Making whole grains and beans more convenient

instant pot barley

It took me awhile to get onboard the Instant Pot phenomenon. I just didn’t want another kitchen gadget taking up space. But the appeal of a simplified pressure cooker changed my mind. Quick and hassle-free preparation of grains and beans is a very attractive concept.

Old style pressure cookers require more manual control and attention. They’re heated on the stove top. They don’t have electronic controls. You have to pay attention to the pressure gauge and adjust temperature accordingly, as well as pay attention to time. With an Instant Pot (or other brand) of pressurized cooker, you simply add the ingredients, lock the lid and push a button or two.

If you’re into vegetarian or vegan cooking, this type of counter top appliance is a major time saver. Recipes that use whole grains or beans become a lot more appealing. Traditional stove top cooking of whole grains and beans can take hours. If you wanted to prepare a recipe with those ingredients, you’d need to prepare ahead, in the case of dried beans, a day ahead, what with soaking and rinsing and then hours of cooking. Who has time for that? Now if you want to prepare a meal that includes brown rice or barley, you can do it quickly.

How long to cook? In general, you use a 1:1 ratio of grains to water, but of course this can vary according to your preferences. You might prefer 1 cup of rice to 1-1/2 cups water. Denser grains like wheat berries need more water. And the ratios might vary according to your instant pot.

Here are some of the whole grains that would cook more quickly:

  • brown rice
  • barley
  • whole wheat berries
  • rye berries
  • black or red rice
  • millet
  • posolé
  • quinoa

Most of these appliances have a “Rice” setting, but that’s for white rice. I’d use a custom pressure cooking setting for any whole grains or beans. The User Manual or recipe brochure that comes with your cooker will (hopefully) have a chart with a list of the suggested water ratios and cooking times for common grains and beans.

If you’re planning ahead, beans will generally take from 25 – 40 minutes on high pressure, although lentils will take less time. Some recipes call for overnight soaking, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Again, refer to the equipment user manual. You can also find advice on the internet. As with all internet advice, take it with a figurative grain of salt.

Many Instant Pot recipes assume you’ll just throw everything into the pot at once — seasonings, other ingredients — and let ‘er rip. I haven’t been impressed with the results of sautéing/browning meat or vegetables in the instant pot, so I prefer to cook those separately on the stovetop and add to the grains or beans later. But you may like the convenience of having everything done in the same pot at the same time. This is definitely a personal preference.

The best recipe uses seem to be soups, stews, casseroles and roasts (if you eat meat). I’m amazed at all the dessert recipes. Cheesecake? Creme Brûlée? This would make sense for people with minimalist kitchens: few pots or baking dishes and missing one or more major appliances. Theoretically you could survive with just an Instant Pot and a refrigerator. I’m guessing you can’t make coffee in an instant pot cooker. But you can make yogurt. I have not tried that yet. I’m guessing many people will prefer to just buy yogurt at the grocery store, but it is a reasonable use of the equipment. It would make a good science activity for children who want to learn about food.

Take Away

If you’re cooking more at home (who isn’t?), and focusing more on plant-based meals, an Instant Pot can be a time saving addition to your kitchen tools. Keep in mind, a traditional slow cooker, such as a Crock Pot is different. To take advantage of the quick cooking times, you need the pressure cooker option. I’m not endorsing one particular brand. The Instant Pot term is now synonymous with the type of appliance, much the way “xerox” is used when you mean “copy” or “kleenex” equals “tissue”.

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