Open the pot, pour in your favorite plant-based ingredients, fasten the lid, push a button, and in minutes you have a fabulous plant-based meal. Yes, I’m talking about Instant Pots. Their popularity is soaring, and rightly so! This handy kitchen appliance combines the convenience of a crock pot with the power of a pressure cooker, thus cutting way back on cooking time—and dirty pots and pans. In addition, you can get really creative in the kitchen with plant-based ingredients, such as grains, beans, and veggies in order to make healthy, easy meals in no time. From chili and soups to mashed potatoes and rice pudding, there is just so much you can do with this handy tool.
So, put an Instant Pot on your wish list. And if you do have one stored away in your kitchen shelf, it’s time to take it out and use it. Soon, you’ll be relying on it every week to make fabulous meals. Be sure to check out my Plant Power Live Show on how to use an Instant Pot here.
To get you started using your Instant Pot for plant-based cooking, we chatted with my friend and colleague The Veggie Queen, aka Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, who is a plant-based culinary expert especially known for her Instant Pot skills. In fact, when I opened the box to take out my instant Pot a few years ago, I found the enclosed recipe booklet included some of Jill’s recipes! We’re so lucky to get Jill’s top tips for plant-based cooking ala Instant Pot from the expert herself.
Top Tips for Using an Instant Pot, with the Veggie Queen
Sharon: What is an Instant Pot, and what can it really do?
Jill: It is a multicooker that can slow cook and pressure cook. It does a much better job pressure cooking than slow cooking.
Sharon: How do you use an Instant Pot?
Jill: It is very easy to use: you can start by sautéing food on the sauté function and then add food, lock on the lid, set the time, and wait for the beeps at the end to let you know that the time is up. Then you either turn the knob (called a quick release) or wait for the pressure to drop (called a natural pressure release), or you can do a combo of both, when appropriate. The recipe will generally let you know.
Sharon: Is the Instant Pot intimidating for some people?
Jill: Yes, they are intimidated likely by the size of the pot and the things that they might have heard about pressure cooking in the old days and how it could be dangerous. For many people, it is a very new way to cook because of the speed of cooking so they fear ruining their food, which is quite possible if they don’t follow well-written and tested recipes.
Sharon: Is an Instant Pot particularly helpful for plant-based cooking?
Jill: The Instant Pot, or other multicooker or pressure cookers, is almost essential for anyone who does plant-based cooking, as you can easily cook legumes and whole grains quickly. It eliminates the need to buy canned beans since you can cook soaked beans in the pressure cooker in less than 20 minutes from start to finish. If they aren’t soaked, they will still cook in less than an hour. You can also make amazingly flavorful vegetables so quickly, and a whole host of soups, stews, curries and anything with uses liquid as an ingredient. I consider it the mode of cooking that gets you food you want, quicker, easier and tastier, which is the best combo. And it makes eating very affordable.
Sharon: Are there health benefits for using an Instant Pot for cooking plant-based meals?
Jill: All of the nutrients stay in the pot, as long as you don’t use too much liquid. Even though the manufacturer says that you need at least one cup of liquid to cook, that is not really the case. Additionally, because of the way that the pressure cooker works, when you cook vegetables the pressure helps break the fiber in the cell wall and the liquid gets absorbed into the vegetable, making it easier to digest. Although the pressure cooker uses high heat, there is also no air involved (it is released from the pot when the pot comes to pressure) so there is more Vitamin C when cooking which is volatile to the air. The colors appear brighter and vegetables seem more “intact” which leads me to believe that there might be more preservation of nutrients. Even after more than 20 years of pressure cooking, I am still amazed at how brightly colored carrots are when they cooked this way.
Sharon: What are some plant foods and recipes that work really well cooking in an Instant Pot?
Jill: Anything with liquid, but especially soup, stew, chili and curry, however my standards are whole grains like black, red or brown rice, and lots of legumes. I love how chickpeas turn out in the Instant Pot. Also, if their Instant Pot has it, people can make their own yogurt by using the pot as an incubator. Soy milk seems to work out best. It’s a simple process and much less expensive and tastier than buying nondairy yogurt.
Sharon: What settings are the handiest for using on the Instant Pot?
Jill: The best settings for me are “manual”, which you set yourself to whatever time and setting you want, “steam” (which I use mostly for whole foods such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash), and “yogurt”. I ignore most of the other settings because they need to be adjusted to the time that you want anyway. One of the biggest issues with beginners is that they think that if they are cooking beans, they just push the “bean” button, but the pot does not know if your beans are soaked or dry, or what kind of beans you have. It defaults to 25 minutes at high pressure, which is far too long for soaked beans and not long enough for dry chickpeas. I find it best to set the pot to the time and pressure setting that you want.
