I started preparing food for myself when I was about ten years old (nearly three decades ago) and soon there after began my lifelong interest in balancing healthy, humanitarian and ecological considerations while satisfying my big foodie naf’s cravings. In my teens I became vegetarian which initially meant eating a lot of grilled cheese, but ultimately opened up my repertoire of cooking skills to familiarity with a dearth of exotic-to-the-1980s-suburban-USA ingredients and an ability to cook an international smorgasbord of menus. In my early twenties I became much more aware of the contents of our food and kitchen wears on a micro level. I began eating more organic and less processed foods, as well as avoiding plastics, Teflon and other carcinogenic-producing kitchen items and later play things for my young children. Since having been Muslim for 15 or so years I have wrangled with issues related to halal and humane slaughter. But in all the years I have been trying to live green in my kitchen, one area I grossly neglected was my direct use of fossil fuels in my actual cooking.
While I may be sure to only run a full load in the washing machine and to switch off any unused lights or electrical gadgets, I had never once considered the larger impact of my gourmand activities, such as daily baking single loaves of multi-grain bread or low-temperature roasting a sheet of granola for a couple of hours in the oven. I was also a frequent participant in the convenience of over-night slow cooking. Electricity and gas–unlike organic, fair trade or even halal–were never considered luxurious by me. No matter how high they were, we managed to pay the utility bills- alhumdiAllah. I never considered the greater impact of the amount of fossil fuels I was using while maximizing my family’s nutritional intake, that is, until I came to Morocco, where cooking gas is not directly piped into homes, rather you must pick-it up from the corner store when your tank runs dry and this helps everyone to be very conscious of how much gas or electricity they are using every time they cook. Surely economics is a major factor for how most people use their kitchen fuel here in Morocco, but ecology is as an equally important factor to consider and the one that ultimately led me to embrace a kitchen gadget used daily the world over, but seen as archaic or a specialty item in the US—the pressure cooker.
Fear was my first reaction to seeing a pressure cooker up close and spitting steam. An innocuous enough looking pot with a lid, that does make a bit of a “thut, thut, thut” noise as it gets worked up, surely it was only a matter of time before it would someday explode! Though I didn’t even have a vague idea of how they work, I know that my grand mother’s generation used them, especially for canning, and that pressure cooking accidents were vile and maybe frequent, or maybe not. Actually, the “dangers of pressure cooking” was the only thing I thought about pressure cooking and, of course—considering they are used daily the world over—the dangers are greatly exaggerated. Modern “second” and “third generation” cookers have mastered safety features. Most pressure cooker accidents previously occurred when they were opened too soon, before the pressure inside had been released, this is impossible to do with many current models.
Nowadays I cook for a family of ten and my second goal in the kitchen, right behind maximizing nutritional content, is getting out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. While the ecological benefits of pressure cooking are great, I fully admit it’s the reduction in cooking time—up to 70% less time—that made me a regular pressure cook. I cook beans a few times a week and often used to do so overnight or throughout the day in a crockpot, but now I can have them done in less than half an hour or even just 15 minutes for lentils and small legumes. Meats that I would have had to marinate overnight or slow stew for tenderness also come out, in less than half an hour, soft enough to cut with a spoon! And though I didn’t know it when I started using mine, pressure cookers actually help maintain the nutritional content of foods since less of the vitamins or minerals are lost to steam or boiled out in water.
Aside from the residual and unnecessary fear that folks may have about pressure cookers, really the only disadvantage I can think of is the price. They do cost more than a plain ole lidded pot, especially the stainless steel ones which I prefer over the aluminum, but like a food processor or other medium to large ticket time-saving kitchen gadget a pressure cooker is a worthy investment for any growing family or budding gourmet. The cooking itself is quite easy to learn and if you can’t get a sage pressure cook to guide you there are many cookbooks and resources online, including video tutorials. In the course of writing this article I have discovered that there are ways to prepare more than one dish in the cooker at the same time and I am excitedly off to go try that tonight—happy, quick and green cooking to all!
This article originally appeared in the premiere issue of Sakyna Magazine (Winter 1433)- “a quarterly collaborative magazine centered on mindful Islamic natural living, nurturing, and crafting through the seasons.” Insha Allah I’ll have another Retro Green Kitchen article in the upcoming Spring issue. Check it out, it’s a lovely and inspiring publication, masha Allah.