Quick Tips

 INDIAN FOOD

SPICES 

Curry. I am often questioned about curry - the spice blend. Folks tell me all the time that they just don't like the taste of curry spice blend and that's why they think they don't like Indian food. I tell them there is hope. Because we do not use curry the spice blend in Indian cooking. I've written three cookbooks on Indian cooking and hundreds if not thousands of recipes at this point, and not one required curry spice. Why? Because we use whole spices and unique spice blends specific to our dishes and the region in India those dishes are from. A garam masala, for example, is used in North Indian cooking. Sambhar powder from South India, and so on. Curry the spice blend was created by the West to mimic the flavors of Indian cooking. Where it misses the mark, is that when added to foods as flavor, the spices are not traditionally tempered in oil or ghee to truly pull out their true flavoring. Thus, you get a flatter, chalkier taste profile. I do like curry the spice blend when used to make noodles or various Southeast Asian stir fries. But, just not Indian food. The next time you are in a spice shop and they try to sell you one Indian spice blend labeled Curry explain why you know better. Now, here's the thing. If you like the taste of curry who am I to judge? Eat it. Enjoy it. But, try making Indian food with traditional and authentic spice blends and you just might realize how much more you like Indian cooking and how you can start making restaurant-quality Indian food at home. 

What should I do with the spices in my dish after cooking? Should I pick them all out including the cumin seeds? NO. Definitely don't pick them ALL out! The beauty of spices and why we use them is because they obviously add flavor to our food. But, they are also incredibly healthy to eat. You've heard of the health benefits of turmeric and cumin seeds, perhaps, but every single spice (including non-Indian spices) have wonderful benefits. Some, though, have woody consistencies or outer layers that are not pleasant to chew on and not easy to digest. Take cinnamon sticks for example or black cardamom pods. You can actually chew on both and see some benefits, but eating them with your meal may not be so tasty.  As a general rule, we tend to leave our spices in our dish so that they can continue to flavor it ahead of serving and eating it. We know to eat around some spices when we sit down to a meal. But, there are a few spices that I will pull out ahead of time so no one bites down on them and ruins their bite with an unusually strong spice. The spices I usually pull out include cinnamon sticks, black cardamom pods, sometimes green cardamom pods husks (not the seeds), bay leaves, and sometimes cloves. Sometimes the green cardamom husks and cloves dissolve into my dish from cooking and we barely notice them. Everything else including dried chiles, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds and on and on are left in the dish to be eaten. If you don't want the heat from dried chiles, just push them to side as well. Thanks to Patti M. in Los Angeles for asking! 

INSTANT POT

It took me over a year and a half to take my Instant Pot out of its box. Yes, it intimidated me. But, even worse, there were no manuals, websites, or cookbooks that seemed to lay out all of the basics clearly in one spot. Sure, some of that is because information changes and is updated. That's not what I am talking about. I mean simple, basic information. It's almost like you have to give up your day job to figure this contraption out and it's like my 'smart' phone. Trial and error is the only way to get really good at it. But, the idea of that scared me with the pressure cooker. So, my goal is to put all the little tips and tricks right here. If you don't see something that you have a question about, just email me and I'll research it for you! 

WHAT IS AN INSTANT POT The Instant Pot is just the brand name for an electric pressure cooker. Just like Kleenex is a brand, but we refer to most tissue paper as Kleenex. IP is not the only electric pressure cooker available. Other brands make it as well, but this Canadian-based company's self-contained pressure cooking vessel has taken off and likely someone in your life has talked to you about the Instant Pot. Though IP was developed by Ottawa-based Instant Brands, the company was purchased by Rosemont, IL-based Corelle Brands in 2019. Corelle represents well-known housewares products including Pyrex, CorningWare, and Snapware. 

Is the Instant Pot a pressure cooker? Yes, it is. But, it does not operate on a stovetop. It is electric. Meaning it has a plug that needs an electric outlet to work. Also meaning it needs less watching over. But, meaning that it cooks at a slightly lower heat level than a stovetop pressure cooker. 

