablespoons farro

2 tablespoons brown rice

2 tablespoons quinoa

2 tablespoon steel cut oats

1/4 cup moong dal (also known as split moong beans)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

2 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 onion, diced

1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste (or 2 garlic cloves minced with ½ teaspoon grated ginger)

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (you choose, based on desired effect)

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups shredded carrot

2 handfuls spinach leaves

Soak all the grains and lentils in 1 3/4 cup water while you begin cooking in the Instant Pot. On saute mode, heat the butter and oil until foamy. The fat will tend to collect around the perimeter, which is OK.

Sprinkle in the cumin seed, cloves and cinnamon stick. Fry the spices in the fat for a minute, scooting them to the sides if needed. Don’t let the cumin seeds burn.

Toss in the diced onion and stir well, cooking for a couple of minutes. Scoop in the ginger and garlic, turmeric, coriander and salt. Mix in the shredded carrot and spinach leaves. Pour in the grains/lentils with their soaking water into the pot and give it all a big stir.

Switch off saute mode. Close the lid and turn on manual mode. Set the button timer for 15 minutes. Use the natural release (NR) mode for releasing pressure. Serve khichdi steaming hot with yogurt.

— From Shef’s Kitchen (shefskitchen.com)

Easy Grain-Free Meatballs

Everyone loves slow-cooked meatballs, simmering in sauce for hours, but what if you don’t have that kind of time? You shouldn’t have to compromise slow-cooked taste! These meatballs can be thrown together quickly after a long day and will still taste like they’ve been simmering all day.

— Jennifer Robins

1 pound grass-fed ground beef

1 egg

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 onion, minced

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons cassava flour (almond flour and tapioca will work too)

1 to 2 tablespoons avocado oil, ghee or olive oil

3 cups Bolognese or your favorite store-bought marinara sauce

Serve with zucchini or sweet potato noodles, or your favorite grain-free pasta

Combine all the ingredients except for the cooking oil, marinara and noodles. Use your hands to mix them well, being sure to incorporate the egg, flour and seasonings thoroughly. Form golf ball-sized meatballs by hand and set them aside.

Now heat the cooking oil in the Instant Pot on the saute setting. Gently transfer your meatballs into the IP and brown them on all sides, being careful not to burn them. This will take up to 5 minutes total.

Pour in your Bolognese and shift the contents carefully to coat the meatballs in the sauce. Secure the lid and close the pressure valve. Press the cancel/off button, followed by the manual button and then the minus button until you decrease the displayed cook time to 8 minutes. Allow the meatballs and sauce to cook and then, when prompted, quick-release the pressure valve. Open the lid carefully when the pressure has been released and serve on top of spiralized noodles or grain-free pasta noodles or just eat them alone!

Alternative: If using a slow cooker, make the meatballs as indicated above and pour in the sauce. Place the meatballs in the sauce and cook on low for 6 hours. Serves 4.

— From “Paleo Cooking With Your Instant Pot” by Jennifer Robins (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)

Vegan Cauliflower Queso

After I saw people online saying this vegan queso recipe was worth the price of Kathy Hester’s new book, I had to try it. I successfully tricked two kids and a carnivore husband, as well as a vegan friend who had already tried vegan queso. It was pretty darn good!

— Shefaly Ravula

2 cups cauliflower florets (about 1/2 head small cauliflower)

1 cup water

3/4 cup thick-cut carrot coins

1/4 cup raw cashews

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Liquid drained from 1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies (such as Rotel)

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon jalapeño powder, optional

1/8 teaspoon mustard powder

1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained (I like Rotel)

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (optional)

2 tablespoon minced red onion (optional)

1/4 cup minced cilantro

For the Instant Pot, add the cauliflower, water, carrots and cashews to your Instant Pot and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes, then carefully do a quick pressure release by moving the valve to release the pressure.

Pour the cooked mixture into a strainer over the sink and drain the extra water.

For the blender, put the drained mixture along with the nutritional yeast, liquid drained from the canned tomatoes, smoked paprika, salt, chili powder, jalapeño powder (if using) and mustard powder into your blender. Blend until smooth.

For the mix-ins, scrape out the blender contents into a mixing bowl and stir in the tomatoes and green chilies, bell pepper (if using), minced onion (if using) and cilantro.

You can serve this at room temperature or keep it warm on the lowest slow cooker setting. Serves 4.

— From “The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for your Instant Pot” by Kathy Hester (Page Street Publishing, $22.99)

Why a whole story about a single brand-name machine? Because there are a lot of people in the United States using it. I’ve come upon dozens of Facebook groups specifically for the Instant Pot, some with memberships in the tens of thousands.

Lingering in the groups can excite you as a cook; you’ll come away with not only recipes specific to the IP, but also kitchen tips, ingredient hacks, where to source and even non-IP recipes.

One of the IP Facebook groups I belong to is called Instant Pot for Indian Cooking. With a membership of 73,000, it has become a go-to resource for any Indian cooking for beginners to more experienced cooks. There are often so many people online at once that you can get an answer to your question within minutes. The same goes for the main Instant Pot community group with nearly 500,000 members.

Other groups with a solid and engaged membership include the Instant Pot Vegan Recipes group, the Instant Pot Cooks (all pots welcome) group and many more. There are even ones specific to paleo, Whole 30, clean eating, and other diets and cuisines.

YEAR OF GADGETS

Welcome to a Year of Gadgets! Inspired by the Year of Baking that we completed last year, we are starting our next yearlong project this week to explore all kinds of gadgets, from the ones you think you can’t live without (toaster, microwave) to the ones you’re not sure you need (SodaStream, sous vide).

This week’s debut is from Austinite and Austin360Cooks contributor Shefaly Ravula, who has been a fan of the appliance for months. If you have an IP, as it is known, we’d love to hear your thoughts on it, or if you have a suggestion for a gadget you think we should feature this year, email me at abroyles@statesman.com. The gadgets don’t have to be electric (a mandoline is on my shortlist), but the more useful and efficient they are to use, the better.

— Addie Broyles



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