- Bob Townsend For the AJC
Not since the advent of the slow cooker has a small kitchen appliance captured the imaginations of so many home cooks so quickly, it seems.
But I must admit, my curiosity about the Instant Pot wasn’t piqued until some busy friends and colleagues in my food and drink orbit starting talking up the time-saving advantages of the multifunction electric pressure cooker.
The fact that they were in a private Facebook group and shared their recipes and hacks with cult-like enthusiasm was the icing on the cake — which I’ve since learned you can make in the Instant Pot, too.
So even if I wasn’t quite ready to join the cult, I was interested enough to see what it was all about. And like so many before me, I ordered an Instant Pot on Amazon. Then I enlisted a few local disciples to guide me in its ways.
Sweetwater Brewing Co. director of public relations Tucker Berta Sarkisian is an on-the-go “talking head” who preaches the Instant Pot gospel as “set-it-and-forget-it easy.”
“I saw it on Facebook first,” Sarkisian said. “Suddenly, my food friends started posting about this amazing new culinary tool that they had. So, of course, I had to jump on in, too, and I requested one for Christmas.”
Atlanta freelance food and dining writer Angela Hansberger has two teenage boys and a frantic schedule of deadlines and mom duties that make the Instant Pot a life hack.
“I got mine last October, and the first time I made something, it was so easy,” Hansberger said. “Then we got our little secret group going on Facebook, where we could share recipes, because there weren’t that many good ones out there then.”
When I asked if the Instant Pot wasn’t sort of like a Crock-Pot with bells and whistles, Sarkisian and Hansberger were not amused.
“But it does so many things, and you can fit all in one pot,” Hansberger said. “You can really sear something, you can boil, and you can slow-cook. But the speed is what I really love.”
“The speed is huge,” Sarkisian said. “And here’s what’s up for me. I’m a super simple cook. I like to do things with very few ingredients that are fast and easy and healthy, so the Instant Pot has been great for me.
“For example, collards are maybe my favorite thing to eat. I used to cook them in this huge pot on the stove, and you’d have to watch them for the whole day, so I’d never do it. In the Instant Pot, collards are done in 40 minutes, start to finish, and they’re just as good as my grandmother’s.”
The first thing I cooked in my Instant Pot was boiling water, which is the standard protocol for first timer users.
The second thing I cooked was sweet potato, carrot and red lentil soup from a recipe sent to me by Atlanta food stylist and cookbook author Tami Hardeman, another busy woman who often works in other cities and states while developing vegetarian recipes for the Instant Pot.
My first impression was that the Instant Pot worked as advertised. And that a recipe that called for using the saute and manual pressure cooking functions was quick and fairly easy, especially if you’re someone who’s regularly in the kitchen.
I wouldn’t say the front panel controls are completely intuitive. But reading the user manual before you start will clear up most confusion. And finding good recipes is key.
These original Instant Pot recipes feature dishes that are easy, healthy and fun to make. And they’re ready in an hour or less.
Instant Pot Sweet Potato, Carrot and Red Lentil Soup
This recipe from Atlanta food stylist and cookbook author Tami Hardeman uses some of the best features of the Instant Pot, including the saute and manual pressure cooking functions, to make a soup that’s quick, delicious and healthy.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 small shallot, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup dry red lentils
2 cardamom pods, crushed, or 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 1/4 cups vegetable stock or water
3 large cooked sweet potatoes, skins removed
1/2 cup coconut milk
Kosher salt to taste
Garnish: chia seeds, a drizzle of honey, toasted cashews or pistachios, fresh herbs
Heat the Instant Pot on saute setting. Add coconut oil and heat for 1 minute or until shimmering. Add the shallot and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the carrots, stirring to combine. Saute for 1-2 minutes.
Add the dry lentils, cardamom and vegetable stock. Turn off the sauté function, lock on the lid and make sure the vent valve is closed. Using the manual pressure setting, cook on high pressure for 11 minutes. Once the timer is done, carefully use mitts or a kitchen towel to cover the valve, and open the valve to quick release the pressure.
Return the Instant Pot back to the saute setting to bring the soup to a simmer. Add the cooked sweet potato to the soup mixture. Simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the sweet potato has warmed through.
Blend the soup to desired consistency using an immersion blender or transfer to a blender, puree until smooth, and return to the Instant Pot. If you want it a bit thinner, add some stock or water in 1/4 cup increments. Stir in the coconut milk and season with salt, to taste. Serve immediately and garnish with your choice of toppings. This soup will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container. You may have to add a bit of stock or water to thin it after it sits overnight.
