I tried to love the Instant Pot, but it was too much pressure

It was sometime last summer that, with the fervor of a televangelist, my colleague Molly Eichel began preaching the gospel of the Instant Pot.

The seven-in-one device - it’s a pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer, sauté pan, rice and yogurt maker, and warmer - could make hummus from dried chickpeas in, like, 45 minutes, she insisted. She used it for buffalo chicken meatballs for a recent party. And had I heard about our friend Matt’s incredible recipe for Instant Pot ribs?

But I refused to be converted. For one thing, my gas stove seemed like all the cooking power I needed. For another, I’m constantly receiving pitches for new gadgets, many of them solving problems no one knew existed (see: “Four-in-one avocado tool,” “banana slicer,” and “electric lunchbox”). So I tend to be a cooking-tech skeptic.

Still, Molly insisted: “This is the kind of thing that you don't need - but once you have it, you use it all the time,” she said, showing off her prized kitchen tool. “I use it three times a week. Could I rehydrate chickpeas on my stove like I did for years before I got this thing? Yes, of course. But I don't want to. If I use this, it takes 45 minutes and it's amazing.”

Given that the $100 device was one of the most popular holiday gifts of the season - and that we’re seeing more and more cookbooks designed just for it - I grudgingly agreed to give it a shot.

We chose from Kathy Hester’s The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for Your Instant Pot (January 2017,  Page Street Publishing, $22.99); Jennifer Robins’ Paleo Cooking With Your Instant Pot (January 2017, Page Street, $21.99) and Laurel Randolph’s best-selling The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook (April 2016, Callisto, $14.99).

Some of the recipes they suggested weren’t exactly world-changing, like a 30-minute vegetarian curry that would hardly take more time to throw together on the stovetop.

Others cut a few minutes of inactive cooking time, like eight-minute hard-boiled eggs or 14-minute steamed artichokes.

Still others were mystifying, like frittatas, quiches or brownies that are steamed instead of baked - never to attain a crisp, golden-brown exterior. Why, Laurel Randolph, why?

But other recipes did seem extraordinary: a risotto that requires virtually no stirring? Soup made from dried beans in less than an hour? A one-pot recipe for pasta bolognese? Those actually sounded tempting.

So, I made my apologies to the dusty, half-full box of arborio rice that’s been sitting in my cabinet for months, waiting for me to honor it with the 40 minutes of stirring required for a pot of risotto. Instead, we sauteed some onion, garlic, and mushrooms, tossed in some white wine, then added the rice and broth, closed the lid, and crossed our fingers. After six minutes, we unlatched it, tossed in some Parmesan cheese, and gave it a quick stir.

Was it the most perfectly cooked risotto I’ve ever had? Not even close. But - and this should probably be the tagline of the Instant Pot - it was good enough.

Same goes for the bean soup, which started with sauteed onion and pepper, followed by pressure-cooked celery, butternut squash, and dried beans, followed by a 40-minute wait. (Thanks to Boyle’s law and possibly some other rules of physics I haven’t contemplated since high school, there is apparently no need to soak the beans overnight or to simmer them for three hours.) The result was, more or less, bean soup - though a few of the beans were not quite cooked enough, and the rest of them, plus all of the vegetables, were pulverized into mush. But, it was a nutritious, decent meal with minimal effort, and totally edible with a splash of sriracha.

After that, we approached the penne Bolognese with trepidation. After all, with pasta, texture is paramount. Still, we sauteed some onions, browned ground beef, then tossed in the penne, to be smothered with a layer of crushed tomatoes. After five minutes in the pressure cooker, the results were in: Fairly evenly cooked, al dente pasta. We sauteed it a couple of minutes more to remove some liquid, but it was a passable weeknight meal, especially for using only one (dishwasher-safe) pot.

The new stack of cookbooks offer lots more experiments to try: coconut milk yogurt, gluten-free bread, steamed shrimp, tamales, and even a steamed key lime cheesecake in a springform pan small enough to set inside the Instant Pot. Many of the recipes, even those with long cook times, require so little effort it’s worth experimenting with them.

Sure, our results weren’t exactly beautiful: What you gain in cooking speed, convenience, and ease of cleanup with the Instant Pot, you lose in finesse.
But I was wrong to lump the Instant Pot in with the strawberry-stem removers, garlic peelers, and miscellaneous avocado tools.

