I didn’t learn to cook, or even really appreciate food, until I became vegan. Things were a little different back then and it seemed a bit harder than it does now, but I did live mere blocks away from a great heath food store that stocked all the weird things I suddenly needed, like nutritional yeast. (Golden Temple sadly closed its doors a couple of years after I went vegan and I was crushed.) I don’t come from a family of adventurous eaters, so it wasn’t until I began cooking that I ate a lot of things for the first time, including some things that are often vegetarian or vegan in nature. Believe me, going vegan made me a MUCH more prolific eater: for every single thing I stopped eating, I started eating ten new things. Which is why I have to laugh at the “what DO you eat?” question.
It may seem astonishing, but risotto is one of the things I don’t think I ever had until I learned how to cook it myself. And I remember making it the first time: standing in my basement kitchen, reading a printout from the internet – this was before laptops were (in my book) affordable so I actually used this “printer” device – stirring constantly, adding veggie stock in small doses. It took about 45 minutes of constant stirring. The result was delicious, but I lived alone and much as I liked my new hobby of cooking, it seemed a little labour-intensive just to feed myself. So although I thought risotto tasted great, it didn’t go into heavy rotation at Chez Renae.
Years later, I got a pressure cooker and, to learn how to use it, Lorna Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. There are a lot of great things I discovered about pressure cookers, many of them through that book, but one of the most important is that using a pressure cooker to make risotto is brilliant! I’m not kidding when I say that the risotto I made tonight was done in far too little time. I normally expect dinner to take me 20 to 30 minutes to prepare; actually, up to an hour. I’m really perfectly happy spending an hour making dinner, even on weeknights. But I’m often doing several other things at the same time: cleaning up, medicating the cat, doing other chores, while things are cooking. Risotto in a pressure cooker takes 5 minutes (with no stirring!) It throws my schedule out of whack! Tonight I needed to throw together a simple tossed salad and wash some dishes while dinner cooked and I barely had time to do either. If I hadn’t already had salad dressing made up, the risotto would have been waiting for me before I was even near ready for it.
This recipe is almost exactly Lorna Sass’s Risotto with Saffron and Seasonal Vegetables. I was going to pull it together without even looking at a recipe, because I wanted to use some of my farmer’s market bounty, but I needed to double check the ratio of rice to liquid, so I consulted the book and discovered what I planned to do was nearly exactly the same as the recipe in the book. Which is no surprise: I’ve made it several times before, and it’s good so I see no need to try to improve upon it. (Sass calls for 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked vegetables, any type. I’ve specified what I used, but know that anything will work.)
Too-Fast Vegetable Risotto
1/2 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups risotto-style rice
4 cups vegan stock or broth
large pinch saffron
1 small crown broccoli, chopped into florets
1/2 large zucchini, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup orange cherry tomatoes, halved
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
Prep all the veggies. Don’t wait until the risotto is cooking to do this – it goes too fast. Chop them before you begin.
Put some olive oil into the pressure cooker over medium high heat and add the onions, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in the rice.
Add the saffron and stock, then put the lid on and bring up to pressure.
Once it’s reached pressure, drop the heat to low or medium low and cook for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the veggies. I nuked the broccoli for 45 seconds, sauted the zucchini and bell pepper for 2 or 3 minutes, and stirred the tomatoes in after removing the skillet from the heat. You can really cook them however you desire.
Release the pressure in the pressure cooker via the “quick” method (i.e., run the cooker under cold water) and remove the lid.
Return the cooker to medium low heat. If it is still brothy, simmer for a few minutes until thickened (I have never needed to do this). When it’s the desired consistency, stir in the veggies and let them warm through, then stir in the lemon juice.
Here’s the salad I made; nearly all the ingredients were from the farmer’s market. I first tossed what I thought were two salad servings into a large bowl, then when a hungry Mark came prowling through the kitchen, offered him his salad as a first course before the risotto was ready. He pounced on the idea but took the entire salad! So I had to make a second one for myself. But I don’t complain about people wanting to eat salad.