Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Soup Project: Yellow Split Pea Dal, Pressure Cooking, and The New Fast Food

Pressure cooking
I'd been thinking about getting a new pressure cooker for some time now, and when I read Jill Nussinow's The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Meals in Minutes, it was just the nudge I needed to get a new pressure cooker.

Fast meals in minutes? What could be more inspiring? If I wanted to use a pressure cooker more often, it was time for old jiggle top to go. Unreliable, burns foods, and can be scary when steam hisses out--if jiggle top was on Celebrity Apprentice it would be fired.

After I read Jill's recommendations, I ordered a Fangor pressure cooker. While I waited for it to arrive, I used my old Presto pressure cooker to make recipes like this soup from Jill's new book.


Sleek, inviting and surprisingly affordable, this Fagor pressure cooker is easy to use, and though I feel a little down about abandoning my old Presto pressure cooker, I wondered just how useful it was when so many things burned? I'm sure someone can put the old pot to use and maybe be better at it than I was. Out with the old; in with the new.

This is my first ecookbook, and what a cool idea an ecookbook is because it doesn't take up space on my bookshelf where the occupants are subjected to shelf worthiness reviews.

I'm excited to post a review of this book. I've done other cookbook reviews, and some cookbooks are keepers while others eventually lose their allure. It's more about the information they contain or leave out, not the recipes. I can tell already Jill's book is a keeper in the tradition of Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka. A treasure trove of useful pressure cooker information and lots of inspiring recipes that I can tweak over and over again.

5 things I like about Jill's book:

1. Lists the basics of pressure cooking. My first pressure cooking inspiration, Lorna Sass's classic cookbooks come with so much information; I thought no one could come close, but Jill covers every question you have about pressure cooking, even if you've used a pressure cooker for years. Jill's recommendation: every well-stocked kitchen should include one or two pressure cookers.

2. Incorporates a brief history of pressure cooking in America. I love it when a cookbook offers a section on background and history of whatever topic it covers. This is what turns a book into a keeper at my house. Jill also compares old with modern pressure cookers and writes about the quietness and safety of new models--an important reassurance for anyone who has been afraid of pressure cooker explosions. I don't miss the hissing noise of my old jiggle top one bit.

3. Discusses how to choose a pressure cooker--important information for both newbie with no experience and old school cook with an old fashioned pressure cooker. Size, material construction and reliability are important features to consider. This book also contains a chart on pressure cooker size recommendations for various family sizes. She also discusses electric pressure cookers.

4. Includes charts for cooking times for beans, grains and vegetables. "Timing is everything," Jill writes. It's all about getting food to the table faster. The charts included give this book a place in my library for a long time, and the tips for cooking grains are especially helpful. It was interesting to read cooking times for 5 minutes or less for many vegetables and about 10 minutes for beans. People we all need to adopt the skills of pressure cooking. The time you save in the kitchen pencils out as no excuses for dinner at home. The New Fast Food is fast food at its finest.

5. Features inspiring, heart-healthy, plant-based delicious vegan recipes. Whether you follow the recipe as it was written or improvise and branch out on your own, it's easy to do with this book. Just check the cooking time guides for main ingredients. I love recipes that feature surprising ingredients as a springboard for my own inspirations. Read how I did this with my recipe below.

A pressure cooker saves time, energy and cooking plant based foods in it is good-for-the-planet. If my Cooking Assistant was as impressed by books and cooking appliances as he is by carrots, he'd give Jill's book a four paws up.

What does Vincent Van Gogh have to do with this soup?
Color
The idea for this recipe came to me after we talked about the use of color in my photography class last week. I thought about color and food, and how plates and bowls become frames for food. After I watched a documentary about Vincent Van Gogh and his use of brilliant contrasting colors in painting, I imagined a yellow soup in a blue or green bowl.

Ingredients
What food is naturally yellow besides egg yolks? Yellow split peas came to mind. Definitely not as bright as Van Gogh's paintings, but they would have to do.

I searched Jill's book for a split pea recipe and didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but under lentils, I found Indian Dal. At first glance, this was just a curried lentil soup but the addition of an apple intrigued me. If had been lemon like many recipes include, I might have passed the recipe by, but the apple surprised me. That's what an inspiring recipe should do. It was a selling point that made me want to try it.

I used yellow split peas instead of lentils, and instead of mustard seeds of fresh ginger, so I used the spice blend for a curried lentil soup in my book. Then I added an onion and some potatoes for Tom, and by that time I realized I'd changed just about everything in the soup but the apple.

Here's the recipe.

Yellow Split Pea Dal
(Serves 4 to 6)

1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon each: coriander, turmeric, cumin, chili powder
1/4 teaspoon each cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 medium red potatoes, diced
5 cups stock or water
1 1/2 cups yellow split peas
1 large apple, cored and cut into small dice
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro or parsley

1. Saute onions in oil on low until they become transparent. Blend in coriander, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne and cloves. Add potatoes and cook for about a minute before adding water, split peas and apple. Stir the pot.

2. Lock the lid on the pressure cooker and over high heat bring to pressure. Reduce heat to maintain pressure for 6 minutes. Allow pressure to come down naturally. Remove lid, tilting it away from you.

3. Stir well, add cilantro or parsley. Serve with an amazing crusty bread like this baguette from Tall Grass Bakery.

The only downside is this bread has such an amazing scent my Cooking Assistant no longer cares about the soup and wants a slice of bread pronto.


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