Instant Pot takes the pressure off busy cooks

The Instant Pot was not the first electric pressure cooker to hit the market. But since its launch in 2010, it has become one of the most popular among young, granola-eating moms, due to a grassroots fan base that has exploded through web-based communities and old-fashioned word of mouth.

The 7-in-1, multipurpose appliance houses a microprocessor that allows home cooks to program it to fit their busy schedules and their families' food needs. It can take the place of the pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté pan, steamer, yogurt maker and stockpot warmer.

Some home cooks are so enamored of it, they say they have even forgotten how to turn on their ovens.

“This would be the best thing for someone going off to college, because this pot would do everything,” said Joanne Williams of Sebastopol, who bought her first Instant Pot appliance a year ago, then purchased a second one for yogurt making. “It's not small, but it's just the perfect one-pot solution for anything.”

The appliance is so versatile that some people take it on the road with them, cooking with it in their RV or powering it up in a Prius so they can use it while car camping.

But its target audience is the busy, American worker who puts in long hours and is looking for a convenient way to cook meals quickly, ahead of time, with little fuss or muss.

“I work all day,” said Paula Hardin of Santa Rosa, manager of the Airport Health Club in Windsor. “What I like about it is that oatmeal takes three minutes, and I make it for the week. And the soup is very fast. Again, I make it for the week.”

Hardin fell in love with the Instant Pot after taking a class from Jill Nussinow of Santa Rosa, an authority on pressure cooking who is widely known as “The Veggie Queen” because of her classes and cookbooks focused on plant-based, whole foods.

“It's ideal for anybody who doesn't have a lot of time,” Nussinow said. “You can pre-set it so the food will cook, and then you come home and it's ready.”

One of the big selling points is that the Instant Pot is more user-friendly than a stove-top pressure cooker.

“People have a fear of pressure cookers, like they are going to blast off toward the ceiling,” Williams said. “I had the old kind, and I used it once and just threw it out.”

“The electric cooker takes some of the user error out of it,” said Nussinow, who has cooked with an Instant Pot for about three years. “It's much harder to make things go wrong ... If the lid is not on correctly, it beeps at you.”

But its relative ease does not mean that you can blithely skip the appliance's instruction manual.

“What I explain to people is that it's not intuitive - it's scientific and mathematical,” Nussinow said. “It helps to have experience with the stove-top pressure cooker, but the main thing is that you have to do a little learning.”

Like learning to drive a car or use a smart phone, consumers can get frustrated if they do not actually put some time into getting to know the smart pot.

And, because it was developed by engineer Robert Wang, the Instant Pot has also been getting smarter, with new updates that include additional settings for pressure, a detachable cord and even a wireless connection.

“We started with stove-top pots, pans and pressure cookers, then slow cookers, rice cookers and electric pressure cookers,” Wang said in a press release from the manufacturer, Double Insight Inc. “

We are now in the era of smartcookers, which are equipped with microprocessors and an array of sensors, and are wirelessly connected to cook meals and dishes intelligently.”

The appliance has also grown over the years, starting out with a 6-quart stainless steel cooking bowl, then expanding with an 8-quart bowl.

“People really love that it has a stainless steel bowl,” Nussinow said. “It's easy to clean, and people want to cook healthy without the nonstick.”

Unlike a slow cooker, you can set the appliance to sauté and brown your aromatics without having to dirty another pan. Nussinow often skips the oil, adding a little liquid if her garlic and onions start to stick.

Like old-school pressure cookers, the Instant Pot has a silver button on the top that pops up when the interior has come up to pressure, due to the building steam. After the cooking process is over, you have to wait for the button to drop, which means the pressure has been released. Until that happens, the lid will not open.

The second generation of Instant Pots offers two settings for pressure: low to cook vegetables, and high to cook beans and soup. Some folks tend to cook vegetables for too long, Nussinow said. The key is learning how to use the quick-release valve, which lets out the steam and stops the cooking immediately.

“Fresh vegetables come out absolutely delicious, but you have to know what you're doing,” Nussinow said. “For green beans, you cook them for two minutes on low pressure, then use the quick release valve to release all the steam.”

If you are cooking a stew, soup or chili on high pressure, you can program the appliance to cook for the correct time, then walk away. It will automatically switch to warm when it's done cooking, like a rice cooker.

Nussinow uses the appliance every week to cook vegetable stock, grains, such as polenta or brown rice, and beans.

“It's also amazing for soup and chili,” she said.

On a regular basis, Williams said she uses her Instant Pot to make Soy Yogurt, a simple Split Pea Soup and Butternut Squash Risotto.

“The yogurt is so simple,” she said. “At night, I take unsweetened soy milk from Costco and this starter you can buy, and I stir it up and pour it into five 1-cup jars, and hit the yogurt setting. I wake up, and I have yogurt.”