Sharon: Are there some recipes and dishes that just don’t work cooking in an Instant Pot?
Jill: You have to be careful with tomatoes, which tend to burn when on the bottom of the pot. You always have to scrape the bottom of the pot, adding liquid, if you have sautéed something, especially leeks, onions or garlic. I have found it difficult to have pasta turn out consistently. Foods that are mixed with different cooking times can be problematic, too. That can be resolved if you add ingredients at different times.
Sharon: Since cooking times can be dramatically decreased with an Instant Pot, are there ways to make sure meals are not overdone?
Jill: If is important to cook food according to good timing charts so that you don’t overcook. If dinner, or breakfast or lunch, are at stake, it’s not the time to be creative. Since food cooks so quickly, people think that something like 15 minutes for lentil soup seems reasonable, although one of my most requested recipes: Shane’s Fabulous Lentil Soup, only needs 6 minutes at pressure. It’s science, not a guessing game. And if you rely only on internet recipes, you can definitely end up wasting a lot of food. Get recipes from reliable sources. The problem is that the Instant Pot is so “hot” that there are too many people who don’t have sufficient experience with the Instant Pot pushing their recipes into the world. There are “free” books online on Amazon that have recipes that are “lifted” from other people and adapted (not well). People need to avoid those but only if they don’t want to be disappointed in the results.
Sharon: What are some tips and tricks for preparing plant-based meals in the Instant Pot?
Jill: There are some “rules”: don’t fill your pot more than half full with foods that expand (like beans and grains) or more than two thirds full with other foods, except for whole foods like potatoes, in which case you can fill it to the max line. Here is a good trick: you can cook more than one food at a time with similar timing. I like to cook black or red rice on the bottom, and then put in the trivet with a heat proof bowl on the top with soaked beans and liquid, sometimes I add whole squash or sweet potatoes. I cook it all for 15 minutes with natural release. Think easy, batching, simplicity.
Sharon: What is one of your favorite, go-to, plant-based Instant Pot meals?
Jill: I have so many favorites, but when potatoes are in season (and yes, they are a seasonal vegetable), I love to make potato salad. This one combines potatoes with other vegetables. I serve it as often as I can.
Check out Jill’s favorite Instant Pot Recipe for Potato Vegetable Salad with Mustard-Tarragon Dressing below.
Adding corn and tomatoes to potato salad makes it something special— colorful and bright—as does the tarragon dressing. If you can get potatoes in different colors, it makes this dish even more impressive.
1 medium onion, sliced into
¼-inch-thick half rounds
1½ pounds fingerling or other small potatoes, cut into 2-inch pieces
¾ cup vegetable stock
1 cup fresh or frozen (not thawed) corn kernels
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil, plain or lemon flavored
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon rice, champagne, or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cashew butter, tahini, or olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Heat a stovetop pressure cooker over medium heat, or set an electric cooker to sauté. Add the onion and dry sauté for 2 minutes. Add the potatoes and stock. Lock on the lid, bring to high pressure, and cook for 3 minutes. Quick release the pressure. Remove the lid, carefully tilting it away from you.
Add the corn, lock the lid on the cooker, and let sit for 1 minute. Transfer everything to a bowl and cool for at least 15 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooling, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, vinegar, and cashew butter in a bowl and whisk well. Stir in the tarragon.
Add the cherry tomatoes to the potatoes and then add the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Let the potatoes sit for another few minutes for flavors to blend. Garnish with parsley and serve.
Reprinted with permission from Vegan Under Pressure, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt
Photo by Lauren Volo
About Jill Nussinow, MS, RD
Jill Nussinow, aka The Veggie Queen, has been teaching people about the joys of eating whole food, plant-based meals for the past 30 years. For more than 25 of them she has been teaching at Santa Rosa Junior College as adjunct chef instructor specializing in vegetarian and vegetable classes. For more than 10 years Jill has taught at the McDougall program (featured in Forks over Knives movie). Jill is a Registered Dietitian who awakens people to vegetable possibilities. She is the author of the very popular Vegan Under Pressure (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) cookbook, as well as 3 other award winning cookbooks: The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment cookbook with more 100 seasonal vegetable-based recipes, the seminal work on modern vegan pressure cooking: The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 Minutes which has 150 recipes, of which 138 of them are naturally gluten-free and always delicious. (Readers have called it their pressure cooking bible.) Nutrition CHAMPS; The Veggie Queen’s Guide to Eating and Cooking for Optimal Health, Happiness, Energy and Vitality has more than 200 plant-based recipes from Jill and 44 other contributors.