Arguably our best kitchen equipment on the road: a pressure cooker (find ours here).
We didn’t leave the Netherlands with one. In fact, I had hardly heard of a pressure cooker, didn’t know anybody who cooked with one and, obviously, I had never used one myself. Our cooking gear on the road consisted of:
- 1 frying pan with lid bought for 4 euros at a dump store.
- 2 aluminum pans and 1 lid, which forty years ago my parents took on a camping trip.
That set of pans did all they needed to they: provide us with good meals.
In Turkey we met Irene and Pierre, who were overlanding with their 3-year old son Tobias. We met again in Iran, Pakistan and India. In Pakistan Coen saw Irene’s pressure cooker: a Hawkins Futura and took an interest. We had just returned from the mountains where we had had a hard time getting our potatoes cooked due to the altitude. Irene explained how the pressure cooker solves this: you can cook anything in little time at any altitude.
Coen was intrigued, meaning: he wanted one.
By the time we arrived in north India (Himalaya Mountains) Coen had convinced me to experiment with a pressure cooker. At a market we bought a 3-euro aluminum pressure cooker, the cheapest to be had.
The Pressure Cooker Test
A new world of cooking opened up to us. Not only was altitude a hindrance, we quickly learned that the pressure cooker provided us with the easiest and quickest way of preparing a meal:
We filled the pressure cooker with rice, veggies and spices (and/or maybe a can of tuna if we had it) with a cup of water.
- Brought it to a boil.
- Lower the flame and let it simmer/boil 3-5 minutes (depending on kind of rice).
- Turn off the heat.
- Let it sit for another 5 or 10 minutes (again, depending on kind of rice).
Voila. Our meal was ready.
Other advantages, apart from the fact that altitude no longer mattered:
- Compare 1.5 cups of water we use in a pressure cooker compared to how much water you normally need to cook rice.
- Compare a maximum of 10 minutes of burning fuel (a couple of minutes to bring the cooker to full steam + 3-5 minutes of actual boiling on a low flame) compared to having to cook rice + veggies.
- Compare the little bit of water you need for washing 1 pan compared to at least 2 (one for rice, one for veggies).
- For this particular rice & veggie dish, saving time isn’t a particular issue, but it is with other dishes (more on this below).
A Quality Pressure Cooker
I was sold. We were going to add a pressure cooker to our kitchen equipment.
The 3-euro version obviously didn’t last long. I think it took about 2 weeks before that part on top of the lid broke off. It was the weakest point of the pan, and this also makes the cooker a nuisance in terms of space in your vehicle as you can’t stack anything on top of it.
In India and Pakistan, you can find the replacement parts for these cheap pressure cookers in just about any shop, but leave it to Coen to find a more reliable solution: A Futura Pressure Cooker (find here), just like Irene had had. They emailed back and forth and to our surprise we learned she had actually bought it in India.
It took until the major city of Chennai until we could buy one, as this 40-euro or so version isn’t available on the average market in the rural areas. It is a fancy pan:
- It is made of hard anodized aluminum, which makes it strong + no taste of aluminum in your food.
- Lifetime guarantee.
- No pressure regulating system on top of the lid, but an integrated system with a fingertip pressure release.
Nifty detail: The Futura is the only pressure cooker in the world to have been displayed by The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In case you don’t know why a pressure cooker works as it does, this is how it is explained in the manual:
“Ordinary open-pot cooking is done at the boiling point of water which produces steam at sea level at 100°C (212°F). Pressure cooking works by sealing the steam in a pot so that there is a rise in pressure to a safe, controlled extent which raises the boiling point of water and therefore the cooking temperature. The steam permeates through the food, tenderising it, infusing it with flavour, preserving nutrients, colour, texture and juices and cooking much faster. The Futura Pressure Cooker cooks food at 121°C (250°F) at a pressure of 15 lb per square inch (1 kg per square cm).”
Today, some 8 years later, we still use it on a regular basis. We replaced the rubber seal on the lid once, as well as 1 safety valve after Coen unsuccessfully tried to bake (a too-large-sized) bread in the pressure cooker, which blew up the safety valve.
Truth be told, I really don’t understand why a pressure cooker isn’t used in each and every household (apart from overlanders, I mean just in every single kitchen). It saves water, fuel and cooking time. What’s there not to like about it?
Taste & Nutrients
There’s more than saving water, fuel and cooking time:
- Because you cook the food so shortly and with so little water, you keep the maximum of nutrients.
- For the same reasons, the taste of especially veggies is much better than when cooking them the regular way.
The latter we discovered one day when we were low on supplies and decided to fix a tuna salad, and boil potatoes & carrots in the pressure cooker (small dices of potatoes, bigger chunks of carrots, ½ cup of water, 1 or maximum 2 minutes of steaming). How simple can a meal be: boiled potatoes & carrots, and tuna salad? Let me tell you, it’s still one of our favorite dishes. The potatoes and carrots have a superb taste that normally disappears in all that water you boil them in.
Of course this works not just for carrots or (sweet) potatoes. In fact what the pressure cooker does, is steaming them, instead of boiling (the cooker comes with a grid for this purpose). So nowadays we steam our broccoli, green beans, cauliflower (all need about half a minute), you name it. We add a bit of olive oil and salt or another herb/spice and we have the most delicious veggies you can imagine.
The time-saving issue really hasn’t been relevant until a couple of months ago when we seriously started eating a more plant-based diet. Cutting meat and dairy meant we needed to get our protein in another way: beans were the solution. Easy to buy everywhere and they have a long shelf life, which is perfect for on the road.
Nowadays, our Land Cruiser’s pantry has a stock of quinoa, different kind of beans, and lentils.
As I never cooked beans and lentils in my life before, I don’t know how long you need to cook them, but I’ve read recipes where they talk about 1 or 2 hours, or even longer. Maybe it is shorter when you soak them, I have no idea. Here’s how long I cook them:
- Quinoa takes only 2 minutes of boiling (no soaking needed) + 8 minutes of natural cooling (meaning: taking the pan off the flame and let it stand for 8 minutes).
- Lentils take only 2.5 minutes (no soaking needed) + natural cooling.
- Beans depend very much on what kind of beans. I soak them and then cook them varying from 6 minutes (black-eyed beans, pinto beans, white & black beans) to 11 minutes for kidney beans and 18 minutes for garbanzo beans. + Natural cooling.
Enjoy and have many great, nutritious meals on your overland journey!