For the pea soup, she throws all the ingredients into the pot, cooks them for 12 minutes, then adds some shredded carrots at the end.

Instead of having to stir the risotto on the stove, she sautés the onions and garlic in the pot, throws in the liquid and rice, sets the timer and closes the lid.

“Boom, you're done,” she said. “Then you stir in your cooked, butternut squash or shrimp or whatever you would throw in at the end.”

Although some people find it difficult to program each kind of dish, many have learned to keep a log of the correct times for each kind of dish they make, whether it's fresh kale or herbed polenta.

“Let's face it. Most people have a dozen recipes that they cook a lot,” Williams said. “So once you figure out how to make your favorite recipes, you would never think of dirtying another pot.”


The following recipes from Jill Nussinow are designed for an electric pressure cooker or a stovetop pressure cooker. To use a stove top recipe for your Instant Pot, or other electric pressure cooker, when the directions read, “Set your pot on high heat to bring to pressure” all you have to do is set the pot to the time and type of pressure, low or high, and the pot will do the rest. This way you can use any pressure cooker recipe you like.

The zucchini chowder is from her book, “Vegan Under Pressure,” reprinted with permission from Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt. You can find the yeast, the tamari and gomasio at Community Market in Santa Rosa or Sebastopol.

Quick Asian Quinoa Vegetable Pilaf

Makes 4 to 6 servings

- Vegetable cooking spray or oil

2 teaspoons finely minced ginger root

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup finely chopped carrot

1 cup quinoa (white, red or tri-color), rinsed and drained

11/4 cup water or broth

1/2 cup green beans, chopped

1/4 cup red pepper, chopped

1/4 cup broccoli florets, chopped

1 tablespoon tamari

2 teaspoons sesame oil, optional

2 green onions, sliced for garnish

2 tablespoons gomasio, for garnish

Use sauté function in the electric pressure cooker and add the ginger, garlic and carrot and sauté for 1 minute. Add the quinoa and stir to toast. Turn off sauté.

Add the broth and set the pot for 5 minutes. When time is up, let the pressure come down naturally. Open the lid, carefully turning it away from you.

Add the beans, red pepper and broccoli florets. Stir and lock on the lid for 3 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the tamari and sesame oil, if using. Top with green onions and gomasio.


“This screams summertime to me, with a few simple additions to add body and flavor: ground red lentils (grind in your spice grinder or the blender), almond flour (or meal) and nutritional yeast,” Nussinow writes.

“Turn it into dinner by serving with a large salad and a hunk of hearty bread.”

Creamy Dreamy Zucchini Chowder

Makes 4 servings

2 cups finely chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups zucchini or summer squash, cut into 2-inch chunks

1/4 cup ground red lentils

1/4 cup almond flour or meal

2 cups vegetable stock

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

- Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup minced fresh basil, for garnish

Heat a stovetop pressure cooker over medium heat or set an electric pressure cooker to sauté. Add the onion and dry sauté for 1 minute.

Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the squash, lentils, almond flour and stock.

Lock on the lid. Bring the cooker to high pressure. Cook for 4 minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally. Remove the lid, carefully tilting it away from you.

Stir in the nutritional yeast. Using an immersion blender, a blender or food processor, blend soup until creamy.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into bowls and serve, garnished with basil.


“Oats are so good for you, but most people eat the rolled kind because the steel-cut version takes too long,” Nussinow writes.

“Here it takes only 3 minutes on the heat to cook. You can flavor them anyway that you like. My favorite is with half a vanilla bean and a cinnamon stick, raisins and walnuts, plus extra cinnamon.”

If you like your cereal a bit soupier, increase the liquid by adding another 1/2 cup, either during cooking or after you remove the cereal from the pot.

3-Minute Steel-Cut Oats

Makes 3 to 5 servings

2 cups water

1 cup unsweetened, plain or vanilla soy, oat, multigrain or other nondairy milk

- Pinch of salt

1 cup steel-cut oats (preferably from Bob's Red Mill)

1/2 vanilla bean

1 cinnamon stick

1/4 cup raisins, or other dried fruit

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup toasted walnuts

1/4 cup raisins

1-2 tablespoons agave syrup or other sweetener

Add the water, milk, salt, oats, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick and 1/4 cup raisins to the pressure cooker. Lock on the lid and bring to high pressure over high heat. Lower the heat and time for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the pressure come down naturally.

Carefully remove the lid, tilting it away from you. Check to see if the oats are cooked enough. If not, remove the pot from the heat, lock on the lid and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, during which time it will continue cooking. Then remove the lid.

Remove the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick and set aside. Stir and add the cinnamon, walnuts, remaining raisins and sweetener to taste.

Refrigerate leftovers and eat for another morning or two. This will last about 4 days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze and reheat later.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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