Because, for some, it might not be frivolous. I realized in using it that, for $100, it puts almost any type of cooking within reach for people without access to a stove or oven: college students in dorms, people in the thick of kitchen renovations, those traveling away from home, even those living in marginal housing situations.

In those cases, a scratch-made meal that’s just good enough may be world-changing after all.

Brown Butter and Mushroom Risotto

Makes 5 to 6 servings


10 ounces cremini mushrooms, cut into 1-inch pieces.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper.

5 tablespoons butter

4 medium shallots, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup dry white wine

4 cups good-quality vegetable or chicken or chicken broth, preferably homemade  

2 cups Arboria or Valrose rice

¼ cup or more heavy cream (optional)

½cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving 


1. Preheat the Instant Pot by selecting Sauté. Add the butter.

2. Cook, swirling around with a spoon, for about 3 minutes, or until the butter is a light brown color. Add the shallots and mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.

3. Add the wine. Stir and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the alcohol smell has gone away and much of the wine has evaporated.

4. Add the broth and rice and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Secure the lid.

5. Select Manual and cook at high pressure for 6 minutes.

The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook

Per serving: 357 calories, 20 g fat, 125 mg cholesterol, 189 mg sodium, 434 mg potassium, 5 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber

One Pot Pasta Bolognese

4 serving(s)


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

12 ounces lean ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup dry red wine

½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1½ cups water

12 ounces uncooked penne pasta (with a 9-to-13-minute cook time)

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in puree or good tomato sauce

½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese 


  1. Preheat the Instant Pot by selecting Sauté on high heat.

2. Wait 1 minute and then add the oil. Add the ground beef and use a wooden spoon or spatula to break it up and stir it as it cooks, about 3 minutes.

3. Once the meat is browned and cooked, add the onion and stir. Cook for 1 minute and add the garlic. Cook for 1 minute more.

4. Add the wine and scrape the bottom to deglaze the pan. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the alcohol smell has gone away.

5. Add the salt, red pepper flakes, and water and stir. Add the pasta and stir. Pour the tomatoes or tomato sauce over in an even layer, coving the pasta. Secure the lid.

6. Select Manual and cook at high pressure for 5 minutes.

7. Once the cooking is complete, use a quick release. Test the pasta. If it isn’t quite done, select Sauté and simmer for another 1 to 2 minutes. Serve topped with mozzarella.

 Ingredient Tip: Replace up to half of the water with beef broth for an extra boost of flavor.

From the book "The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for your Instant Pot"

Per serving: 596 calories, 68 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 7 g fiber:, 45 g protein, 841 mg sodium

All The Beans Soup

Makes 6 servings


Sauté ingredients:

½ tablespoon mild oil

1 cup minced onion

½  cup minced bell pepper 

 2 teaspoons minced garlic 

Pressure Cooker Ingredients:

7 cups   water

1  16-ounce bag mixed soup beans with barley (or add ¼ cup pearled or hulled barley to a bag that doesn't have it already)

2 stalks celery, diced

2 cups diced butternut  squash

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Before serving ingredients:

½ teaspoon ground rosemary or ½ teaspoon regular dried

½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)

¼  cup  nutritional yeast.

Salt and pepper to taste (I used 1½  teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper)



1. For the sauté: Use the Sauté setting over normal, or medium heat, and heat the oil. Add the onion and sauté until transparent, 5 minutes. Then add the bell pepper and garlic. Sauté until the bell peppers soften, 5 minutes.

2. For the pressure cooker: Add the water, beans, celery, butternut squash, bay leaves, thyme, and smoked paprika to the onion mixture and stir to combine. Put the lid on and make sure the steam-release handle is closed; change to the Manual setting (the pressure cooking one) and set the timer for 40 minutes.

3. Allow the pressure to release naturally. Remove and discard the bay leaves.

4. Before serving, mix the ground rosemary, liquid smoke, and nutritional yeast and add salt and pepper to taste. I like to serve mine with a side of chipotle salt to add a little kick to it.

 Note: If you can't find a bean soup mixture in your area, use equal parts small red beans, navy or Great Northern beans, baby lima beans, black beans, pinto beans, baby garbanzo beans, black-eyed or yellow-eyed peas, green and yellow split peas, brown lentils and pearled barley. You can make a large jar of your own mix to use as needed.

The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for your Instant Pot By Kathy Hester

Per serving: 213 calories, 10 g protein, 3 g total fat, 39 carbohydrates, sodium 7 mg, 11 g fiber.