Sneaky Whole Grains – with pressure cooker accomplice!

Whole grains are, as the name implies – wheat, rice, or corn grains with their protein, fiber, and vitamin-rich coating un-removed or processed. They are often rich in soluble fiber, vitamins and minerals.

For the longest time, I was convinced that whole grains would taste as “bad” as brown rice – which has too much of an earthy and decisive a flavor for a pasta and white rice palette wanting to seek her teeth into something less refined for the first time.

Another drawback was that whole grains can take up to four times longer to cook than your average 7-minute pasta and 10 minute white rice. So when you’re in a hurry to get dinner on the table, whole grains quickly begin to look like a less attractive option.

With a magic pan and a couple great recipes I’ve been able to sneak them in my family’s diet – and so can you!

Add a little magic to your cooking!
Enter the pressure cooker – a magical pan that can claim to be fast, healthy, and good for the environment while being completely honest.

A pressure cooker is a normal pan with a fancy top. When its contents are brought to a boil, the pressure cooking top expels the vitamin-destroying oxygen and seals the cooking environment raising the internal pressure – which in turn raises the temperature at which the food in it is cooked – cooking it faster with barely a flicker of a flame. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that cooking Barley for 18 minutes at flicker, versus 45 minutes on high heat, gives this pan the “creds” to solve the energy crisis.

Two Queens and a Food Blogger walk into a…
I just convinced you that a pan can save the world, so why not introduce you to two women who have dedicated their careers to getting you to make more magic with it, plus a young upstart who wants to rock your world – oh, by the way, the upstart is me. The recipes they propose are so delicious no one will notice they’re eating healthy, nutritious whole grains!

Lorna Sass, the Pressure Cooking Queen, has about a dozen books published on the subject of pressure cooking in the last 20 years or so. It’s not an exaggeration to say that she and is single-handedly responsible for the resurgence in pressure cooking in the 90’s.

Jill Nussinow, also known as The Veggie Queen, has dedicated her life to getting everyone to cook and eat more veggies – and create satisfying meals with their pressure cooker!

Laura Pazzaglia, otherwise known as the rule-breaking pressure cooking food blogger (I need a shorter name) , has just begun to publish her recipes online which are her ammunition for a recipe campaign against brown, runny food coming from the pressure cooker.

Let’s get sneaky!
Here are three recipes that are so tasty, you won’t even notice that they’re whole grains and good for you – plus a fourth really sneaky recipe!Although Barley and Farro come in whole-grain form, these recipes use the “perlated” varieties – which means that they’ve had the top coat either scratched to speed-up cooking or removed entirely. This pre-treatment renders them technically no longer “whole.” Though, they are still packed with lots more vitamins and fiber than your basic white rice and pasta. Give them a shot, sneak them into your meals, and then try the whole-grain counterpart!

Barley Pearled
Perlated Barley is a with the outer hull is removed which brings down the cooking time of this grain to just 30 minutes from 45. “Perlating” barley does reduce its nutrition somewhat but it is still a grain more filled with fiber, vitamins and minerals than your basic white flour. Cook it even faster in your pressure cooker in 18!

Barley Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

Recipe from Lorna Sass’s book, Cooking Under Pressure 20th Anniversary Edition, re-published in 2009. More of her recipes available on her blog.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks or onions
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
1 1/2 cup pearl barley
2 tablespoons purple barley (optional)
1/3 cup dry red wine or sherry
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 ounce (about 1/2 cup) dried porcini or other dried mushrooms, rinsed
1 cup frozen peas
3 to 6 tablespoons grated parmesan or romano cheese, plus more for garnish and to pass at the table
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a 4-quart or larger pressure cooker, heat the oil. Add the leeks and fennel and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until leeks are softened, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the barley, lightly coating it with oil. Add the sherry and continue cooking until it evaporates. Stir in the broth and dried mushrooms.

Lock the pressure cooker lid in place and bring it to high pressure over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain the pressure at high and cook for 18 minutes. Release the pressure by placing the cooker under cold running water. Remove the lid, tilting it away from your face to avoid the escaping steam.

Set the cooker over high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the barley is tender (it will still be slightly chewy) and the mixture has thickened to a porridge consistency, about 5 minutes. Shortly before the risotto is done, stir in the peas.

Turn off the heat. Stir in the parmesan and parsley. Add the salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle the risotto into bowls or onto lipped plates. Dust it with a little more cheese and serve the extra cheese in a small bowl.

Serves 4-6

Farro Perlato
Farro Perlato is an ancient Roman wheat grain, which is getting some fresh attention, also with the a lightly scrubbed exterior to bring its cooking down to just 30 minutes from 45. In your pressure cooker, you can cook it in only 15 – an ancient Roman legion was never fed as quickly as you can now feed your family!

