Cheap and Chic Vegan Cuisine: Three Small Appliances to Save You Time and Money

OK, so – somewhere along the line, folks got the idea that vegan cooking is expensive. Of course, it can be – prepared frozen meals aren’t cheap, highly processed luncheon “meats” are more expensive than the cow-based original, and vegan cheese – well…we’ve talked about that. If, however, you base your meals on unprocessed “whole” foods, like legumes, grains, and greens (along with a variety of other in-season vegetables), you’ll get most of the nutrients you need in very inexpensive and delicious packages. Even better – with these basic meal building blocks made up ahead of time, you can come home and whip up a different meal every night of the week if you want to, with very little effort or extra expense. All it takes is just a little planning and you’re set. “But it will take so long! I’m too busy!” I can hear you out there. I know where you’re coming from. After a long day of baking, I don’t have much time to make supper, either! These three appliances will make it much easier – a pressure cooker, a slow cooker (crock pot), and a rice cooker. You don’t HAVE to have these items, but if you lead a busy life, they will pay for themselves in no time.

The Pressure Cooker

Pressure cookers scare people. That’s really too bad, because the new “second-generation” pressure cookers available now are very safe and easy to use. Even the old-fashioned ones with the “jiggler” on top are safe if used properly and carefully. I have three of these I have inherited. I love them and use them all the time. Both the old and new styles are available in kitchen supply shops and online.

If you have a pressure cooker, you can come home with no idea what to make for supper, and have a meal on the table in 30-45 minutes, even if you’re cooking garbanzo beans from scratch. The way that they work is by increasing the air pressure inside the pot. The seal allows the air pressure to rise, which allows the temperature of the liquid inside to go above the “normal” boiling point of water. This super-heated steam makes the food inside the pot cook more quickly.

I won’t go into the directions for using a pressure cooker here – there are several sites on the Web devoted to using them, and several really useful cookbooks on the market as well. As I’ve said before, these appliances are safe to use, but you need to follow a few basic safety rules. Be sure you have read up on your particular cooker before you use it. Check the bibliography at the end of this article for recommended reading.

The Slow Cooker (Crock Pot)
Slow cookers are almost the opposite of pressure cookers. They are designed to cook food very slowly and with little or no attention. The brilliant thing is, you can use a slow cooker to help you get your dinner on the table quickly. Just set everything up in the morning before you leave the house (or before you go to bed to have food ready in the morning) and the slow cooker does the rest for you.

Beans, (Lazy) Slow Cooker Style

From The Best Slow Cooker Cookbook Ever by Natalie Haughton

16 ounces packaged dried beans, rinsed and picked over
5 cups very hot tap water

1. In a 3 1/2-quart electric slow cooker, combine the beans and hot water.

2. Cover and cook on the high heat setting 3 to 4 hours (or on the low heat setting 5 to 7 hours), until the beans are tender but not falling apart.

3. Drain the beans into a colander and rinse with cold water. Drain well before using.

Whether your dried beans are white, black, red, or spotted, the slow cooker is the way to cook them effortlessly. Best of all, no presoaking is required. Cooking time will vary depending upon the size of the bean, how long it’s been stored, and even where the bean was originally grown; so it’s a good idea to begin checking after 3 hours on high or 5 hours on low. Store the cooked beans in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days. You can throw the beans into soups or stews, refry them, toss them with pasta, try them in salads, or use them in any recipe that calls for cooked or canned beans.

MAKES 6 TO 8 SERVINGS (6 TO 7 CUPS)

Lisa’s Note: If you can plan ahead enough to soak your beans overnight, use cold water, and, after soaking, drain the soaking water off, then proceed with the recipe. Your beans will be more digestible and socially acceptable. Some of the oligosaccharides (those difficult-to-digest sugars in beans that cause gas and cramping) will be rinsed off that way. If you want to know more about the science behind this, go to http://www.discovery.com/area/skinnyon/skinnyon970815/skinnyon.html

Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Miss Vickie’s Pressure Cooker Recipes, Tips, and Information is not vegetarian, but it give you some great basic info on pressure cookers.
http://missvickie.com/index.html

This primer from the Fabulous Foods folks on cooking beans in the pressure cooker is the best I’ve seen, and the time charts look pretty accurate.
http://www.fabulousfoods.com/school/cstools/pressurecooker/beans.html

This guide from the folks at Amazon tells you why you might want to consider a new stainless steel “second-generation” pressure cooker. They offer several (expensive) models. (Shop around – you can find better deals.)
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/guides/guide-display/-/23NQ645EFN9FS/ref%3Dcm%5Fbg%5Fguides/102-0075506-8067372