Indian Pressure Cookers: Chef’s Best Friend or BOMB?

I don’t cook.  I don’t like to and I never have.  If more than opening a can, tearing into a box, or using a microwave is involved, you can count me out.  Scrambled eggs are my one specialty and to be honest, I typically overcook them. With that said, what I’m about to share may shock and amaze you.

In addition to finding housing, accessing food has been another challenge in getting settled in India.  I understand this may sound a bit helpless, and if you agree, I’m sure my mother will fully back you up.  However, cooking in India is a bit of a different story than in the States, with things like ingredients, kitchen equipment, and ways of shopping varying.  With that said, I will take you through my culinary journey.

Convenient Packaged Food 

To start, we aimed for economical and convenient.   We were jumping between flats as we searched for a place to live and pre-made packaged meals and Maggie noodles (aka Raman noodles) fit the bill.  As you might imagine, we could only stomach these for so long.

Delivery

Once we got a little settled, we had every intention of diving into Indian cooking but by the end of the day we were absolutely exhausted, so that wasn’t happening.  Fortunately, we found a solid delivery place. Even this accomplishment is not as simple as it sounds though.  First we needed to work through some communication barriers, during which time we received MUTTON Masala instead of Paneer MUTTER (peas) Masala – not something a hungry vegetarian was happy about. We also had a difficult time conveying directions and had many frustrating calls (on both sides) with a lost delivery man. Don’t worry, he soon came to know the route and now when I call, the man taking my order quickly recites my address, only mixing up the last digit of the flat number. Everything is not hunky dory yet though. If I order an unavailable Dal, the man hangs up on me before I can sputter an alternative dish.  I now feel like I can relate to a character in Seinfeld trying to order from the Soup Nazi.

Consider a Cook, Make What You Know, and Try a New Local Restaurant

Soon the same delivery place could no longer satisfy our appetites.  Many suggested we get a cook, but we weren’t sure we could afford it, and the hassle of finding one was overwhelming.  Sometimes we cooked western dishes like pasta, but pasta is relatively expensive here and we quickly got pasta-ed out.  I got brave once and tried a questionable dosa place in the neighborhood, only to become incredibly ill.  Our diets were seriously lacking, and enough was enough.  After several threats of cooking Indian food, my flat mate and I decided to tackle it again with an even stronger resolve.

The Solution and Lessons in Indian Cooking

To a novice, the Indian pressure cooker presents a puzzle.  Every time I have attempted to use it, my flat mate and I pass it back and forth trying to untangle the lid from the pot, like a magician pulls apart magic rings. I still watch in amazement every time she manages to solve the puzzle and try hard not to blink because I always seem to miss the magic moment.

Untangling the magic pot
Untangling the magic pot

After guessing the dal (lentils) or channa (chickpeas) to water proportion to put in the pressure cooker, you need to get ready to hear the whistle.  My google search recipe says to listen for three.  I listen intently and eventually hear a hissing. Is that the whistle?  Maybe by whistle, they mean hiss? But there’s not three hisses, just a long sustained hissing.  Steam billows up and as the name suggests, pressure is building.  What happens if the pressure becomes too much?  I stay calm and use my intuition.  Somehow, this method always seems to work.  I only became  concerned later when someone described the pressure cooker as a “bomb” if used incorrectly.  To date, we have a perfect explosion-free track record…knock on wood.

Before using the pressure cooker, you need to soak the channa.  If you don’t, it will take far too long to cook.  “How long?” you ask.  Not three days.  By then, you have fermentation and a smelly kitchen.

We have overcome though and I am proud to say that in one week’s time, my flat mate and I made a total of FOUR successful Indian meals.  That’s right.  The girl who can barely make grilled cheese made Dal and Aloo Gobi.  We even took a sample of the dish to our neighbor to get his stamp of approval.  His wife then showed us how to make rotis.  We aren’t quite roti ready, but soon enough!

I promise this is not staged. The "glow" on my face proves it.
I promise this is not staged. The “glow” on my face proves it.

Tera is committed to public service and a life-long pursuit of social justice. As an undergrad, Tera was immersed in experiences and academics focused on international development, gender equality, and education. She worked in youth development as a crisis counselor at Briarpatch, a runaway and homeless center for adolescents, and in gender equality and violence prevention as the Chair of PAVE, an organization dedicated to preventing sexual assault and domestic violence through education and activism. She then spent two years working to close the achievement gap as a founding 2010 Louisiana Delta Teach For America corps member teaching special education in rural northeast Louisiana. Additionally, Tera has experience in community organizing as a fellow for Organizing for America (OFA). Most recently, Tera has continued this work as the Educator Advocacy Project Manager for Stand for Children Louisiana. In her role with Stand, she worked with educators across the state to advocate for and implement policies to ensure all students regardless of their background, graduate prepared for and with access to a college education. Tera is excited to apply her experience in gender empowerment and education to ensure that girls in India have increased opportunities to achieve their potential.

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10 thoughts on “Indian Pressure Cookers: Chef’s Best Friend or BOMB?

  1. Dear Tara,

    I love this! I am absolutely terrified of pressure cookers for no logical reason and laughed many times over this blog post. Good work with the cooking!

  2. @Angela–there IS a logical reason to be terrified: they CAN explode. it happened to my mom. very scary. 🙁 @Tera–thanks for getting this all figured out before my visit! ^5!

  3. yeah Tara! conquering the kitchen..one pressure cooker at a time. BTW, helpful hint is to let water run over the hot pressure cooker to cool it before opening. This way it won’t explode and you won’t have to wait for 10 minutes for the cooker to cool off.

  4. Sometimes when I lose the weight that sits atop the pressure cooker, I smash an onion on top of it. When your dal is done the onion will shoot straight to the ceiling.

  5. Your post reminds me of the late 50s/ early 60s ( 1900s) when pressure cookers were first introduced in India. It was magic . A family which had it were the pioneers in using technology . You treated it specially. Not even washing it with the other utensils. The rubber ring had to be treated with extra care. They were all imported and their condition and replacement cycles were subjects of serious conversations begween my mother , aunts and their friends. Using it required process. There were different weights which you put on at different times based on the decibel of the hiss. I can remember running in to the kitchen to place that last weight and then scampering out of there incase it exploded. Eventually it became a ubiquitous part of the kitchen. We may even have one in the US courtesy my late mother .
    Memories!!!!
    Sridar

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