Farro Risotto with Asparagus and Peas

Recipe from Jill Nussinow’s new e-book, The New Fast Food, published April 2011. More of her recipes are available on her blog.

1 tablespoon oil, if using
2 shallots, peeled and diced to equal ½ cup
1½ cups farro seminperlato
½ cup white wine
2½-3 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon or ½ teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon salt
½ pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup fresh or frozen, thawed peas
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in your pressure cooker medium-high heat. Sauté the shallots for about 2 minutes. Stir in farro and coat with oil, if using. If not, dry toast the farro, for about 2 minutes. Add wine and stir until it evaporates, about 30 seconds.

Add 2½ cups of the broth and the tarragon, taking care to scrape up any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the cooker. Lock pressure cooker lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Reduce heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook for 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the pressure come down naturally.

Remove the lid, tilting it away from you to allow steam to escape. See if the farro is cooked to your liking. If not, put back on the heat and bring to high pressure for another 2 to 3 minutes. Then let the pressure release naturally again.

If the grain is cooked how you like, stir in the salt, asparagus and peas. Simmer on the stove top, adding the remaining broth if necessary, until the farrotto is cooked as desired and the vegetables are bright green. Add the freshly ground pepper and additional salt, if desired. Add the remaining broth if the dish needs it. This dish should have the same texture as risotto, which is a bit running but not too soupy. It will thicken as it stands. Serve hot, immediately, garnished with parsley, and soy cheese, if desired.

Serves 4-6

Ground Corn Kernels
Rustic Polenta Grain, is just ground corn. Making polenta has always been reserved for special occasions, in my household, because of the constant supervision and stirring, and not being able to do anything else for 45 minutes! The pressure cooker will make a perfectly authentic polenta in just 7 minutes – no stirring from the time the pressure cooking top is on your pan!

Grilled Polenta

Recipe from Laura Pazzaglia’s website, Hip Pressure Cooking.

2 cups or 350g of coarse Polenta Flour (white or yellow)
8 cups or 2lt. of liquid (water or broth)
2 tsp. of salt (omit if using salted broth)

Fill the pressure cooker with water and bring it to a boil on a high flame and add the salt. When the salt has melted, drizzle the polenta flour a little at a time while stirring clock-wise (you can choose any direction, but stick to it so that the poelnta flour does not glop together). Keep stirring until it begins to boil again – be careful because the polenta bubbles with spray polenta out of the pan!

Close the top quickly and when the pan goes up to pressure, lower the flame to minimum and count 8 minutes cooking time at pressure. When time is up, release pressure immediately with the cold water quick-release method – bring the pressure to the sink and run the top under cold water being careful not to wet any of the valves. If using and electric pressure cooker, cook for only 7 minutes, and open the pressure cooker using the normal release method – open the valve to release pressure.

Pour out on a wooden cutting board or oiled casserole. Smooth out the top with a spatula while pouring because the top will cool almost immediately.

Let cool at room temperature for about an hour, then cut in rectangles and brush with olive oil or herbed marinade you are using for your BBQ.

Grill each slice about 3-5 minutes on each side just to sear the outside and warm the interior.

Serves 6-8

Whole Corn Kernels
While we’re being seaky, here is the ultimate sneaky whole grain recipe: Popcorn!

You could do this in any pan, not necessarily a pressure cooker, but if you have one the nice heavy bottom and even distribution of heat gives you almost 100% perfectly popped kernels with no burning!


Recipe from Laura Pazzaglia.

1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
3/4 cup of Pop Corn Kernels
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. “Good” extra virgin Olive Oil

In a preheated pressure cooker, with the lid off on medium heat, add the olive oil and wait until it runs smoothly around the bottom of the pan. Then, add the popcorn kernels and tilt the pressure cooker side to side to coat evenly in oil. Put on either the accessory glass top, or the pressure cooking top (without locking it) and turn the heat to high. You will hear a crescendo of popping. When the popping begins to slow down, lift the pressure cooker and shake it a bit to ensure all of the kernels fall down and touch the bottom of the pan to pop. When you hear only one or two pops. Remove from heat, remove the top and pour into serving bowl. While still hot drizzle extra virgin olive oil and salt and mix.

Serves 4-6

Dear Readers, this article was published last week on Yahoo’s Food Channel.

All photos by Laura Pazzaglia. Recipes republished with permission from their authors.

About the Author
Laura Pazzaglia is the cook & photographer behind, a website that hopes to inspire you to use your pressure cooker more often by offering unexpected and delicious recipes with easy-to-find ingredients and vivid step-by-step photographs. She has lived in four countries, speaks three languages, has two kids and, currently, her cooking laboratory is located in Anzio, Italy and features about 10 pressure cookers and a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea.