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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Instant Pot Tofu Pumpkin Curry

There are few recipes I consider "difficult," but many I consider "time consuming." This recipe is one of the latter. It's perfect for a cold winter night, and I've been looking forward to making it ever since my pumpkin plants sprang up enough pumpkins to make Saruman's hoard look puny. However because it's time consuming, I haven't done it. Ingredients have sat in my fridge for weeks. I've had to buy new mushrooms three times after realizing the first and second boxes were going to get slimy before I had time to make this. (No mushrooms were slimed in the making of this dish; the former ones were eaten elsewhere.) Since it entails cooking a whole pumpkin, the pumpkin either needs to be peeled and cut before being roasted (and what a pain that is) or roasted whole (an hour), left to cool (another hour+), and then peeled and cut (who knows, more time I don't have). Enter the Instant Pot. I got one for Christmas. This multi-cooker promises all that and a bag of chips, so this recipe seemed perfect to test out numerous functions it offers. This post, thus, is both a recipe for vegetarian curry, and also an Instant Pot review. If you've already got an Instant Pot and know how it works, feel free to skip straight to the bottom for the recipe. Also I'm going to start abbreviating Instant Pot as IP, as writing it out gets tedious and I'm lazy.

My Instant Pot. "On" means heating.

The first thing was to perform the manufacturer's recommended "cleaning" - to use the steam function for two minutes. The pot comes with a trivet you can use to elevate food above added water, thus eliminating the need for steamer baskets that don't fit any of your regular pots properly and make the lids sit on awkwardly with the potential to fall off and land on your foot or the dog. So +1 IP for being able to close the lid over the basket! The steam function itself entails cooking at highest temperature and pressure. There are two parts to the steam cycle: the pressurizing phase, and the cooking phase. The former is what boils the water and seals the lid - this takes about five minutes. The second hopefully needs no explanation. So all I had to do was put the trivet in the pot, pour in some water, plop the lid on and lock it in place (it makes a funny beeping noise when you lock and unlock the lid which might result in my referring to it as R2D2 in the future), and flip the vent to closed before hitting the steam button and decreasing cook time to 2 minutes. I guarantee you spent more time reading this paragraph than it took me to do all that. Anyway, voila, it did its thing as expected. When it was done, it switched itself to "warm" mode, which is also the "off" button. So I turned it off, flicked the vent open to unseal the lid, and inadvertently but much to my delight, turned the IP into a humidifier.

After reassuring the actual humidifier that it wasn't being replaced, I popped the pumpkin into the pot, put the lid back on, closed the vent, hit steam, changed the cook time to 10 minutes and the pressure to low. It was one of my bigger pie pumpkins, probably close to 4 lbs. I had to cut it into rough thirds for it to fit in the pot with the trivet. After the cooking cycle was done, I quickly flipped open the vent as failing to do so would leave the pumpkin sitting in steam for additional time, and I want pumpkin chunks, not puree.  Even in large pieces, the pumpkin was just about perfectly cooked. The pumpkin still needed to cool before I could peel and chop it, so I went back to work after taking the insert out of the pot, and later returned to tackle the rest. It was cool enough within an hour.

Perfectly cooked pumpkin.


Next up: saute mode for the tofu. Saute mode is for browning and stir frying with the lid off. It definitely gets hot! I turned it to high-temperature saute (or "more"), put a generous amount of oil in the insert as it's metal and not nonstick, and waited for the screen to read "hot," indicating it had reached proper temperature. I plunked the tofu into the pot and waited. The IP does not saute faster than the stove top, but at least it may save a dish from needing to be washed, right? Well, maybe. If you were browning a really fatty cut of meat or used a really gross amount of cooking oil, this might have worked well. However not only was my uncomfortably generous 1/4 cup-ish of oil not enough to prevent the tofu from sticking, but the tall shape of the pot did not allow my spatula much leverage to get under it and lift. I ended up emptying the tofu into a frying pan and putting the IP in the sink full of hot water and dish soap.

