But it was worth it. Vibrantly flavored with harissa, lemon and cumin, plus a dash of sweetness from maple syrup, this dish is now in my permanent repertoire. I'll take it to potlucks, set it out like meze or pickles to accompany a dinner or serve it in place of a salad.
Why scary? The recipe is easy enough. But you have to make it in a pressure cooker. Not just me, but all my friends quail at these words. My mother's old pressure cooker is in the garage. The little pressure cooker I bought in India is stored, unused, in its original box (above).
And I heard from an expert how easy it is to cook this way, how excellent the results are, and I tasted her food, which was very good.
Her latest, "Vegan Under Pressure," is packed with guidelines that are so clear and thorough that even I couldn't go wrong.
I began by trying one of her easiest recipes, Three-Minute Spiced White Basmati Rice (above). And I was shocked. It was true, In only three minutes, yes, three minutes, I had perfect rice, flaky and tender, and a clean pan, no rice caked to the bottom and sides.
I've even had the nerve to develop a couple of my own dishes, Mexican rice following her basmati rice procedure, and tomatillo chicken--I am not vegan.
Yes, there is a learning curve, which I am still on. Twice I burned food onto the bottom of the pan, the second time so severely that soaking for days with dish soap and then vinegar and water didn't help. To the rescue came The Barkeepers Friend and my pot is like new again.
Why pressure cook? Speed isn't the only objective. The food tastes good because all the flavors are kept in, nothing escapes into the atmosphere. For the same reason, the nutritional value of pressure-cooked food is greater. And the flavor is fresher and superior to slow-cooked dishes, Nussinow said.
"If you like to cook, this is the tool for you," she said, speaking of stovetop pressure cookers, not electric cookers. She should know because she has taught pressure cooking for more than 20 years and knows her way around the equipment.
It's easy to write in glowing terms about pressure cooking, but safety has to be addressed. Here is what Nussinow says:
"The new pressure cookers are much safer than the older models. The new electric models are basically foolproof and will even shut off if anything starts to stick and burn. The newer (without jiggler) stove top models work well, too, however the biggest issues often occur with user error."
And she goes on to say, "The fear of pressure cooking (with a modern pressure cooker) is mostly irrational."
I would add that it is important to study the safety precautions in the user manual that comes with your pressure cooker and to observe them strictly. This includes keeping vents clean, making sure the gasket is in good condition and properly seated, closing the cooker securely and opening it with the lid tilted away from you so that escaping steam doesn't scald your face.
If you're working with a stovetop model, it's essential to watch the timing carefully and not get distracted and forget that it's on the stove.
For more tips and recipes from Nussinow, go to her website, www.theveggiequeen.com.
HARISSA-GLAZED CARROTS WITH SMALL GREEN OLIVES
From "Vegan Under Pressure" by Jill Nussinow
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil, optional
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 to 2 tablespoons harissa spice blend (there's a recipe for this in the book. I substituted readymade harissa paste)
1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
1 pound carrots (6 medium), peeled and sliced on the diagonal
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
Sprinkle of salt
2 to 3 ounces small green olives such as Arbequina or Lucques, pitted or left whole (I didn't have these so used larger olives)
Combine the lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, if using, maple syrup and 1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) harissa in a small bowl.
Add the stock to a 6-quart or smaller pressure cooker, then add the carrots. (My pot is 8 liter, but the bigger size worked fine too.) Drizzle the carrots with the lemon juice mixture. Do not stir.
Lock on the lid. Bring to high pressure; cook for 4 minutes. Quick release the pressure [follow manufacturer's instructions on how to do this]. Remove the lid, carefully tilting it away from you.
Check to be sure that the carrots are cooked through. If not, bring back to pressure and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then quick release. [My carrots did not need additional cooking.] Remove the lid, carefully tilting it away from you.
Transfer the carrots to a bowl or platter and sprinkle with more harissa if desired, the cumin and salt. Add the green olives and serve.
Makes 4 servings.