I use a stovetop pressure cooker - do I need an Instant Pot? Likely, no. The stovetop pressure cookers cook at a higher level of heat than electric pressure cookers. What you get from the electric version is less need to watch over the process. An electric pressure will turn off on its own. Versus a stovetop that needs to be watched so you can turn the stove off. If you are already comfortable with the stovetop pressure cooker, stick with it. You are likely cooking your dishes faster (by about 10 to 15 minutes) than its electric counterpart. 

CANCEL BUTTON No matter what you do with your panel and your Instant Pot, never panic. The CANCEL button is there. Regardless of how nervous you might feel or if you think you made a mistake programming the timing of a dish, the CANCEL button is always right there to push and essentially start over. Always keep it as a safe guard. It is also important to press the CANCEL button when switching between cooking modes. For example when going from SAUTE to PRESSURE COOK, press CANCEL first. When going from SAUTE to SLOW COOK, press CANCEL first. 

SAUTE BUTTON The SAUTE button is a very handy tool on the bottom left of your panel of buttons on the IP. It allows you to cook your onions, garlic, meat, spices, and other ingredients ahead of pressure cooking them. This is a fantastic feature because you can do it all in one pot ahead of programming your pressure cooker. This function is always done WITHOUT the lid and when you press the button, 30 minutes will appear on your panel. This time is just a safeguard to ensure that you never saute more than that amount of time. Then, the panel will read ON. There are three heat levels available and changeable by pressing the same SAUTE button. There is LESS (221°F/105°C) for simmering or reducing a sauce or light browning; NORMAL (320°F/160°C for regular browning), and MORE (338°F/170°C for darker browning or a quick sear) - the equivalent of low, medium, and high on an electric range. Keep in mind that these settings do not refer to pressure cooking and only for the SAUTE function. For an Indian tarka, or tempering, you want to program the panel to MORE for maximum heat unless you are making a dish that requires minimal water (like Aloo Gobi and Palak Paneer). In this case, you may want to opt for NORMAL so that the spices cook, but they don't stick to the bottom and result in a BURN warning later. Typically, you'll want to PRESS the SAUTE button to the desired heat level and then let it warm up. Once the panel indicates HOT, your pot is at the desired heat level and you can add your ingredients. The HOT button indicates the pot is ready - it does not mean that your pot is overheated. 

"The newer Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus has more choices for Saute - you can enter High or Low or Custom which allows you to pick a specific Level 1 to 6. I always use Custom, Level 5 instead of High because picking High tends to result in a Burn message and a shutoff. The time always defaults to the last time you used in Saute. I tend to pick a time that is slightly longer than the total time I want to Saute everything, and then I cancel when I am done." This from one of my testers who makes my recipes in this latest Instant Pot model. It so far is only available in a 6 and 8 quart version. 

RELEASING PRESSURE Likely one of the most stressful aspects of owning a pressure cooker is dealing with the pressure release. The good news is, the electric pressure cookers are much more foolproof than their older stovetop counterparts. So there is much less to worry about. But, you should still be careful. 

The steam releases from the pressure-release valve on the top left of your lid. It's important to remember that steam is extremely hot, so you never want to place your hand directly on top of the holes where the steam releases. The key is to put your hand to the side and carefully move the level with two fingers. If you are still uncomfortable, you can use a dish cloth to lightly cover the valve, or use the cloth or a wooden spoon to move the lever. 

NATURAL RELEASE The simplest way to release steam is to do nothing at all. Once your cooking is finished, the pressure cooker will slowly release steam on its own time. This can take 15 to 20 minutes at times depending on the contents and how much steam was build up to begin with. When the process is finished, the float valve will drop, indicating that the the lid can be safely opened. The dishes that do best releasing steam this way are the ones that won't overcook if they sit in the hot steam in your pot for another 20 minutes or so. Think beans and lentils. 

QUICK or MANUAL RELEASE These terms are used interchangeably. In my recipes I use manual release. In other recipes, you'll see quick release. All this means is that you physically adjust the steam valve to release the steam. Why should you do this when steam is hot and you have to be so careful about releasing it? Well, if you don't with some dishes, they may overcook. 

COMBINATION Some recipes call for 10 minutes natural release and then a quick or manual release. This just means that after your dish finishes cooking, look at the timer on your pressure cooker as it counts up to 10. When it hits that, then manually move the pressure-release valve to release the remaining pressure. This way, your dish cooks slightly more but not too much. 

Lentils