Jan 9, 2013

I cooked in my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face!


In defense of the Indian pressure cooker
All my life I have watched my mother use her 5ltr pressure cooker to cook dal and rice. Sometimes, she cooks some eggs or potatoes on the cover of the top separator pan, successfully cooking all three at once. She uses her pressure pan to make pulaos and her 3 ltr Prestige to make delicious rassas and boil chickpeas and black-eyed peas. She used the 5ltr, without the whistle, to steam idlis and dhoklas.

My first lesson in cooking prep was washing and soaking toor dal and rice for the daily meals. The dal needed to be soaked in water after three rinses. The rice needed to be drained of water after a couple of rinses. I still remember that rule while cooking my dal and rice, though I don’t use a 5ltr cooker.

1.5ltr Hawkins
I do have three 3ltr cookers, two Prestige (one aluminum and one stainless steel), one Hawkins, a small 1.5ltr Hawkins and a Prestige pressure pan. I use one or the other at least five to six times a week. I have used them for the last 12 years and I have had occasional problems with the gasket getting loose or the pressure valve not working properly. However, I have never had any blow up in my face. I don’t know anyone, in almost 40 years of my life, who has had a pressure cooker blow up in their face. I haven’t heard of anyone whom I know or of anyone who knew anyone I know who had a pressure cooker blow up in their face.

So, I was very surprised when a cookbook author claimed on her fb page that Indian pressure cookers were unsafe and tended to blow up in people’s faces. Not sure where she got her facts from or if she knew someone who had a pressure cooker blow up in their face. But she seemed pretty certain that it was a regular occurrence and it was best to use a “modern” (read Western) pressure cooker which went through stringent regulations, like the one she used.

Now, I fully support her choice to use a “modern” pressure cooker. But I do not endorse her view stated as fact that Indian pressure cookers are unsafe and blow up in people’s faces. That is a bit of hyperbole in my opinion. India pressure cookers go through just as rigorous testing and probably more because they are such an essential part of every Indian household. Not to mention they did use to blow up in people’s faces. But that was decades ago when people were new to cookers and sometimes did not use them the correct way or got a cheap brand. I still remember that Amin Sayani TV ad, “Jo biwi se kare pyaar, woh Prestige se kaise kare inkar” (one who loves his wife will never say no to a Prestige). You know, in case the cheaper brand blew up in her face.

So, here is your assignment for the month of January. Cook something using an Indian pressure cooker. Blog about it and preferably write about your experiences with cooking with an Indian pc for the first time or the umpteenth time. You can write a funny anecdote or a story related to the Indian pressure cooker. You can even write about your preference for the brand of pressure cooker you use.

Now, for the most important part, end your blog post with the line, “I cooked the ... (above) with my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face”. Your deadline is Feb 28 or till I post the roundup. Send me a picture of the pressure cooker you used, along with your name, name of the blog and a link to your post on jayawagle (at) gmail.com. Remember to include a link to this post. Now go, get your Indian pressure cooker out of the cabinet and blow those whistles.

43 comments:

  1. I have heard tales of a cooker blowing up and spattering the walls and cabinets and have always wondered how in the world did she do that?
    My Mother has a Hawkins and she and I swear by it ( or prestige brand) So I can only guess that the people who blow up their cookers are not aware of how to use one ( do not add water in the bottom maybe?) or a clever trick to get the hubby to cook or eat out!

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    1. Haha, I like the clever trick explanation better. :-)

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  2. well in edinburgh scotland, in an indian restuarant a pressure cooker did blow up and someone lost their feet.

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    1. Whoa! That sounds terrible. I am assuming it was an isolated incident and not a regular occurrence.

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  3. well...my mother in law had her pressure cooker lid blow up and splatter the palak dal on ceiling and walls. that happened once. and she is a pretty good cook. nobody is sure why that happened. maybe her cooker was old. maybe some part needed replacing or she didnt keep track of the time the cooker was on. and she makes this particular dal very frequently so i m sure it should not have been a rookie mistake.

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    1. Nikita,

      Thank you for sharing that. Any appliance will malfunction at one time or the other. It does not make it right for that author to make a sweeping generalization about all Indian pressure cookers blowing up in people's faces. I hope nobody was hurt when you m-i-l's pc lid blew up.

