Chana dahl with spinach: feeling the pressure

Damn you, pressure cooker! What is wrong with you? Or is it me?

People rave about their pressure cookers and how they can’t live without them, which is why I accepted the invitation to review one recently.* I was curious and terrified. All that hissing and steaming and well, pressure. Scary. A few days passed and it sat unused on the hob. Eventually, rather than just looking at the damn thing, I plucked up the courage to try using it. The idea of the PC is to produce the results of slow cooking in a fraction of the time. The first dish that sprang to my mind was curry goat.

The meat usually takes a lot of long, slow simmering to tenderise and I wondered how much the PC could shave off the cooking time. After 45 minutes I had a peek inside. The meat was tender – falling apart, but there was way too much liquid. This really threw me, because I’d worked out quantities according to the advice in the instruction booklet, resisting the temptation to add more due to multiple warnings that one must NOT LET THE PRESSURE COOKER BOIL DRY. I then had to reduce the sauce for another 45 minutes without the lid on, which defeated the whole point. A very disheartening first attempt.

Next I decided to try cooking a big hunk of meat in there. A joint of lamb marinated in pomegranate molasses went in, with some liquid. It cooked well, and fast. It was falling apart after cooking for a shade past an hour but I missed the crusty outer bits I’d get from a roast. The recipe is a keeper (coming soon) but the method, nah.

By this point the PR are wondering when the hell they are going to get their review. I didn’t want to say I couldn’t work it out before I’d given the thing a proper go though so it was time to move on to something else: dahl. All the Indian cooks I know told me that the PC revolutionises your relationship with lentils. “Cook a dahl in 15 minutes! You’ll never look back!” Okay. I started off frying the onions in the base of the PC just as you would a normal saucepan then added garlic, chilli and ginger, the spices, tomatoes and an alarmingly small amount of stock. After checking guideline amounts about 10 times I bit the bullet and got on with it; 15 minutes later and we were oohing and ahhing around the hob – perfectly tender chana dahl. At last, the sweet taste of success. I could now cook 1 thing in a pressure cooker.

Or so I thought. Today I made the exact same recipe. I added the same amount of liquid, the same quantities of everything and cooked it for the same amount of time. When I opened the lid however, the chana remained uncooked. People, I am baffled.

I don’t want to give up because I can see the value but frustration is really setting in. I’m a competent cook for Pete’s sake. Strange forces are at work here. The PR are probably going to wish they’d never got their review now, but it’s not like I don’t want to love it, I do. A decent dahl in 15 minutes really is something I could get used to and I want to try cooking chickpeas in it, and stews. Seriously though, I need advice. What am I doing wrong?  How can the exact same recipe cook differently on 2 separate occasions? Readers, it’s over to you.

Chana dahl with spinach (this is the recipe which worked the first time and took ten minutes longer to cook the second time around. However long it takes, it is delicious).

300g chana dahl
500ml stock or water
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely sliced
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
10 curry leaves
4 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod
1 dried red chilli
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1 large bunch of spinach (a few large handfuls)

Groundnut oil, for frying

Lemon wedges and chapattis, to serve. I also like mine with natural yoghurt and red onion slices

Start by using the pressure cooker like a normal saucepan. Set it over a medium heat, lid off. Heat a few tablespoons of groundnut oil then fry the onions, stirring often until softened and beginning to colour. Add the garlic, chilli and ginger and cook for a minute more, stirring constantly. Add all the spices and curry leaves and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes and lentils, stir to combine, then add the stock and some salt. Turn off the heat.

Fit the lid onto the pressure cooker and ensure it is secure. Make sure the pressure regulator is turned to the (I) position. Turn on the heat and after a few minutes the visual pressure indicator should rise, followed by a gentle hiss sound, meaning that the required pressure level has been reached.

Reduce the heat by approximately a third. The steam should be gently hissing and the pressure indicator should remain up. Start timing now and cook for 15 minutes.

After this time, turn off the heat and move the pressure regulator gently to the steam release position.

Remove the lid and stir in the spinach until wilted. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve.

*The Prestige ‘This Morning’ range is available at Debenhams (yes, ‘This Morning’ the daytime TV show). RRP: £80. I was sent the pressure cooker for review and did not pay for it.

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