Many of the meals in the U.S. rely on the delicious addition of pasta or rice to soak up all of the great meat juices or gourmet sauces. Pasta is a great filler for a meal, is loved as a comfort food for many, and is a significant part of the recommend 350 pounds of grains, per person per year that self-reliant persons have on hand for their family. The problem, though, is that the preparation of pasta usually requires a significant amount of water and fuel to make properly. While few of us would ever consider this thought when cooking among running water and on the modern appliances we enjoy in our kitchen, this fact presents a challenge if we are ever in need of making some drastic modifications in these cooking and eating habits in the future.
Pasta is a great way to get quality grains into the body and it’s very familiar to most families. In a time of challenge, familiarity and nutrition is essential. But storing enough water for cooking it in the traditional way may pose a problem for over 90% of those who are actively attempting to become more self-reliant—yes, that’s 90% of the “good guys”, folks. So, rather than making those who are trying hard feel like they aren’t doing enough in the planning and water department, I thought it would be better to share with you how you can cook rice and pasta efficiently with a minimal amount of time, fuel, and water.
Friday night was a perfect example. As I had just returned from being out of town for almost 2 weeks, my poor husband was left to fend for himself while I was gone--eating nearly nothing that he would have, had I been home to cook. This meant that he would regularly eat prepared foods or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. More times than not the man hardly eats when I'm gone. (At least I know I’m still useful to him after 12 years of marriage. *grin*) So I promised him Friday that I’d make dinner with real food; however, I got so caught up in catching up on work I forgot to take the pork roast out of the freezer and it was nearly 4 o’clock p.m. No problem. That’s what pressure cookers are for. I threw the 5 pound frozen roast in the pressure cooker along with about 2-3 cups of water and a little pork seasoning, brought the pressure cooker up to high pressure, turned it down to low to stabilize, and then went back to work for the next while. About 45 minutes later I remembered dinner. The roast was cooked perfectly tender—no knife needed. I removed it from the pan and placed it on the plate to rest and then took a taste of the yummy meat juices in the bottom of the pan. Perfect. No additional seasoning required. Then I put in dry, wide egg noodles in the pan—just enough so that the leftover juices barely covered the noodles. (If you don’t have as much juice left over as you need for noodles to feed the family, just add a little more water—just enough to barely cover your noodles.) I then put the lid on the pressure cooker, brought it back up to high heat quickly, and then stabilized it to cook for 2 to 3 minutes. While the noodles were cooking I shredded the meat with a couple of forks and grabbed some frozen peas and threw them in the microwave. Within only 3 to 4 minutes the noodles were perfectly cooked—not mushy—and they had soaked up the delicious flavors from the seasoned pork roast. I added the peas and the shredded pork and served a slow-cooked pork and noodles taste in less than an hour—most of which time I was working elsewhere. It was delicious and my husband was grateful to have “real food again.”
Cooking Rice in a Pressure Cooker
Rice cooks very much the same way in a pressure cooker with just a few little changes. I first will sauté the rice grains in a tablespoon of butter and olive oil til they are coated. Then I will put water and rice in the pot using a one-to-one ratio plus another ½ to ¾ cup of liquid; bring it up to high pressure, turn down the heat to stabilize that pressure, and set the timer for 7 to 10 minutes depending on whether or not I’m cooking white rice or brown rice. When it’s finished cooking I slowly release the pressure (if you do it quickly with rice or pasta you’ll get a lot of foam coming out of the top of the pressure cooker. The oil also helps to minimize the foam.) The rice always turns out perfectly and that’s more than I can say for my rice cooker which I got rid of after realizing that the pressure cooker was so much easier to use.
With either of these two grains, cooking foods in the pressure cooker helps in our self-reliance in many ways. It requires very little fuel to bring it up and maintain high pressure, and it requires a minimal amount of water because it’s constantly recycling the steam inside the sealed pan. This also means that flavors and nutrients aren’t escaping in the steam. Rather than cooking your rice for 30-45 minutes or your pasta for 10 to even 20 minutes, you’re done in a jiffy. Even better, if you have some thick towels, once you bring your pressure cooker up to full pressure, you can completely remove it from the heat source--thus conserving your fuel--wrap the pressure cooker up in the thick towels or blankets, and your food will continue to cook for up to an hour using this insulated method—way longer than necessary for rice or noodles, by the way. Either way the pressure cooker will dramatically shorten the time necessary for cooking pasta or rice and it’s sooooo very helpful in making your cooking needs easy, yet masterful, in so many other ways. (Search this blog for “pressure cooker” and find several other articles which discuss other great dishes made in minutes and guidance as to which kind of a pressure cooker is best for your needs.)
Ok. So that’s one method. The other one? The other method is with a solar oven, though it does require more time. If you’re making a dish which has pasta or rice in it, such as a casserole or soup, you can simply add a little bit more liquid along with your dry pasta or rice and slow cook the grains in the dish. They will absorb the flavors and will be so delicious.
For example, I make a lazy man’s lasagna using egg noodles instead of lasagna noodles. I put in all of my ingredients, such as tomato sauce, ground beef (which I’ve canned), tomatoes, cheese, and seasonings, and I also put in my dry noodles added to a liquid equal to 1/3 the amount of my pasta. For example, in the lazy man’s lasagna I would put in 10 cups of egg noodles and add 3.3 cups of tomato sauce or tomato juice, so as not to water down the flavors. (Yes, that’s ten cups of pasta because my husband LOVES this dish, even as leftovers.) I stir all of the ingredients well in the pan* and then place it with it’s lid on in the solar oven for a couple of hours in direct sunlight. The pasta absorbs the juices slowly so as not to get mushy and its a delicious add-on to the dish.
Cooking Rice in the Solar Oven
I do the same with the rice I’m cooking. Whenever I can, I try to cook the pasta or rice in the juices or liquid ingredients that I’m already using in a dish. This requires less water and adds great flavor to the dish. And there you have it. Considering that both the pressure cooker and the solar oven are worth the investment for umpteen other reasons, I’d definitely look at getting comfortable using them in your everyday life. You can never burn or scorch something you cook in the solar oven and you can make even the toughest, cheap cuts of meat taste good in the solar oven or pressure cooker as well. Enjoy!
*Dark, thin-walled pans with lids are best to use when cooking in a solar oven, but are not absolutely necessary. For example, I use my regular bread pans when I make bread in the solar oven, it just cooks a little longer than it would in dark colored pans which attract more sunlight/heat.