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  4. Jaya, a pressure cooker blew up in my aunt's house in the US and splattered dal on the ceiling and walls. This was almost 30 years ago and I don't know if it was an Indian one or a foreign one. But I always remember being cautioned to put in water or else ...

    This assignment for January - are you doing a project or something? Or is this a one-off?

    And, I counted - you have eight pressure cookers??????? I have five, one is yet to be used, and The Spouse suspects we have another yet unopened in the attic somewhere!

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    1. Sra,

      I think the occasional pressure cookers did explod decades ago but I don't think it is a common occurrence any more.
      And no, I am not doing a project. It was just my way of announcing an event. The only project I have is to write something every day. This is totally a one-off.:-)
      I can see why you thought I have eight pressure cookers. I was just breaking down the three 3ltr pcs into 2 Prestige and 1 Hawkins. So, I have five pressure cookers, like a normal desi and not 8 like other normal desis. :-)

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    2. Ha ha ha, that last line made me laugh! I thought it was only us in the South who had so many!

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    3. Well, my American friend thought it was weird I had so many and I told her it was normal for desis. My mom has four or five I think. You know different cookers for different reasons. :-)

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  5. I have only heard of such accidents but just like you I don't know anyone who's had one either, Thank God! I have been using an Hawkins 5 ltrs cooker since I was 12 and was taught how to make simple varan-bhaat. Every evening while growing up, as I used to practice my multiplication tables, I distinctly remember the sound of the pressure cooker whistling in the background and the gentle sound of the little puja bell as my grandma offered her evening prayers filling our little home with a mixed fragrance of the incense sticks and varan-bhaat, that sound and fragrance still makes me feel at home. :)

    I brought a 5 ltrs Hawkins with me when I got married, that was 6 years ago :) today I own 3 Hawkins Pressure Cookers and cannot imagine life without them! I use them all the time. I am sure they'll last me a lifetime!

    - Priti

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    1. I happened to ask my hubby if he's ever seen such an incident and he said he has seen several while studying and staying with roomates here. No one ever got hurt but the walls and ceiling was covered with dal or beans, whatever was cooking inside it. According to him this happened because it was left unattended for too long forgoting all about it and thinking that someone else was minding it until they heard something explode in the kitchen)and when the cookers are overloaded with dal they tend to create froth on the lid while whistling thereby blocking the steam escape gradually and usually the safety valve melts (which my hubby says had happened countless times with them) but the lid can pop too and hurt someone really bad if they are around, the brand does not matter, parents usually send good branded pressure cookers with students who come here.

      - Priti

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    2. Priti,

      I too was taught to make the simple varan-bhaat in the 5ltr Hawkins. And listening to the whistle while doing my homework in the evening is one of my cherished memories too. Thank you for sharing that.

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    3. Priti,
      Wow! That must have been a scary experience for your hubby and his friends. But here is the thing. Any pressure cooker or appliance will do that if not operated properly, even the Western brands. The author I mentioned was making a general assumptions that Indian pressure cookers tend to explode in people's faces which is completely false. They will explode if not operated properly but so will any thing else. You have been using yours for 6 years and I assuming correctly, which is the reason they haven't exploded and will last you a lifetime. :-)

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  6. I totally agree! Anything if not operated properly can cause an accident. Does not mean Indian Pressure cookers are unreliable. I've never even had a single incident of the valve melting ever since I've been using these. I don't have a blog or else I would have loved to participate. Its great event!

    - Priti

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    1. Priti,

      Participate anyways. I will post your recipe or anecdote or what ever it is you decide to contribute. :-)

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  7. Like all appliances, pressure cookers can sometimes be unpredictable and they have a use life. Apart from the fact that the gasket needs changing, the cooker itself should be replaced from time to time. I use a 1.5l, a 2l a 3l, and a 5l on rotation. The 2l is ready for retirement:)

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    1. You are so right Apu. I am sad for the 2l's retirement. I hope you can find a good use for the pot at least.

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  8. I had a pressure-cooker lose its temper on me only once- and it was an American-made 'Presto' from the 60's- not an Indian one. I was cooking toor dal: it foamed and clogged the steam-release, causing the contents to overheat and melt the safety-valve- a toor-dal broth geyser! Splattered the ceiling, walls, floor- dripping, dripping, dripping. Not fun to clean up! I was able to replace the cover, and still use it today to cook lots of things... but not toor dal- foams too much even after skimming. Maybe it would cook fine in an Indian pressure-cooker.

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    1. And maybe when you get that Indian pressure-cooker you can start blogging again.
      BTW, how do you cook your toor dal?

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    2. These days, the open-kettle way... but now I just found out about using inserts in the pressure-cooker, so... I'll try toor dal again in there- I'm persistant! :-)

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  9. There's another reason why pressure cookers explode: if you try to open it when it's still under pressure. BOOM! Most of these stories are user error.

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  10. I was talking to M about this post and pressure cooker in general. He said long ago there was an incident in his aunts place in which the valve opened and the food from the cooker splattered all over the place. The reason for this was that the nozzle was not cleaned and the pressure build upso much, that the safety valve opened and let the steam out and with that food.

    Like Manisha said, these are all user errors not something related to the cooker itself. My mom has been using cooker for almost 45 years now and before that my Aaji, all without any issues.

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    1. I have had that happen to me once when the valve was all clogged up. But it wasn't as severe as M's aunt's place!

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  11. I have heard of pressure pan lids coming off. But generally it was a case of clogged vent, or forgetting to turn off the heat. It is like making a statement that cooking gas is unsafe. There are some circumstances which may lead to an accident. But making a sweeping statement about Indian Pressure cookers is wrong. As you say, the companies that make the branded cookers are those that make sure the cooker is safety compliant. We may have other sub standard products, but this one is surely not one of them.

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  12. I cannot imagine cooking without my pressure cookers - I have 3! I have used Indian, British as well as American makes and had all perform the same! Love, love, my little anodised Prestige!

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  13. I swear by my pressure cookers and my family would be without food if I were not to use them. Splatter in the face and exploding is exaggeration. I have had dal spray out when the safety valve got clogged. But blowing use to happen maybe 30 years ago. Now the safety feature make it impossible to explode. The gasket and safety valve do the job. Now if we do not clean the valves properly they spray.

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    1. Indo,

      Thank you for pointing out that the mishaps are more often than not user error and not the fault of the appliance.

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  14. How did I miss this! I have a few stories to share--lemme go write! :)

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    1. Can't wait to see what you come up with Saee.

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  15. I remember the Prestige pressure cooker that was at home from I am not sure which year. It was one of the earliest models in Aluminium that my grandmother had purchased. They cooked dhals in it everyday and in a Tambrahm household that is literally everyday. My mother used it well and until it started caving at its base. We firmly put that away then.
    I own also a few, though only one will be on a regular use.
    I have known one incident of the cooker blowing up and the lady losing her eyesight due to particles tearing into her eyes. And another once when my mother used a pressure pan. We are not sure how but it just flew and happily and without damage came down to the ground and sat stoutly. My mother uses with utmost caution that she checks the steam outlet, the gasket and even the handles before every use. This was a random incident and as luck may have it, neither of us were in the kitchen around the stve. We were in the next room and saw that happen.
    I have used other inferior brand pressure pan at one point. I did not have any mishaps with that too.
    I am in agreement with Manisha that it is more the user error and not the manufacturing.I know of people who do not clean after a day's use, or put stuff like a rind of a lime / tamarind in the water so the aluminium does not lose luster.
    I prefer the sturdy aluminium ones to the current copper bottom stainless stell pressure cooker I use now.

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  16. Love the post.. Without pressure cooker I cannot imagine my kitchen.. Every single meal is cooked in pressure cooker for me... First time to your blog.. Love it

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  17. My mom has blown up cookers (only prestige though). We had to clean dal, khichidi from ceilings, cabinets and even windows.

    Ok this is what happened:-

    1. My mom lost count while chatting on the phone (gossiping I am sure. But she says it was office). So the whistle count went up to 20 and lid hit the ceiling. I course see rice and carrot on my social studies text book...thank god i was in the loo.

    2. my mom left the cooker on and started to clean cobwebs off the fan...and then in sometime she had to clean dal as well.

