Take back the pressure cooker, and cook

Deb Lindsey/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST - New England Blueberry Pudding, something good that comes from a pressure cooker.

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I’m sure I’m not the only avid home cook who had the thought. Added to all the sorrow and anger and, yes, terror related to the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday was this: sadness that a cooking implement capable of creating such sustenance and warmth can also be the tool of destruction, death and mayhem.

As I have learned in the last day or so, pressure cooker bombs are commonly used in some parts of the world to make IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. As authorities continue their search for the culprits responsible for the Boston bombings, which killed three and hurt more than 150, I had the urge to call Lorna Sass, author of “Cooking Under Pressure” and other cookbooks, to commiserate about their use in such a tragedy.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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It turns out that I wasn’t the only one calling. Sass has been fielding interview requests and conducted a few, including talking to a reporter who was trying to identify the make and model, or at least type, of device that was used in Boston. That’s not what I was after, of course; I wanted to see what she thought about my idea to issue a “take back the pressure cooker” call for people who have been moved by the tragedy to make dinner using their own pressure cooker, out of a show of solidarity with the people of Boston.

As Sass knows, pressure cookers have gotten much safer over the years, and they are a handy way to quickly prepare otherwise long-cooking foods such as tough cuts of meat, beans, hearty whole grains.

“It’s such soulful-tasting food, and I think if anything it’s a beautiful statement to cook a meal for friends and family in a pressure cooker now,” she told me in a phone interview from Marin, Calif., where she’s taking a little sabbatical from her New York life. “It’s like saying, ‘This is how you use a pressure cooker: to nourish yourself and your loved ones.’”

We’ve long been pressure-cooker fans in the Food section. Jane Touzalin wrote about their recent revival, their environmental friendliness and two British cookbooks featuring pressure cooking last year. Monica Bhide waxed poetic about them a few years before that. But Sass is probably their biggest cheerleader.

In the preface to the 20th-anniversary edition of “Cooking Under Pressure,” published in 2009, she writes: “Over the past two decades, my enthusiasm for pressure cooking has not faded. In fact, as I’ve learned more and more about the advantages of cooking under pressure, I have come to believe even more firmly that there is no better way to prepare a hearty soup, a soulful stew, or a delectable risotto in a flash.”

I cannot say that I’m as accomplished with a pressure cooker as Sass is. But I often use mine to make a quick pot of beans (or bean soup, if I let them get too soft) or brown rice, cutting the cooking time in half. So what should I make this weekend in memory of the bombing victims and as a statement that pressure cookers are for love, not hate?

Jane’s piece included a recipe for, appropriately enough, New England Blueberry Pudding. Sass had another suggestion: Boston baked beans. Of course! (Or, to be accurate, Boston “baked” beans, since there’s no oven involved here.) As it happens, some of my best friends in the world are visiting the District this weekend, from Beantown; I was looking for something to serve and feeling positively uninspired. Now I have a message to send, along with dinner.

Boston “Baked” Beans

6 servings

This dish has much of the flavor of Boston baked beans, but without the 3 hours of simmering. The beans are precooked in the pressure cooker for 15 minutes before the skin-hardening molasses, tomato paste and mustard are added.

Since dried beans absorb varying degrees of water and the cooking liquid thickens considerably upon standing, you may either need to thin this mixture with a bit of water or drain off some of the liquid at the end of cooking. Make this adjustment before adding the vinegar and correcting the seasonings.

Try adding some fried sausages or grilled frankfurters to the beans for a hearty entree. Adapted from “Cooking Under Pressure” (20th Anniversary Edition) by Lorna J. Sass (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2009).

11 / 2 cups dried navy beans, picked over and rinsed

2 bay leaves

11 / 2 quarts (6 cups) water

2 tablespoons oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 / 4 cup molasses

1 / 4 cup Dijon-style mustard

1 / 4 cup tomato paste

4 whole cloves

One 3-inch stick cinnamon, broken in two

1 to 3 teaspoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Place the beans, bay leaves, water and 1 tablespoon of the oil in the cooker. Lock the lid in place and over high heat bring to high pressure. Adjust the heat to maintain high pressure and cook for 15 minutes. Reduce the pressure by placing the cooker under cold running water. Remove the lid, tilting it away from you to allow steam to escape. Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Return the beans and 2 cups of liquid to the cooker. Discard any remaining liquid or reserve it for making your next soup.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Saute the onions and garlic until the onions begin to brown around the edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the molasses, mustard, tomato paste, cloves and cinnamon. Pour the mixture on top of the beans. Do not stir.

Lock the lid in place and over high heat return to high pressure. Adjust the heat to maintain high pressure and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Allow the pressure to come down naturally, about 15 minutes. Remove the lid, tilting away from you to allow steam to escape. If the beans are not tender, replace (but do not lock) the lid and simmer until done.

Before serving, remove the cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. The mixture will thicken on standing, but if you wish to thicken it immediately, puree some of the beans and stir the puree back in. Stir in the vinegar and salt.

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