Under Pressure

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I have already written about indulgences.

By definition indulgences are unnecessary. Food is a necessity. But fancy-schmancy olive oil pressed with lemons certainly is not.

Poofy purebred cats cannot be claimed to be necessary. So buying one of those can fairly be called an indulgence.

Vacations too are not part of the survival equation. They are first world luxuries. So they too are indulgences.

But sometimes spending money is not indulgent. Sometimes it’s just plain smart.

Sometimes we spend money to save money.

And in such instances we can fairly call such a purchase a frugal investment.

Not to be too expansive about it, but this type of purchase is not something that I tell you about because I think it is worth it based on my own personal happiness equation.

I’m being a little bit more heavy-handed here.  I’m saying you should buy one too.

The most obvious example of a frugal investment is a bicycle.

Mr. Money Mustache has written beautifully on the subject.

Owning a bike directly leads to you exercising more, polluting less, driving less, spending less, and generally accumulating more happiness.

But I’m not going to write about bikes. That subject has been well covered, and besides I lack the credibility to speak to it.

No, for my first frugal investment I choose to present: the pressure cooker.

The pressure cooker is not that cool at first glance. My first impression of pressure cooking was something along the lines of a low-tech microwave. It was something used to save time, at the expense of flavor.

But pressure cookers are much cooler than microwaves. For one thing, delicious food comes from them, and for another they are charmingly low-tech.

They elegantly take advantage of the very simple fact that water’s boiling point is dependent on air pressure.

(This is why boiling pasta at altitude takes so long. The water boils at a lower temperature due to the lower atmospheric pressure.)

A pressure cooker then is a simple container used to boil water at high-pressure. As water heats, its molecules escape from liquid to gasseous form and fill the container, adding to the pressure in the air above the water and below the lid. This in turn raises the water’s boiling temperature. (Don’t worry, there is also a safety valve to prevent the whole thing from exploding.)

This hotter boiling water is then able to transmit its energy quicker to items cooking within it.

Which has a lot of really interesting implications.

  • It takes less time to cook something.
  • It takes less energy to cook something. (I.e. it is much more efficient.)
  • Less energy used means less money used to cook something.
  • Since cooking from homemade ingredients takes less time, we are less likely to have reservations about cooking at home.
  • Cooking whole foods is quite a bit easier with a pressure cooker.
  • Eating whole foods is healthier than eating processed foods.
  • So investing in a pressure cooker is both cheaper, and better for your health, and better for the environment than not investing in a pressure cooker.

And one final point is that a good pressure cooker is simply a well constructed pot with the fancy lid on it. So it is a terrific multi-tasker. You can conventionally cook soups and sauces in the pot, you can boil water for pasta, you can deep fry things within it. The possibilities are endless.


But wait!  There’s more…

I would even say that if I had to buy one cooking utensil to start a kitchen with (aside from a sharp knife,) it would be a large well-made pressure cooker.

It pays for itself, it’s conducive to healthy eating, and most importantly delicious food comes out of it without much hassle.

I think the best example of the power of a pressure cooker is cooking beans.

As you probably know beans are one of the most healthful foods around. They’re packed with fiber, they’re deeply satisfying, they’re delicious, and they are cheap, cheap, cheap.

Cooked traditionally they are also an explosive pain in the butt to make.  (pun intended.)

The classic recipe is something along the lines of this:

  1. Submerge a few cups of beans in several cups of water on the day before you want to eat beans.
  2. Soak overnight.
  3. The following day cook in unseasoned water for several hours on low heat while periodically skimming scum off of the top of the water.
  4. When beans are almost soft add flavorings such as salt and aromatics to the liquid to flavor the beans and cook for another hour or two.

As much as I love slow, I don’t love planning for a simple dinner at breakfast the day before I’m going to eat it. Which is why I never used to eat beans except for from the can.

But with the pressure cooker I can have a pot of perfectly cooked beans about 30 minutes after deciding I want to eat them.

The whole process goes something like this:

  1. Submerge dried beans in water and cook on high pressure for about 10 minutes.
  2. Release pressure and drain the beans.
  3. Submerge partially cooked beans in a flavorful liquid. (This can be stock, or tomatoes, or herbed and salted water,)
  4. Cook for 15 minutes at high pressure.
  5. Release pressure and eat.

And these beans will be so much better than anything you’ll ever eat out of the can. There is a nice textural contrast between the taught skin and the buttery soft inside. The flavor is clean yet earthy. They are toothsome and wholesome and delicious.

And the whole pot of them probably costs about $.75 plus $.05 worth of energy.

And pressure cookers of course do more than just cook beans.

A pot of stew, or curry, or chili can be dished out in 35 minutes cooking time.

Whole grains like brown rice and farro can be cooked in a snap.

You can rapidly steam vegetables in almost no time.

And while a good pressure cooker is not necessarily cheap, it is absolutely a bargain.

What is your favorite frugal investment?  Please share below…

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8 Responses to “Under Pressure”

  1. G-dog June 27, 2014 at 5:19 am #

    I wonder if the pressure helps ‘force’ the flavor into the beans?
    Pressure cookers are old school tools, but are getting attention again in the last few years by chefs and foodies.
    My mom was an old school cook and would use the pressure cooker for soup, and maybe some jams.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 27, 2014 at 9:37 am #


      I don’t think pressure cooker beans taste better than slow cooked beans (only canned beans). They are just much easier and much less energy consuming.


  2. Robert June 27, 2014 at 8:57 am #

    I have one but rarely use it. I probably need to systematically explore its capabilities but haven’t. I got it to do beans but then found that you have to way underfill the pot or else the foam generated becomes a problem, coming out the pressure relief valve (which, according to instructions, risks compromising the pressure relief function, which is obviously not a good thing). We use a slow cooker now for beans, but yes, we have to plan well in advance. But we do big batches and then freeze them in zipper freezer bags with about 1 can’s worth in each bag. We can then use them whenever a recipe calls for a can of beans. We have a chest freezer in the garage so have room for a lot of frozen stuff like this (chard from our garden too).
    What do you do to keep beans from foaming, Alexi?

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 27, 2014 at 9:42 am #

      2 adjustments:

      1. More cooking liquid, (what I do.)


      2. Some recommend adding a Tb of oil to the cooking liquid.

      It’s time to dig that pressure cooker out Robert. So much more efficient (and cheaper) than slow cooking, and importantly for you (Apropos yesterday’s comments): near instant gratification.

    • Hamster June 27, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

      I pressure cook beans a lot. I generally use 1 cup dried beans to 4 cups water. As long as you keep the top of the water below 1/2 the depth of the pressure cooker, you should be fine. Adding oil as mentioned also helps.

      Mung dal (split mung beans) tends to get fairly foamy, but even with that I don’t have problems with the method above. If you are worried, try boiling it without the lid on, then spooning off the foam, then putting the lid on to bring it to pressure.

      • Robert June 28, 2014 at 5:15 am #

        The latter’s a good idea. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Serdar June 28, 2014 at 5:17 am #

    Pressure cooker is very common in europe. You have so many too choose from. Here in U.S, i rarely see them in stores. I searched for a high end pressure cooker made for stove, but could not find it anywhere. They only have the electric ones. I just did not want to use up my counter space so i did not buy it. I went for $10 ( christmas sale) pressure cooker from Macy’s. It is the kind that my mother used when i was a kid. It is not fancy, but it works!! It paid for itself on the first week. Better investment than stocks!

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 29, 2014 at 10:39 pm #


      Nice score on the 10 dollar pressure cooker! Talk about a value play. Better than stocks indeed.


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