When I was growing up in the 1970s in West Texas, my mother loved her pressure cooker. And the one food I most clearly remember her preparing in it is . . . broccoli.
Broccoli, in the pressure cooker? Remember, this was back when Americans didn’t know about cooking green vegetables to crisp-tender, so I didn’t think anything of her super-soft broccoli until much later, when my tastes had evolved. So my own experience with pressure cooking has been limited to things that take much longer than broccoli to cook: tough cuts of meat, back when I ate such things, and whole grains and beans, now that they’re such an important part of my diet.
Every now and then, though, I meet true pressure-cooker evangelists. These are the folks who can’t believe that in this day and age, when so many of us complain about how little time we have to get dinner on the table, more of us don’t make this type of cooking part of our weekly routine. The devices, after all, are much improved — that is, much safer — than they were in my mother’s kitchen, and probably yours as well.
I think the resistance has something to do with a loss of control. When I close up the cooker, bring it to pressure and let it do its thing, I hate not knowing exactly what’s happening in there and not being able to just lift off that lid. (I’m a fairly obsessive check-on-it-constantly kind of cook.) At least a lot of slow cookers — the other end of the speed spectrum, but similarly built for set-it-and-forget-it cooking — have glass lids.
The fact is, it’s pretty easy to stop the cooker, quick-release the pressure and open it up when you’re worried about overcooking, as Jill Nussinow — one of those evangelists — writes in “Vegan Under Pressure.” Her new book convinced me to take another look.
Because I’m already comfortable pressure-cooking beans and grains, I decided to try Nussinow’s suggestion for something that wouldn’t be all that time-consuming to cook in a conventional way. I was intrigued by her assertion that tofu firms up and absorbs more flavor when pressure-cooked, so I tested her recipe for Mediterranean Tofu With Bell Pepper Sauce. I bumped up the seasonings, looking for a little more zip, but was otherwise impressed by how the bell pepper softened nicely (in just three minutes) without turning to mush, how the tomato paste and herbs infused the tofu — and how the tofu’s texture improved, too.
Most important, I could tell that if I made pressure cooking more of a habit, I could start to absorb its unique rhythms. The starting, stopping, checking and restarting wouldn’t need to feel all that different from what I do in a saute pan — and the whole process would still be a good bit faster.
If desired, you can make this in a conventional pot, cooking it long enough for the peppers to become tender and the flavors to meld.
Serve with cooked pasta or grains.
Adapted from “Vegan Under Pressure,” by Jill Nussinow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, diced (1 cup)
2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced into 2-inch-long pieces
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup no-salt-added or homemade vegetable broth (see related recipe)
3 tablespoons tomato paste, preferably double concentrated
1/2 cup pitted black olives, such as kalamata or Nicoise, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
8 ounces cooked pasta or 4 cups cooked rice or other grain
Heat a stovetop pressure cooker (without its lid) over medium heat. Add the oil; once it shimmers, add the onion and peppers; cook, uncovered, until the peppers start to soften, 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, rosemary, dried oregano and bay leaves; cook for 30 seconds, then stir in the vinegar and tofu.
Stir in the broth. Spoon the tomato paste into the pot, but do not stir. Lock the lid on the pressure cooker. Bring to high pressure; cook for 3 minutes, then quick-release the pressure. Remove the lid, carefully tilting it away from you.
Stir in the olives, chopped parsley or basil, smoked paprika and the 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Put the lid back on the cooker (without pressure); let the mixture sit for 3 minutes.
Discard the bay leaves. Taste, and add more salt and pepper, as needed. Divide the pasta or grains among serving bowls, spoon one-quarter of the tofu mixture on each, garnish with parsley, and serve.
Nutrition | Per serving: 290 calories, 15 g protein, 32 g carbohydrates, 13 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 520 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar
Recipe tested by Joe Yonan; e-mail questions to email@example.com