If you found an Instant Pot tucked alongside your other holiday gifts this year, you may be ruminating about how to best use it while still sticking to the lightened-up post-holiday fare. Multi-cookers such as the Instant Pot are great for cooking up an incredible variety of foods, so don’t limit yourself to the hearty braised meat dishes the Instant Pot is often known for: it’s also a way to get a healthy meal on the table in as little as half an hour or make homemade versions of healthy staples like beans to scatter on winter salads or hard-cooked eggs to enjoy as a protein-packed snack.
So, while an Instant Pot can certainly do gorgeous things with a hunk of bone-in pork shoulder or short ribs, know that it can also help you stay healthy—and in less time. Here are a few ideas.
1. Cook beans fast. Have you heard the hubbub about the Instant Pot and dried beans? Those who love the inexpensive, healthful protein are thrilled that they can now skip heavy, water-weighted, pricey canned beans in favor of delicate dried legumes. How? There’s no need to soak them overnight: An Instant Pot will cook them through in about an hour. You could have a wonderfully silky black bean soup, red beans and rice, cannellini beans, or anything else your heart desires. Also, because pressure cookers suffuse everything inside equally with salt and tenderness, you’ll generally end up with uniformly well-cooked, well-seasoned beans. Perhaps best of all, the water itself takes on a luxe texture thanks to the beans’ starch; there’s often no need to use up valuable chicken or vegetable stock.
2. Boil eggs. An egg is an easy enough thing to hard-boil or soft-cook, sure, but the charm of cooking them in an Instant Pot is how easily the shell tends to slip off—without you accidentally chipping the whites. As long as you use large eggs, you can cook them on low pressure for 5 to 8 minutes (the former for very runny; the latter for firmly set). Just pop them in an ice bath when you’re done, and get peeling!
3. Steam vegetables. Lots of kitchen gadgets come with attachments you never use, but the Instant Pot arrives with a handy little metal rack insert. You just pour some water into the bottom of the interior metal bowl, add salt, and place the steaming rack in there. Then you’re well on your way to lovely steamed broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, or even dumplings, if you have a steamer basket. Again, the equal pressure tends to cook vegetables very evenly, which can be a thrill for those of us who have fouled this up on the stovetop.
4. Make yogurt. Have you noticed how expensive good yogurt has gotten? The best pressure cookers have a button you can just press that reads, simply, “Yogurt.” You can make it using milk and not much else. Remember, though, that because yogurt takes a minute to come together—and generally will require the addition of some pre-made yogurt—you can’t typically cook yogurt the minute you’re craving it. Most recipes require a good nine to 12 hours. But with a tiny bit of advance planning, you could have a DIY yogurt bar teeming with fresh fruit, honey and granola this weekend. No one will miss the pancakes.
5. Cook vegetable soups. Soup might be simple, but it generally doesn’t conjure the thought, “And it’s quick!” The Instant Pot is a game changer on that front. This gorgeous veggie-based soup is flecked with curry powder, cumin, paprika, chili, ginger and cayenne, and boasts two full cups of protein-packed cashews, so it can serve as a simple weeknight dinner. Best of all? It’s ready in about 35 minutes.