In today’s busy world, putting a healthy meal on the table in a matter of minutes is crucial to survival. Luckily, many people are rediscovering the pressure cooker as a vital option for preparing quick, easy meals. A pressure cooker cooks food around 250 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hotter than the boiling point (212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level). At this high pressure, liquid converts to steam, which cooks food three to 10 times faster! Very little moisture is lost, resulting in more intense flavors.

If you have a case of pressure cooker phobia, you can lay your fears to rest. Modern pressure cookers are very different that the old aluminum jiggle-top models. New models have safety features that release steam if the pressure gets too high, meaning no more blowing a hole through the ceiling. As long as instructions are followed, they are perfectly safe to use. Choose from stovetop cookers, which give you more heat control, or electric cookers, which have built-in timers and sensors to automatically adjust pressure as it cooks.

It’s important to note that pressure cookers are not pressure canners. While many pressure cooker manuals will have instructions on home canning, the USDA does not recommend using the pressure cooker as a pressure canner. Pressure cookers heat and cool too quickly and cannot be assured safety in canning low-acid foods.

While learning how to us a pressure cooker takes time, it saves you time in the end!

Mixed Vegetable Stew

3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

2 medium red potatoes, diced

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

1 cup peas, fresh or frozen

1 pound lima beans, shelled

½ pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half

2 teaspoons flour

1 cup chicken broth or vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic powder; sauté until onion is soft. Add the other vegetables and cook 2 minutes, continuously stirring. Sprinkle in the flour, salt and pepper; stir. Stir in the broth. Position the lid and lock in place. Raise the heat to high and bring to high pressure. Adjust heat (if using stovetop model) to stabilize the pressure and cook for four minutes. Remove from heat and lower pressure using the cold water-release method (if using stovetop model). Open the lid and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition facts (per serving): 390 calories, 12 grams fat, 430 milligrams sodium, 60 grams carbohydrate, 13 grams fiber, 14 grams protein

Source: University of Florida Extension

Smith, a registered dietitian, is a nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.