Tofu disaster :(

Thankfully I got the IP soaking quickly enough, or else it's just good at being cleaned despite being all metal, as the stuck tofu came off pretty easily. At this point I was loath to use saute mode on the veggies but figured I'd better try if only for posterity. Fortunately it did just fine. I used the "normal" saute mode on onions and mushrooms, and this was borderline too hot, but it did ok - with Constant Vigilance!!! I think in the future though I'll use low (or "less") setting for veggies. After digging the onions and mushrooms out of the pot, I did switch saute mode to "less" and put a can of coconut milk and a quarter cup of this yellow curry paste I got from a local Asian market in the IP to let it melt together.

The curry paste I used

Finally, it was time to throw everything in the pot. I chose "soup" mode to cook the curry, as this is the mode that "doesn't bring liquid to full boil" and is for "keeping food intact." Back in the IP went the onion, mushrooms and tofu, as well as a bag of frozen peas and a few diced red potatoes. To make up some liquid volume I added another half can of coconut milk and a bit of broth, the latter of which I don't think I needed in hindsight. Also a TBS of curry powder for a bit more flavor without a lot more spice. I took a guess and set soup mode to "less" (which turned out to be an automatic 20 minutes of cook time rather than 30), and changed the pressure to low. I wouldn't have cooked it much more than 20 minutes in a regular pot, so this seemed appropriate. Sure enough, this was more than sufficient. Everything was hot and cooked through, the potatoes almost too much so.

Last step, mixing in the pumpkin. This time I decided to try......... the *manual* setting! (Surely not the manual setting?!) Yes, the manual setting, and don't call me Shirley. (Or Cindy.) All I needed to do here was heat up the pumpkin so I put it on low pressure with a cook time of 2 minutes, and I left the vent open. So probably my pressure setting made no difference. Everything was extremely hot by the end.

Ta da! Delicious curry that I suck at taking pictures of!

Conclusion
Is the IP very good at some things? Yes. Does it replace stove top cooking? No. Does it cook everything faster? No. Does it cook some things faster? Yes. Does it mean you can be a totally spaced out zombie and walk away from things that are steaming/bubbling/slow cooking without fiddling with flames or wondering whether you need to stir them? YES!!

Overall I think if you can find IP on sale, it's a good buy, especially if your cupboards are overflowing with separate slow cookers, pressure cookers, steamers, rice cookers, and/or yogurt makers. Or if you don't already have any of those things. Personally I'll be relegating at least one slow cooker and one pressure cooker to basement storage to free up some space in my kitchen, but this thing does have limits, and is not going to be a replacement for many of my existing cooking techniques. A day may come when I will forsake my oven and try baking in it, but it is not this day. This day I was hungry.

Consolidated Recipe: Tofu Pumpkin Curry
Ingredients:
1 whole pumpkin, quartered
1 lb extra firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and cubed
1 large yellow onion, diced
12 oz portabella mushrooms, sliced
3 red potatoes, diced
8 oz frozen peas
4 TBS yellow curry paste (or try red, up to you)
1.5 to 2 cans coconut milk, to taste
Curry powder, to taste
Salt and pepper
Cooked rice, for serving

Directions:
Steam the pumpkin for 10 minutes in the Instant Pot. Remove promptly and allow to cool before de-seeding, peeling and chopping into bite-sized chunks.
Saute the tofu in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat until the sides are getting brown and crispy. About half way through, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, carefully saute the onion, then the mushrooms in the Instant Pot over normal heat. Scoop out the onion before adding the mushrooms.
Change saute mode to low heat and add curry paste and the coconut cream from one can of coconut milk. Allow these to melt together, and stir to coat the mushrooms. Add the onion and tofu back to the pot along with potato, peas, and the rest of the coconut milk. You can add half of the second can, stir and taste, and add more as you like. Add curry powder if you like.
When everything is mixed, cover and set Instant Pot to soup mode on low pressure, less heat. While it does its thing you can make rice on the stove top, or rice cooker, or second instant pot. Or you can skip the rice and serve this with naan.
Once the Instant Pot is done, vent, remove lid, and add pumpkin. Replace lid, leaving vent open, and set manual cook mode to low temp/pressure for 2 minutes. Stir and serve with rice.

I made up this recipe as I went along. It turned out really good. I might replace the pumpkin with mangoes if I had less pumpkin and more mangoes. It also made a LOT, so now I don't have to cook again for a while!