Makes: 4 cups
Per 1-cup serving: 395 calories (percent of calories from fat, 29), 13 grams protein, 60 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fiber, 13 grams fat (10 grams saturated), 1 milligram cholesterol, 453 milligrams sodium.
Cooking Whole Sweet Potatoes in the Instant Pot
3 large sweet potatoes, skins scrubbed and left whole
1 cup water
Place the small metal trivet that comes with the Instant Pot or a steamer basket in the Instant Pot and add 1 cup water.
Pierce each potato 1-2 times with a fork, then place cleaned sweet potatoes on the trivet or in the steamer basket.
Lock the Instant Pot and place vent valve on the lid to the sealed position.
Using the manual setting on high pressure, add 18 minutes to the pressure cooker.
When finished cooking, allow the Instant Pot to naturally release pressure. When the gauge drops, carefully vent and remove the lid.
Allow the sweet potatoes to cool slightly before handling and removing from the pot.
Makes: 3 sweet potatoes
Per sweet potato: 137 calories (percent of calories from fat, 3), 2 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 17 milligrams sodium.
Melt-off-the-Bone Juicy Whole Chicken
This whole chicken recipe for the Instant Pot from Sweetwater Brewing Co. director of public relations Tucker Berta Sarkisian is “set-it-and-forget-it easy” and gives you a perfectly juicy and flavorful bird in well under an hour.
1 2 1/2-3 pound whole chicken
1 large lemon, cut in half
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon pink Himalayan sea salt or other salt
1 tablespoon clarified butter (ghee)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth or water
Dress the chicken with juice of 1/2 lemon, pepper and salt. Place one squeezed lemon half into chicken cavity.
Press the saute button on the Instant Pot and add the clarified butter.
When the butter is melted, add chicken, breast facing down, and allow to brown for 3-4 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken and allow to brown for an additional 2 minutes.
Turn the Instant Pot off. Pour in broth or water. Push second lemon half into cavity, if safely and easily accessible, and add more freshly ground pepper, if desired.
Press poultry button on the Instant Pot and adjust time to 25 minutes. Close the Instant Pot lid and lock valve into “sealing” position. When the Instant Pot timer beeps to signal the end of the cooking period, wait 15 minutes for a full natural release, then flip the valve to “venting” position.
Opening the lid before the natural release is complete sucks the juices out of meat, so don’t.
Remove the cooked bird using large, sturdy tongs or two large serving utensils. Save the broth to use in additional recipes
Let rest 5 minutes before carving.
Per serving: 245 calories (percent of calories from fat, 44), 33 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 13 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 94 milligrams cholesterol, 241 milligrams sodium.
My Take On Bocca Lupo’s Garganelli Ragu
This Instant Pot restaurant recipe hack from Atlanta freelance food and dining writer Angela Hansberger recreates her favorite comfort dish, the garganelli with chicken and veal ragu chef Bruce Logue makes at Bocca Lupo.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 ½ celery ribs, diced
3 ounces chicken livers (2-3) finely chopped
3 ounces pancetta or a slice of bacon, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
½ pound ground chicken
½ pound ground pork
2 bay leaves
1 ½ cups of dry white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 cup chicken broth
1 rind of Parmesan cheese or a handful of shredded Parmesan to taste
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
a few sage leaves
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
Cooked tubular pasta of your choice, preferably fresh garganelli
To saute the vegetables, push the saute button on the Instant Pot and add the olive oil. Add the onion and the celery and saute for about 5 minutes just to tenderize, not to brown.
Stir in the chicken livers and pancetta or bacon. Add the minced garlic, chicken, and pork, continually breaking up the meat into small bits. Stir, but don’t brown the meat, for about 7-10 minutes.
Add the bay leaves and the white wine and let it simmer until reduced.
Stir in the tomato paste, diced carrots, chicken broth, cheese rind, and milk. If using shredded Parmesan, hold for the last step. Add sage leaves and thyme.
Set Instant Pot to cook on high and add 20 minutes. Lock the lid and seal the vent.
Once the cooking time is up, allow natural pressure release for 15 minutes, then release the remaining steam and carefully remove the lid once the pressure is gone.
Remove thyme, bay and sage leaves and remainder of cheese rind. Stir in ½ cup heavy cream and switch the Instant Pot to saute. Stir and reduce to the consistency you like, 5-10 minutes.
Add shredded Parmesan, if not using rind, and salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, ladle over pasta. Chef Logue arranges his pasta in a lined-up row in the center of the plate with a generous gravy of sauce poured over.
Drink a glass of the dry white wine and enjoy.
Per serving: 400 calories (percent of calories from fat, 59), 30 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 24 grams fat (11 grams saturated), 167 milligrams cholesterol, 539 milligrams sodium.