    But somehow the lid never blows off in hawkins due to the complicated lid closing technique I think. Prestige blowing off is something I have seen at home.

    - So soccor mom...you havta meet my mom (with virtual roller skates under her feet)

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    1. Preeti,

      Thanks for the laugh. I can't believe the whistle cout went up to 20! That is a first. Thank you for the momos entry. One of my favorite snacks.

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  18. Jaya, could you give a day - just today so that I can post and include it?
    My email: tiffincarrieranticquesATgmailDOTcom.
    Just read Manish'a post and realized that am late by a day.
    Let me know. Thanks!

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    1. Shri, you got three days. Thanks for participating.

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  19. I just saw this post and do agree that cookers blowing up is a rarity. The reason may be anything from malfunction, incorrect use or plain cheap cooker. If just Indian cookers blew up them we would have had explosions everyday for Indian homes pressure cooker is a must. You cannot based on some isolated incidents make such a sweeping statement.

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  20. My Indian pressure cooker does not work here in Australia as I have an induction gas. So I had to buy from IKEA. Have been using it for a year and I cannot live without it. Infact the first time I moved to my new home and and realized the pressure cooker I had would not work, I cried. I don't think any Indian can live without a pressure cooker. This is a good discussion makes me want to look after my little assistant even better

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  21. I found a Presige/TTK 5 qt aluminum PC with matching pressure pan in my mom's house that she purchased from Sears in the '90's. I use it at least once a week and love it. I'm tempted to replace it with a SS Prestige cooker because of aluminum being reactive to acids. I am completely comfortable with the weighted pressure regulator and all the recipes in the booklet have turned out well with a few modifications noted in the margins. I work full time and really appreciate getting a really great dinner ready in just a few minutes. I dont want a new spring-loaded "western" type model and I am a blond native Californian! THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!

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  22. I've been having a problem the last 5 or so times I've tried to cook dhal in my pressure cooker. Right after it whistles a few times I immediately turn off the heat. Then, within 10 seconds, dhal and water escape out of the release valve and spray everywhere violently. This just happened again about 10 minutes ago, and my kitchen counter and cutting board and now stained with turmeric and uncooked dhal. It's become infuriating at this point. Do you have any idea why this might happen? I've had this pressure cooker for about 15 years now. It didn't used to do this. In fact, thinking that it was just clogged or something, last week I took the entire assembly apart and cleaned it VERY well until it looked like new. And yet it's still happening. There's nothing visibly wrong with the pressure cooker at all, so I'm at my wits end. I don't want to buy a new one, since like I said I don't see anything wrong with it. Any ideas?

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  23. Many years ago I bought an American pressure cooker. It had a rocker on the top. It shook, and scared me; it seemed like an unstable appliance.

    As an German American interested in Indian cooking, I was intrigued by recipes calling for "3 whistles," and discovered the Indian Pressure cooker. An old Indian woman I knew said she had one for 30 years working perfectly, only having to replace the gasket. As some one who is sick of expensive appliances with electronic components failing, this sounded wonderful. I bought an aluminum Prestige on Amazon.

    I fell in love. There is something about my mind that makes "cook for 6 whistles" easier to follow than "cook for 10 minutes." I was able to cook dals so easily, and have great meals quickly every day, using the tool of well organized Indian women! I love the wonderful angry tiger/dragon's hiss it makes - I feel like an alchemist when preparing meals.

    I did goof up twice - did not put enough water in it, and I blew the safety valve. For this sin, I had some wiping up of chickpea from the stove, and waiting for the replacement part for 4 days. For less than $1, I fixed it myself. Then - like the Mom quoted above, while cooking chana dal with it one time, I was distracted by a telephone call for over an hour, didn't listen to the whistles, and the water boiled out of it, turning the chana dal into volcanic stones, and shiveling the gasket. But it did not explode! I cleaned it, and replaced the gasket easily for $2, and its working again.

    I love my Indian pressure cooker. It is perfect. It is simple. It is reliable. Two parts can go bad, and they are easily repaired indefinitely. I would be reluctant to try any other kind, at any price, because I have had more grief with high tech appliances than simple ways. Like an Egyptian Queen I would choose to be buried with my Indian pressure cooker, but I doubt very much it will be the cause of my death in some kind of accident.

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