Healthy and extremely easy instant pot dinners.
July 21, 2019 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I have about ten minutes to make dinner every day. These ten minutes are interspersed with caring for twin five month olds. I just got an instant pot. I need recipes that fit some criteria.

-The recipes I seek need to be the “dump and go” type. No adding things at different times, no sautéing, etc. No “cook this part of the meal on the stove.” All one pot. Dumped in all together.

-Prep needs to be minimal. I can chop some vegetables (or dump in frozen ones), but that’s it.

-Here is the part that might make this hard: I need these to be pretty healthy. We don’t stick to a diet, really, but pre-babies we tended to loosely eat Mediterranean-diet-style and prefer this. I keep finding easy instant pot recipes for pastas and pot roasts and stuff like that, and that’s not what we eat. We eat vegetables and chicken and fish, prefer olive oil to butter or other oils, and will eat (brown) rice if it’s in a recipe, but prefer quinoa.

-This part might also be hard: I would like them to be tasty and have some spice to them. If not spice, at least flavor.

-No soup.

-I am ok using the instant pot either as a pressure cooker or slow cooker. My ten minutes can be in the morning or the evening. I saw this bit since my criteria are narrower, here we are.
posted by millipede to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
Vegetables cook really fast in the Instant Pot, so dump and go plans that include chicken or brown rice will either need large chunks of root veg or to have more delicate vegetables added at the end after the pressure cycle has finished and released. However, you can do chicken thighs and brown rice together (22 min pressure then 10 min before release) and stir in say snow peas or broccolini or canned black beans after the pressure release and they’ll cook in a few minutes on keep warm.

You could do vegetables and quinoa together but I’m not sure that the IP would have any benefit over the stovetop for something that cooks so quickly.
posted by zepheria at 9:07 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, frozen salmon fillets and white rice can be done together with seasonings of your choice (jarred chimichurri or teriyaki or pesto?). White rice can be done in 6-11 minutes plus release time. Brown rice needs 22 minutes and the fish would be way overcooked.
posted by zepheria at 9:17 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

16oz salsa
1 cup water/stock
2-3lbs skinless/boneless chicken. Thighs work better than breasts IME.

16 mins high pressure (you want it really falling apart)

You’ll wind up with a pot of very flavorful chicken shreds to use for tacos or burritos that night. Next day add a can of beans and a few oz of cream cheese to the leftovers for a really good enchilada filling.
posted by apparently at 9:19 AM on July 21, 2019 [11 favorites]

I've had the same question lingering in he back of my mind for a while but haven't devoted much time to sorting it out - until this ask reminded me. I haven't tried these recipes, but they're veggie heavy.


Vegetarian chili

Taco Soup - I'll probably try it with canned beans and/or brown lentils rather than committing to soaking beans beforehand. Might sub ground turkey or chicken for the beef.

Personally I'd also experiment with some recipes that call for, say, browning or sautéing spices and aromatics before pressure cooking - leaving out those steps entirely. As an impatient cook I have a history of often eliminating those steps in stovetop cooking and while it may result in a meal that falls a bit short of its full potential, the results have so far been very edible. I'm not talking about doing anything that would result in undercooked chicken, just leaving off steps like sautéing onions and spices - steps that are intended to improve flavor but that aren't completely necessary.
posted by bunderful at 10:06 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

You’ve probably discovered the same thing I did: most IP recipe blogs are bland as all hell, especially the kind of dump+cook recipe you’re after. The problem with recipes like the excellent Urvashi Pitre butter chicken (besides being kind of rich) is the multiple steps to get a flavorful sauce— sautéing spices, blending, and/or reducing.

I think good jarred “simmer sauces” and curry pastes might work well for you— you basically just reconstitute with water or broth if needed and cook whatever in the sauce under pressure. (The flavor building and pureeing is already done.) This is what the second night after the butter chicken is for me; you only eat half the sauce with the chicken, so the remaining sauce can be the base for whatever. Last time I did sweet potatoes which were excellent.

The only thing to watch out for is multiple vegetables or proteins that cook at different rates. It’s slightly more boring but I’ll usually just stick with a single add-in at a time. (Bulky and nutrient filled ingredients like sweet potato are great for this.) If it’s something that doesn’t need to cook for long (most veg, probably fish), I’ll usually just heat on the stove, or in the IP on the sauté setting with the lid off.

