Pressure Cooking 101: How to cook lentils in a pressure cooker

pressure cooker with different style lids
Pressure Cookers
Pressure cooker saves a lot of time and energy.  Your time and cooking time.  Your energy and electrical energy/gas.  

But I have observed that some people are either apprehensive about using pressure cookers or don’t exactly know how to use it.  Cooking lentils in an open pot or slow cooker takes hours and is a sheer waste of time for something that a pressure cooker can cook within an hour.

This post is for the beginners to help understand how to cook lentils (dals) in a pressure cooker.  These are the exact questions I had when I started to learn cooking (and picked my mom’s brains), and hope this will help someone new to get comfortable with the basics of pressure cooking lentils.

(Click here for cooking lentils WITHOUT a pressure cooker.  And not just lentils, you can use a pressure cooker to cook many other things, for example watch my video how to cook rice in a pressure cooker and how to parboil potatoes in a pressure cooker, both at the same time)

What difference to pressure cooking does soaking the lentils make?
 1) lentils like split pigeon peas (toor dal), split green gram (yellow skinless moong dal), whole mung bean (whole green moong dal), and Bengal gram (chana dal) – let’s call them Type 1 – don’t need to be soaked for as long as chickpeas (kala chana/chhole) and red kidney beans (rajma) – let’s call them Type 2 – need to be soaked until ready to cook.  Though these lentils (except the whole green moong) double up after soaking.

2)  difference in soaking Type 1 lentils is just in the number of whistles and a 5-10 minute extra cooking time, that’s all.  When you’re cooking Type 1 lentils in pressure cooker, even if it’s not soaked for long – the pressure inside the cooker will soften the dal anyway.  But for Type 2 lentils, soaking for 6-8 hours or overnight is essential otherwise only pressure cooking them may not cook the lentils well and may not be tender from the inside, or you might have to pressure cook longer (hence wasting electricity/gas).

mixed vegetable dal made in a pressure cooker
How do you know how much water to add in a pressure cooker to cook lentils and beans?
Usually lentils like split pigeon peas (toor dal) and split green gram (yellow skinless moong dal) that cook faster and need not be soaked long need just double the amount of water.

So for 1 cup of unsoaked dal you add 2 to 2.5 cups water in the pressure cooker.  If you’ve soaked the dal for some time, then you can add just about 2 cups water, since it has increased in size already and will not need that extra power (water) while pressure cooking.  And if you’re adding vegetables to make a Mixed Vegetable Dal then add just about ½ cup more water (therefore, 1 cup dal:2.5 cup water).

For each cup of lentils like whole mung bean (whole green moong dal) and Bengal gram (chana dal) add about 2.5 cups of water.  Lentils like chickpeas (chhole/kala chana) and red kidney beans (rajma) need the most amount of water and pressure cooking time – 1 cup dal :: 3 cup water to cook well.

What if you add lesser amount of water than required to the lentils?
If you add less water to the dal than necessary (say, 1 cup dal and only 1 cup water), the lack of water and increased pressure will cause:
a) the dal to burn at the bottom and stick to the cooker, and you won’t hear the successful whistles;
b) you also risk the pressure cooker bursting open and ruining the safety valve.

What if you add excess water than required to the lentils?
If you add more water to the dal than necessary (say, 1 cup dal and 4 cup water), the excess water and pressure inside the cooker will cause:
a) the whistle to fly off,
b) water to spurt up and around, and
c) a hell lot of mess.

Spusht | how to cook lentils in a pressure cooker | pressure cooker whistle and steamHow do you know how many whistles it takes to cook the lentils?
1)  If the recipe says “pressure cook on high for 1 whistle, then on low for 30 minutes” then it is straightforward.  But if it does not, then for unsoaked lentils of Type 1 you need about 4 whistles on medium heat.  For soaked lentils of Type 1, they should cook in about 3 whistles on medium heat.  It could take around 15 minutes to cook 1 cup of Type 1 lentils.  Type 2 lentils may take around 30 minutes, especially with the 'pressure cook on high for 1 whistle then on low' is what will make Type 2 like kidney beans and chickpeas soft yet have individual shapes instead of becoming mushy.

2) Lack of whistles: If you switched off heat after 3-4 whistles and let the pressure cooker cooled, then opened up and saw that the lentils still are not cooked – just close the lid tight again (raise the whistle a little with some spoon or fork to release steam if the pressure inside makes it difficult to close lid) and let it cook until 1-2 more whistles on medium heat, or as required.

3)  Excess whistles: If you continue taking more than 5-6 whistles, the more the steam and pressure releases,
a) the lesser the quantity of water gets,
b) the mushier the lentils get,
c) the more the lentils will stick to the bottom of the pressure cooker

pressure cooker that whistles and releases steamBut what does “whistles” in pressure cooking mean?
In Indian cooking, we mostly judge the time it takes to pressure cook something – to cook lentils, or to parboil vegetables, etc according to how many ‘whistles’ you see/hear.  One whistle = you see steam being released and you hear ssssssssssssss sound.  So even if you’re not around, you can keep track of whistles when you hear each ssssssssssssss.

What if my pressure cooker’s whistle only rotates, but doesn’t rise to let out the steam?
The two Indian pressure cookers I have – their whistles rise to release steam, but the one I bought here in the States has the whistle dancing round and round.  For such pressure cookers, you don’t keep track by it’s ‘whistles’, but by time.  The booklet that comes with it should tell how much time particular thing takes to cook.  If it doesn’t, you’ll have to depend on trial and error.
When to open the pressure cooker after cooking the lentils?
You should ideally open when all the pressure/steam has subsided and the pressure cools down.  But you do not have to wait until the pressure "cooker" cools completely, because for a pressure cooker to literally cool completely it could take over an hour.

Then, should you put the pressure cooker in a refrigerator to hurry up the cooling?  NO.  NEVER.  NEVER EVER. But if you cannot wait until steam is completely let out, then:

1)  Switch off heat and keep pressure cooker aside.  Using a spatula or any other long spoon, gently raise the whistle just a little and keep that way until all steam releases.  Open.
2)  Switch off heat and place pressure cooker inside sink.  Open the tap and let water flow over the lid for 20 seconds.  Do nothing else.  In a minute, you can raise whistle gently to check for steam.  No more ssssssssssssssss?  Open.

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Dal Recipes / Lentil Recipes / Daal Recipes on Spusht:

Spusht | Sabut Moong ki Dal - Whole Green Mung Bean
Sabut Moong ki Dal - Whole Green Mung Bean
Spusht | Yellow Lentils with Mixed Vegetables
Yellow Lentils with Mixed Vegetables
Spusht | Maharashtrian Style Chana Dal Amti
Maharashtrian Style Chana Dal Amti
Spusht | Dal Kali Mirch (Lentils with Black Pepper)
Dal Kali Mirch (Lentils with Black Pepper)

But if you do not have a pressure cooker, click here to learn how to cook dal WITHOUT a pressure cooker.

Let me know if you have any questions!
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