x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Adventures in cooking with a pressure cooker

I was the laughing stock of my family in India, the airport staff between the two countries and, ultimately, my cleaner in Abu Dhabi when I decided to purchase a pressure cooker.

I was the laughing stock of my family in India, the airport staff between the two countries and, ultimately, my cleaner in Abu Dhabi when I decided to purchase a pressure cooker.

The ubiquitous (and until recently, clumsy) piece of kitchen equipment is reminiscent of elderly aunts and studious housewives. It's praise lies quietly with these communities who will steam, boil, stew and even bake with precision using the pressure cooker that takes mere minutes. In India, where cooking with gas is expensive and there are rather large households to feed, the pressure cooker is the ultimate cooking gadget.

But for me to ask for it in India and explain that I would like to transport it with me to Abu Dhabi was met at first with incredulous laughter from my mother. She had abandoned her pressure cooker ways a long time ago, she said. She had moved onto a range of more efficient equipment that specialised in doing one thing really well. The pressure cooker, it seemed, was being phased out of Indian kitchens.

A quick look at Iron Chef America, however, and it is obvious that the pressure cooker is on the verge of a comeback. With an hour to spare, most chefs resort to the cooker on the show, whether to show off their skills of monitoring a potentially dangerous piece of equipment or to simply speed up cooking processes. I say dangerous because there are horror stories that surround the improper use of this machine, which uses steam to quickly reduce meat and grains to tenderness. If improperly sealed or if there is a lack of proper water levels, or even if left on the stove for too long, the entire contraption can blow up and cause serious damage to kitchen and man alike. And for a while, these stories overshadowed its usefulness.

Which is why, fraught with tension and correct measurements in hand, I bought my first, rather sleek-looking pressure cooker and transported it back to the UAE. At the New Delhi airport, the staff suppressed giggles when I told them to classify my baggage as "fragile" because there was a pressure cooker in there. Mostly made of stainless steel and created to endure the hardest of mishandling at cooking stations, it can hardly be termed breakable.

Back in Abu Dhabi, I unpacked it only to be disappointed that the handling instructions did not come with a cookbook. That was one of my favourite childhood memories - looking through a special Hawkins or Prestige manufacturer's cookbook and asking my aunties to make me bread pudding or other sought-after western delicacies that most Indian kitchens are still under-equipped to create.

Regardless, the first time I put lentils and rice together, I stood nervously behind the refrigerator hoping my kitchen wouldn't end up with flying bits of lentil stuck to the ceiling. By last week, confidence grew enough to add chicken to the mix. This week, I have enough chicken stew to feed an entire village. When handled right, a five-litre pressure cooker stands up to its promise.