I often supplement IP meals with a separate rice cooker for dead-simple, can’t-mess-it-up rice, quinoa, pilaf, etc. It’s also possible of course to add the grains in at the end and get something closer to a biryani, especially if the sauce is thinner than you’d like.
posted by supercres at 10:16 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm going to give you a couple of recipes, then write a paragraph for people who find this later about my experience on what Instant Pots do best. Here are two of my go-to instant pot recipes... they aren't quite dump and go because they involve a little sauteing at the beginning, but you do that in the pot. Or you can just skip that step.

Instant Pot Weeknight Chicken and Rice Burrito Bowls from the Kitchn.

Instant Pot Ground Beef Chili from Nom Nom Paleo. Michelle Tam jumped on the Instant Pot bandwagon early and has published a lot of recipes on her site. If you like this one, you'll find more there.

Instant Pots are really good at braising. While there are a million buttons and modes described in the manual, after two years of using one a couple of times a week, the only buttons I ever use are "saute" and "manual". The challenge of pressure cooking is that everything has to be able to cook at the same time or be something delicate or edible that you can add at the end (like ramen noodles). Consequently, while I cook a lot of different recipes in the IP, they are all either soups/stews or a single kind of thing (proteins, rice, beans) that can be prepped in a large quantity for the week. I don't use it for single meal dishes; everything I make is sized to generate leftovers or can be reused in other dishes.
posted by kovacs at 10:19 AM on July 21, 2019 [12 favorites]

It may take a few tries to get comfortable creating your own recipes for the instant pot, but that’s what I’ve been able to do now that I have a rough idea how long things cook. Getting to this point meant following a few recipes found by googling ingredients I needed to use up — I only check recipes to get a rough idea of cooking times and liquid amounts. I say this only to give you hope if the first few meals take longer than you have time for, I had used a pressure cooker many times before but still needed some trial and error to figure things out. Now I love the damn thing just like most other people do.

My go-to meal is frozen chicken (I like thighs, Ladyfriend Thorn Bushes prefers breasts), either fresh or frozen vegetables, rice, quinoa, or farro, and about a cup to a half cup more liquid than the grains would normally require. I LOVE that the IP can handle frozen chicken because it cuts down on the need to know when I want to cook it and is easier to handle than fresh, in my opinion. The only tricky bit is using enough liquid so the IP doesn’t shut off with a warning about scorching. I tend to be generous with the liquid and am okay with pouring out the extra before eating. For chicken dishes I generally use manual high pressure for 15 minutes, or the poultry button which defaults to 12 minutes, I think.

Having nice broth or stock on hand and a ton of spices (or even a salt blend) means you can throw basically anything in there and it will be fairly tasty. Very few things I’ve made have knocked my socks off but every meal I’ve made has been far better than the minimal effort I put into it.

I like chicken, quinoa and sweet potatoes a lot. Often I will add a splash of heavy cream to this after cooking to make something extraordinarily comforting. The only thing to keep in mind is that veggies will likely turn to mush. I don’t mind this when using the Instant Pot, I figure they’re giving flavor and nutrition at the expense of texture. That’s the trade-off for only needing to spend 10 minutes prepping and getting dinner in the IP. If you have more time sure, you can handle the veggies separately or whatever. But you have 10 minutes, it will still be tasty. It would be tastier if you sautéed aromatics and spices before adding ingredients, or if you optimize cooking times according to ingredients, but respectfully I say: fuck that, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good here.

Other easy ideas: tons of shredded zucchini, whatever rice or other grain you want (but I like brown rice for this), broth or water, seasonings (can be just salt and pepper but use any spice blends you like), and cook according to the rice you’re using. You can also add frozen or fresh chicken to this. Once done, I stir in cheddar cheese but that’s optional or you could use a harder and more flavorful cheese. Works great with spinach or kale too.

