Cooking rice and lentils, making curries, making biryani or other mixed rice dishes, roasting vegetables or meat, steaming vegetables or idli all are easily accomplished using the pressure cooker.
While pressure cookers are making their appearance in stores here in the US, the variety of sizes and types that are available in India is far more superior. Most of us of a certain age are familiar with a cooker exploding it's contents because of built in pressure. The same physics that makes cooking faster also lends itself to built in pressure. Put that fear to rest, the pressure cookers of today have safety features like pressure release valves which prevent the contents of the cooker from exploding. I have not seen anything explode in my kitchen over the past 15 years I have been cooking.
When you are shopping for a cooker of course you look for the size and the shape. One other feature you want to look for is the material that it is made of. I own both stainless steel and aluminum cookers.
Stainless Steel Cooker
The stainless steel is heavier with a base that retains lot more heat and cooking is faster. While this is durable and sturdy and perhaps perfect for certain cooking there is always the problem of food sticking to the bottom if you are going to cook food directly in the cooker.
So here is the general rule of thumb that I follow,
If cooking with a vessel insert I use the stainless pressure cooker but if I am cooking directly in the cooker like making a rice dish or a curry I use the aluminum pressure cooker.
The cooker capacity is another variable you want to look at. I have 3 pressure cookers and a pressure pan with capacities of 8, 5 and 3 liters. An 5 liter cooker is ideal for a family of 4. While an 8 liter cooker is big it comes in handy when you want to steam or cook multiple items at the same time and also for a 4 level idli mould to fit in.
|cooker lid with gasket inserted||cooker lid and the stem where the weight is inserted|
|gasket||weights and pressure valve|
While purchasing your first pressure cooker make sure you buy the inset vessels and the ildi maker that go in the cooker. These days you can buy puttu maker that go in the cooker as well. Anything that can be steamed can go in the cooker.
|multi deck steamer with no holes, rice in one, lentils in another etc.,||idli steamer|
|steamer basket||vessel that goes inside the cooker|
|puttu steamer, this one has holes in the bottom||mutlti shaped vessels that go in the cooker|
While Indians have known for a long time the benefits of using a pressure cooker for quick and easy cooking, Americans are just now waking up to the possibility. They have learned that cooking beans and lentils is done in a jiffy which take forever on the stove top and switching to cooking meats in the pressure cooker which took the better part of the day when done in the oven make for far lesser time spent in the kitchen and not to mention the savings in fuel.
Just follow the general guidelines like keeping enough water in the cooker while steaming and while cooking you will have a joyous time using the cooker to prepare foods quickly and with a minimum of fuss.