I’m a kitchen-gadget kind of guy.
That’s not an accurate statement. Let me try again. I view cooking gizmos the way the Department of Defense views weapons: If someone out there is making them, I’d like to own them, regardless of how useful they end up being or how much they cost. Sometimes, my appetite for machinery leads to disaster; in retrospect, I should’ve known there was really no need for that second ice-cream machine, purchased solely because of the gnawing fear that there may come a time when I would need to make more than three pints of homemade raspberry-harissa sorbet. (Reader: I never did.) Sometimes, I’m rewarded with perfectly useful tools, which is why I can now sear lamb in the cozy comfort of my Manhattan apartment with my nifty smokeless grill. And sometimes my gluttony leads to sheer transcendence, or, as they call it in French, sous vide. But if I had to choose only one, one device to have and to hold from this day forward, I’ve no question that I would choose the Instant Pot.
Have you heard of it? It is to cooking what Melissa McCarthy is to Sean Spicer, a more cheerful and relaxed alternative that leaves you feeling happy instead of spent. It does seven different things, and it does them all exceedingly well: It’s a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a yogurt maker, a steamer, a hot plate, and a sauté-er. It’s that first function that counts the most, though, because it means tasks that previously took forever and made a dreadful mess can now be done in minutes with nothing but one easily removable inner pot to rinse. If you’ve ever cursed the Creator while constantly stirring your risotto, for example, you’d be happy to know that you may now toss the same ingredients into your Instant Pot, punch a button, enjoy a chilled glass of Sancerre, and return nine minutes later to perfection.
You’ve still a week to go before the Seder; won’t you, too, emerge from bondage to freedom and treat yourself to one? You should. For one thing, it’s a cinch to keep the device kosher for Passover—just spend another $34 on a spare inner pot and voilà, no need to put the entire appliance away in exile for the chag.
But even more profoundly, you should get an Instant Pot because, at its core, it plays with the same operating principle that has guided Jews for millennia: Respect your tradition but never stop tinkering with it. Unlike sous vide, say, which is a method for cooking vacuum-sealed food in temperature-controlled water baths for long periods of time, the Instant Pot isn’t a high-end piece of laboratory equipment retrofitted for home use. It’s simply an improved—and far safer—version of the same old stovetop pressure cooker my grandmother once used to make her stews. And it requires none of the scientific know-how that some of the newfangled thingamajums currently collecting dust on my shelves will require before they can be successfully operated. Like America, the Instant Pot invites all who are willing to adhere to its basic tenets to come and receive its bounties. And it is good for the cuisines of all cultures, a literal melting pot for our time, Bluetooth-enabled if you spring for the fancier version.
This Pesach will be my first with the Instant Pot. I bought it last summer, on the sage advice of Bethany Mandel, and ordered a second one just this week (apparently, the ice-cream maker debacle taught me little). With my twin pots on the countertop, I plan on engaging with tradition just like you should on Pesach, by finding new ways to do the same things you do each and every year.
Like eggs: The Seder plate staple is nobody’s idea of a showstopper, but mainly because most of us have abandoned hope and settled for the yellowish-grey crumbly disgrace most of us erroneously call yolk. A real yolk, of course, is creamy, orange, and oozy, and a seven-minute romp in the Instant Pot can get it precisely where it needs to be. The same can be said for the brisket, a notoriously tough cut of meat that requires hours in the oven to grow tender and delicious; the Instant Pot does the same job in 50 minutes. And because this Leibovitz is, for one night a year, an honorary Sephardic Jew with all the rice-eating privileges that apply, some sticky rice will nicely soak up the main course’s sauce. It also takes a cool 12 minutes to cook.
These, however, are the old traditions reimagined, the same foods I serve every Pesach refashioned by technology. But with a great gadget comes great responsibility, and so I set out to create a new tradition, a great and good dish tailor-made for the Instant Pot and perfect for Pesach. I found inspiration in Rosh Hashanah, in a special dish Tunisian Jews prepare for that holiday that works just as well for the one coming right up. It’s called Pkaila (recipe here), and it’s an utter delight by itself and even better when served over rice of quinoa. (Its traditional accompaniment, couscous, is sadly out of bounds for Passover.) I hope you enjoy it, and that the door you open for Elijah also lets in the Amazon delivery guy with a big box of kitchen gizmo liberation.
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Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.
Courtesy of Vera and Mike over at the terrific 196 Flavors, and presented here with slight adaptation.
The heart of this beef stew is the spinach confit, which should be cooked almost to the point of being burnt but not quite. Traditionally, this is done by cooking the spinach for hours until it turns black. Thankfully, there’s an easier way: Roughly chop up 2 lbs. of spinach. Place in large, microwave-safe bowl. Add two good glugs of olive oil, about four tablespoons’ worth. Cook in the microwave for 15 minutes. Repeat three times, stirring a bit in between each turn. Then, finely chop the spinach in a food processor or a blender, and transfer to a glass jar. Top with olive oil, and stick it in the fridge, where it’ll keep for months.
1 lb. Great Northern beans
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
2 lbs. beef shank
1 tablespoon harissa
1 bunch mint, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1. Drain the spinach to extract the oil. Pour the oil into the Instant Pot and turn on the sauté function. When hot, sauté the garlic, onion, harissa, and beef for a few minutes. Then add the beans, spinach, salt, pepper and cover with cold tap water.
2. Set Instant Pot on high pressure, and cook for 75 minutes.
3. Quickly release pressure. Add mint and cilantro. Turn sauté function back on, and cook for another five minutes, stirring frequently. Serve over quinoa or rice, or by itself.