Star of our kitchen – the humble pressure cooker

If you are Indian or Asian, you must have grown up with the sound of the pressure cooker, its whistling an integral part of your mornings or evenings. I grew up like that.

Some of my first baby foods were made in a pressure cooker. The soft, mushy dal that was mashed some more, allowed to cool and a dollop of ghee added to it before being handed out to me.

Now, the husband and I own three pressure cookers. There’s the big daddy (7 litre capacity ), mummy (5 litre ) and baby ( 3.5 litre ) cooker. Our kitchen would be lost without these three musketeers.

The big daddy comes out when we are making biryani, drumstick chicken curry, idlis (the three tier idli stand fits just perfectly in the big daddy), Idiyappam, also known as string hopper, pav bhaji, stuffed baby aubergines-potatoes-onions-green tuvar (green pigeon peas) and valor papdi (green flat beans typical to Gujarat) shaak. It is also perfect when we are cooking a large batch of kali dal, rajma or mutton for a party.

The mummy cooker and baby cooker come out to play much more often – their sizes make them perfect for daily cooking. For a meal that I am making for just the husband and me, the mummy cooker makes a good batch of khichdi, or tomato-potato rasa vadu shaak, pulav, dal, sambhar as well as host of our daily staples.

Almost every day or every other day, the mummy and baby cookers whistle at us. Now, with the husband working from home, and with his desk placed in the open plan living room, I have to time my cooking with the pressure cookers in such a way that they don’t whistle while he’s on a call.

As an Indian, I have grown up with the familiar sound of a pressure cooker whistling each morning. Sometimes, you would hear a lot of whistles at the same time or in the same hour – it would be your neighbours doing their cooking and their cookers whistling in sync with yours. So the sound of the whistling is not alien or discomforting to me.

However it could be to someone who has never had a pressure cooker in their kitchen. An ex colleague in the UK wanted a pressure cooker as her wedding gift. We got her one but made sure we purchased the one that came without the traditional whistle because as a British woman she had never heard the sound of a cooker whistling away in full force, with steam escaping as the whistle rises and rings – much like a steam train if you please! We also got her The Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Catherine Phipps, which is perfect for those who are new to pressure cookers and has a host of non Indian recipes that can be cooked in the pressure cooker, from pot-roast chicken and seafood risotto to Boston baked beans, and she offers tips on how to adapt conventional recipes for the pressure cooker as well as many safety tips.

The pressure cooker was and is, also economical. Growing up in a single-income, middle class household, my mother was always mindful of using her cooking gas (gas cylinder) in a way that was thrifty – the pressure cooker minimised her cooking time and cooked everything faster than it would be cooked in a kadhai or an open pot. This way her gas cylinder went much further – month after month, year after year. It wasn’t unusual to have the three steel containers stacked neatly in her large pressure cooker – one with rice, the second with dal, and the third one filled with potatoes and other vegetables – all of it cooking simultaneously. The potatoes could be mashed and stuffed into parathas, or used in combination with another vegetable; the dal mashed up, watered and given a quick boil and tadka.

I am not even half as economical or thrifty as mother. But I depend on my three pressure cookers to do a whole lot of my cooking. And one recent memory of how a pressure cooker was put to good use is when we were out trekking with a friend and his family (pre lockdown days). They got along with them, a portable cooking stove, a pressure cooker, groceries and cutlery.

And we made steaming hot Maggi in the pressure cooker, surrounded by mountains, sheep and purple heather!

It’s a modernish sort of a pressure cooker, sans the traditional whistle, but what the heck! This pressure cooker trekked and had a day out, exchanging the kitchen counter top for a nice steady and flat rock, and by boy, did it rock!

6 thoughts on “Star of our kitchen – the humble pressure cooker

  1. Prerna, all this talk of Gujju food is making me so hungry! We spent 12 years in Gujarat and I just love the cuisine! Not to mention the colours and the dancing and the camels… So many wonderful things! Kite flying too!

    Liked by 1 person

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