The electric pressure cooker is well suited for many Indian dishes, and a slew of new cookbooks are seizing on its popularity. Nearly a dozen Indian cookbooks geared toward the electric pressure cooker have appeared in the last year. In Chandra Ram’s shrimp biryani, shrimp and rice are cooked for just a few minutes.CreditAndrew Scrivani for The New York Times Image Nearly a dozen Indian cookbooks geared toward the electric pressure cooker have appeared in the last year. In Chandra Ram’s shrimp biryani, shrimp and rice are cooked for just a few minutes.CreditCreditAndrew Scrivani for The New York Times
When the cookbook author and food editor Chandra Ram was a child visiting relatives in India, the sounds coming from the kitchen would make her jump.
There she’d be in the sitting room, snuggled up with a Hanuman comic book, “and it would come out of nowhere, this high-pitched shriek,” she said — a periodic wail like an oncoming train crossed with a gym teacher’s whistle and a mating cat.
This was the sound of the traditional stovetop pressure cooker, a fixture in Indian kitchens for decades.
The electric pressure cooker that Ms. Ram was using on a recent evening to sauté onions and green chile in her Chicago apartment, on the other hand, would be a much calmer experience. It cooks more evenly and efficiently, without the stovetop pot’s noisy need to let off steam.
Ms. Ram was making shrimp biryani. After the rice and shrimp had cooked for a mere three minutes, Ms. Ram twisted the vent, which sent forth a rush of spicy vapor with a companionable whoosh. Scented with turmeric, ginger and fresh curry leaves, the biryani was far more complex and fragrant than anything you might ever hope to make in under half an hour on a weeknight. And yet she had.
The recipe is from Ms. Ram’s forthcoming book, “The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook” (Robert Rose, 2018). Hers is one of nearly a dozen Indian cookbooks geared toward the electric pressure cooker that have appeared in the last year. The first one, “Indian Instant Pot” by Urvashi Pitre (creator of a viral butter chicken recipe), has sold over 100,000 copies. You have 4 free articles remaining. Subscribe to The Times
Of all the genres of electric pressure cooker cookbooks, there are more for Indian food than for any other cuisine. More than keto. More than paleo. More than vegan.
There are six separate Indian Instant Pot Facebook groups with a combined membership of almost 200,000. And, according to Yi Qin, vice president of products at Instant Brands Inc., across all of the million-plus member Instant Pot Facebook communities, Indian users are among the most active about posting recipes and images. Image Heady spices flavor Urvashi Pitre’s Punjabi rajma.CreditAndrew Scrivani for The New York Times Image An electric pressure cooker significantly cuts down the cook time on this spiced bean dish.CreditAndrew Scrivani for The New York Times
Kormas, biryanis, dals and curries are particularly well suited to the moist environment of a pressurized pot, and Indian home cooks have made use of the stovetop cooker for generations. The electric version makes cooking these dishes even more convenient, streamlining the process and often eliminating the need for several different pots and pans. And without the whistle, it’s quieter.
[For more on the Instant Pot, see our “How to Use an Instant Pot”guide.]
Indian electric pressure cooker books are so popular that even Knopf Doubleday — a publishing house not generally known for appliance cookbooks — is releasing one by the renowned author and actorMadhur Jaffrey: “Madhur Jaffrey’s Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook” (coming in May 2019).
“It’s an interesting moment for Knopf,” the book’s editor, Lexy Bloom, said, “it’s our first Instant Pot cookbook, and we are marketing it to several communities. There are people who are already familiar with the Instant Pot and want to go deeper, the people who love Indian food but are looking for easier, faster recipes, and then fans of Madhur.”
Ms. Jaffrey had never used an electric pressure cooker before writing the book, but, like most cooks from India, where the Instant Pot has not officially been rolled out, she was well versed in the whistling stovetop kind.
“I do not know when pressure cookers found such wide usage in India, but they have been firmly entrenched in Indian kitchens for at least 40 years,” she wrote in an email. “When people give you a recipe they say: ‘Cook it for two whistles,’ or ‘Cook it for three whistles,’ and everyone understands what they mean.”
For example, a typical recipe for rajma, spiced red kidney beans, will call for soaking the beans overnight, then cooking them for three or four whistles. In an electric pressure cooker, that translates to 30 minutes, no soaking.
It took some trial and error to convert Ms. Jaffrey’s classic Indian recipes to an electric pressure cooker — even those she was already making in a stovetop model — and figure out which settings (pressure, steam, sauté, slow cook) worked best for each particular recipe.
“This is an Instant Pot,” she wrote. “It is not a Magic Pot. It will make food for you but, rather like a computer, you have to create the programming that gives you the perfect dish.”
When Ms. Pitre was writing her cookbook, her goal was to make the recipes faster, simpler and more accessible to a wide variety of cooks.
“I wanted to use the science behind pressure cooking to make Indian food easier,” she said.
She tested and retested, taking out steps to see if the dishes ended up tasting just as good without them. Now she rarely browns her onions or her meats before pressure-cooking them. And instead of creating a custom spice blend for many recipes, she substitutes garam masala, which is easy to find in any large supermarket.
“My audience is non-Indians who love Indian food, and second-generation Indians who want to cook Indian food but are intimidated,” she said, adding: “The Indian audience has been my hardest audience to crack. They look at the recipes and say, that’s not traditional.”
For some second-generation Indian cooks, the notion of using a stovetop pressure cooker as their parents and grandparents did was a barrier to cooking Indian food.
Riya Patel, a 22-year-old research lead for a tech accelerator in Washington, D.C., was given an Instant Pot when she graduated from college. Biryanis, dals, curries and kormas, like this chicken version, are particularly well suited to the moist environment of a pressurized pot.CreditAndrew Scrivani for The New York Times Image Biryanis, dals, curries and kormas, like this chicken version, are particularly well suited to the moist environment of a pressurized pot.CreditAndrew Scrivani for The New York Times
“All of my Indian friends who graduated got one from their moms, so they would cook more Indian food,” she said, adding that she would never use a stovetop cooker.
“I was in charge of counting the whistles,” she said. “It was one of the worst sounds of my childhood. It still freaks me out.”