In the quiet of this first week back to schedules and normalcy, I got the chance to try out my newest kitchen implement (a Christmas gift from my MIL): a pressure cooker. It was my first time. I grew up seeing my grandma and mom use them, but I had never done it on my own; in fact, I’d never been allowed to touch one.
The story is told in my family about the time my grandma was making black-eyed peas in it and BOOM! She found bits of peas in far-flung places for months afterwards. She went on using it after figuring out the problem, but I’ve always thought of that as a cautionary tale and stayed away. But, in trying to cook healthier foods for my family — and to do it quickly — I kept coming across recipes using pressure cooking to keep nutrients in while fully cooking foods rapidly. Who can argue with that?
I received a Presto 6-quart stainless steel pressure cooker, with a handy manual and recipes. When I saw a recipe for sweet potatoes, I knew what my first foray into the world of pressure cooking would be: a sweet potato soup I had the day after Thanksgiving at the Homestead Heritage Festival. It’s a creamy, filling soup with just a hint of heat thanks to pickled jalapeños. However, the original recipe calls for a HALF CUP of butter (TWO STICKS!!!), a CUP of half-and-half, and way more salt than I thought necessary, plus it uses two pans, a Crockpot and a blender — people, my dishwasher is broken and the new one isn’t coming until next week — so I did some serious tinkering with the recipe. What you have below is my adaptation with optional pressure cooking instructions (you can easily make it without one).
I did have one mishap with the pressure cooker. After I took it off the heat, but before I cooled it, thus reducing the pressure, I removed the regulator. (If you are familiar with pressure cooking, you just cringed.) An Old-Faithful-style geyser of steam shot out of the top, and I grabbed my daughter and took cover in the living room. Once it stopped, I continued with cooling the pressure cooker, noting the PICTURE in the manual that shows the regulator clearly ON while doing so, and thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t scraping sweet potatoes off the ceiling. Needless to say, my daughter was immensely impressed with the whole process. And she liked the soup.
Sweet Potato-Jalapeño Soup
5 pounds sweet potatoes
1 small onion
4 slices turkey bacon, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 cups chicken broth
1/8 cup pickled jalapenos, drained and chopped1/2 cup cilantro, trimmed off stems and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup half-and-half
3/4 cup 2% milk
Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch rounds. Put in pot and cover with water (about 1 inch over top of sweet potatoes). Bring to a boil, then turn down to medium and cook until soft but not mushy (test with a fork), or cook in pressure cooker (see below).
While sweet potatoes are cooking, peel and chop onion and garlic. Melt butter over medium-low heat in the bottom of a Dutch oven or stock pot; add onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, stirring occasionally (if they begin to brown, turn the heat down). Add bacon and sauté 2 more minutes, then stir in spices.
Drain sweet potatoes and add to onion mixture. Mash up any big chunks, then add chicken broth and jalapeños. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring often – don’t let the bottom burn. Then turn the heat down to simmer. You can hold it here for a while if you’re not quite ready to serve, but once you add the half-and-half and milk, you don’t want to keep cooking it for a long time. (If you want a more homogenous soup, hit it with an immersion blender, but I like the texture.)
When ready to serve, stir in the half-and-half and milk, then let it heat on simmer for 5 more minutes. Sprinkle each bowl with chopped cilantro. Serves 6 as a main dish or 12 as a starter.
Pressure cooker instructions for sweet potatoes: Obviously, I’m no expert, but I followed my manual and suggest you follow yours, too. I had to slightly adapt the Presto recipe, which was for Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes. I took my 5 pounds of peeled, cut up potatoes and put them in the pressure cooker, then poured 1 2/3 cup of water over them. I closed the cover “securely” and placed the regulator on the vent pipe, then heated the whole over high heat on the stovetop until the regulator began rocking. I set a timer for 5 minutes, then turned the heat down a little to keep the regulator rocking “gently”, and had to turn it down one more time before the 5 minutes was up.
Meanwhile, I got a larger pot ready to be the cooling receptacle by putting cool water in it about 1/3 of the way up the sides — you want the pressure cooker to sit in water but not overflow the other pot. When the timer went off, I turned off the heat. This is when I removed the regulator — DO NOT DO THAT. Keep it on there, and using hot pads, place the pressure cooker into the larger pot of cool water. Leave it alone for about 5 minutes, then check to see if the air vent/cover lock is down. If it is, you’re assured a relative amount of safety when opening the lid. No, really, it should be fine. Your sweet potatoes will be cooked just right to go into the recipe above. Good luck!
Written by: Shannon Oelrich
Photo credit: Ed Yourdon