The new generation of pressure cookers are far less scary than the prototypes our grandmothers used, which were known for dramatically blowing their tops in the kitchen. They have evolved a great deal over the decades; with multiple safety valves you can relax while shaving away two-thirds to three-quarters of your cooking time. Although a pressure cooker is ideal for slow braises and stews, it can be used for virtually anything you'd normally cook on the stove top.

Here are a few ideas if you’re new to pressure cooking.

Lentil and barley soup

Soups you might simmer for an hour can be ready in 20; try this lentil and barley soup – dry lentils and barley generally take about 40 minutes to cook through.

canola oil, for cooking
2 mild or hot Italian sausages, such as Spolumbos
half a bunch of celery
2 litres chicken or vegetable stock or water
1/3 cup dry green lentils
1/3 cup pot or pearl barley
salt and pepper to taste

In a stovetop pressure cooker, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Squeeze the sausage out of its casings into the pot and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until no longer pink. Chop the entire bunch of celery starting at the leafy end and going about halfway down — I use a lot of celery — and throw it in the pot.

Add the stock, lentils and barley, lock on the lid and bring the pressure cooker up to pressure. Cook for 15 minutes, then let the pot cool and release the lid. Serve hot, with Parmesan cheese and crusty bread. Serves 4-6.

Pressure cooker chili

Chili is the ultimate comfort food, and a great way to feed a crowd. Using the pressure cooker means you won’t need to simmer it for hours to get great flavour.

canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. cumin
1 19 oz. (540 mL) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 14 oz. (398 mL) can brown beans, with pork or in tomato sauce (optional)
1 cup salsa
1 19 oz. (540 mL) can red kidney beans, drained
salt and pepper to taste

Chili

Chili

Heat a drizzle of oil in a stovetop pressure cooker set over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion and red pepper for a few minutes, then add the beef and cook until browned.

Add the remaining ingredients. Put on the lid, turn it to seal, and bring it up to pressure according to the manufacturer's directions. Once it's up to pressure — you can usually tell by the dangly piece on top steaming and spinning — reduce the heat to medium-low, ensuring that the top is still releasing steam, and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until the pressure goes down, then remove the lid. Serve warm, with grated cheese, sour cream and chopped green onion, if you like. Serves 6.

Winter squash and chickpea stew

My friend, chef Pierre Lamielle, was making this one day when I popped over – it’s the perfect warming winter meal, and great for a pressure cooker.

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
2 onions, diced
2 Tbsp. curry paste
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
3 pork or chicken sausages, squeezed from the casing
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 19 oz (540 mL) can chickpeas, drained
1 19 oz (540 mL) can tomato puree
2 cups chicken stock or water
thick yogurt or sour cream and/or chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Chickpea stew

Chickpea stew

In a stovetop pressure cooker, sauté the onion in oil and butter for a few minutes, then add the curry paste. Add the sausage and break the meat up with a spoon as it cooks. Add the squash, garlic, chickpeas, tomato purée and stock. Lock on the lid, bring the pot up to pressure, reduce the heat to medium-low, ensuring that the top is still steaming and spinning, and cook for about 20 minutes. Let the pot cool down and serve the stew hot, with a blop of sour cream or yogurt and fresh cilantro.

Pressure cooker pulled pork

Pulled pork can be done in the slow cooker, which would take 6-8 hours, or quickly in the pressure cooker, cutting back your cooking time to about 45 minutes for pull-apart pork.

canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 2-3 lb. pork shoulder
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup bottled barbecue sauce
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. grainy mustard
a good grinding of black pepper

Pulled pork

Pulled pork

In a stovetop pressure cooker, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and brown the pork on all sides. Add the onion, stock, barbecue sauce, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, mustard and pepper to the pot. Cover and lock the lid, and bring the pot up to pressure according to the manufacturer's directions. Reduce the heat to medium-low, ensuring that the top is still steaming and spinning, and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until the pressure goes down, then remove the lid.

Using two forks, pull the pork apart in the sauce and serve on biscuits or soft buns. Serves 8.

Pressure cooker beef stew

Beef stew is a wintertime classic in Alberta; a pressure cooker cuts your cooking time in less than half, resulting in a thick – not watery – stew. If you like, omit the potatoes and instead serve the stew over mashed potatoes.

canola or olive oil, for cooking
2 lb. (1 kg) stewing beef, cubed coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp. flour
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium thin-skinned potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces 2 cups beef stock
1 14 oz. (398 mL) can diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 cup red wine
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

In a stovetop pressure cooker, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper and brown in batches, without crowding the pot, and transfer to a plate as you cook. Add the onions to the pot and cook for a few minutes, until soft. Return the beef to the pot along with the garlic, sprinkle with flour and stir to coat. Add the carrots, potatoes, beef stock, tomatoes, wine and balsamic vinegar, put on the lid, turn it to seal, and bring it up to pressure according to the manufacturer's directions. Once it's up to pressure — you can usually tell by the dangly piece on top steaming and spinning — reduce the heat to medium-low, ensuring that the top is still steaming and spinning, and cook for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until the pressure goes down, then remove the lid. Serve hot.

Serves 6.