If you would eat risotto made with Arborio rice (with veggies or not), risotto turns out incredibly well in an Instant Pot. Not sure if that’s too rice-heavy for you but it’s definitely dump and go and I can share recipes that have worked for me.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:23 AM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thai curry on rice/quinoa:

- 1 packet Thai curry paste or 3 Tbsp
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 cup chicken broth
- frozen vegetables of your choosing
- 1 lb sliced chicken (I usually just get whatever is labelled 'stir fry chicken' at the store)
- lime
- 2 tbsp fish sauce or Worcestershire
- 1-2 tsp brown sugar or to taste

1. put instant pot on 'saute', add half can of coconut milk with curry paste and mix. turn off saute
2. add rest of the coconut milk and ingredients, pressure cook for 5 minutes
3. turn back on to saute, add lime juice, brown sugar, fish sauce and stir for 1 minute

Serve over grains! so good!
posted by thebots at 10:35 AM on July 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of Kenji's green chicken chili.
posted by General Malaise at 10:44 AM on July 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

There are two ways to go with the vegs: either make big chunks that cook slow enough to match the protein, or use a food processor to cut up the vegs into tiny bits to make a lovely thick but healthy gravy when they meld with the juices and other liquids in the cooker. Both work just fine. I made oxtail stew with tiny cut vegetables the other day, and it was beautiful, and I made a couscous royale with big chunks a couple of weeks ago and it was great. In my experience, the big chunk solution is easier. The reason it doesn't work with oxtails is that even in the pressure cooker, they need 40 minutes, so the vegetables will be mash, it's better to go with the mash than fight it.
The pressure cooker option provides the malliard reaction that you otherwise get from browning, so that's worth thinking about.
I don't use the pressure cooker for fish. Maybe it would work for dried fish, but I don't want to try. With chicken, it's good and very fast for stew-type dishes. Chicken pieces, big chunks of onion, garlic, root vegetables and squash, and a can of tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and whatever acid you prefer: lemon, vinegar, balsamico, wine.
Have you seen Melissa Clark's Instant Pot cookbook? (The link is to the NYTimes cooking site, where you have to pay for access but you can see the concept, you might just as well buy the book if you like the ideas).
posted by mumimor at 10:56 AM on July 21, 2019

Note that the OP says no soups, assuming this means no stews or chili either.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:19 AM on July 21, 2019

When I’m making something in the Instant Pot, I just ignore instructions to sauté and dump everything in. There’s probably a slight taste difference, but it’s subtle enough that it’s not a problem for me.

OP, I make stews, but serve them over rice, like a curry (you could obviously use a different grain). Is something like that what you’d want? If so, I’d suggest an Ethiopian berbere stew. I buy premixed berbere spice and don’t sauté anything, so it’s pretty much dump and go. It can be pretty spicy, depending on how much spice mix you use (I cut it down because I can’t tolerate a lot of heat).
posted by FencingGal at 11:35 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Here's another one from Serious Eats:

Colombian Chicken Stew with Potatoes, Tomato, and Onion.

I know it says stew, but really, the broth is kind of a byproduct and the main attraction is the chicken and potatoes. I'm also a new parent (of twins) and this one has definitely been in heavy rotation for a while.
posted by 6and12 at 11:35 AM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh, mine isn’t a specifically Instant Pot recipe, but I dump everything in the Instant Pot and set on thirty minutes, which is probably more time than you actually need. Instead of cilantro, I throw in a half a bag of frozen spinach. It’s an easier recipe the way I make it than the way it’s written - I forgot about that.
posted by FencingGal at 11:38 AM on July 21, 2019

If chili is ok, I love this Smitten Kitchen black bean chicken chili. I usually use chipotle in adobo paste for the heat, but you can use anything. I use pre-minced frozen garlic and usually cut up a fresh onion, though I've used frozen chopped onion and it turned out fine. I think it probably takes me around 5-10 min to measure everything out, open cans, and dump it into the instant pot.

Using only black beans (no larger beans) I find it takes 35 min on high pressure, not 30 as the recipe says. One nice thing about it is that the recipe turns out well with manual release or with natural release or with leaving on keep warm until you are ready to eat it.

I generally eat the chili alone, but you could eat it over quinoa or rice or with bread or whatever if you'd like.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:39 PM on July 21, 2019

The only vegan recipe I’ve found that satisfies this is Sassy Sesame Tofu from Vegan Under Pressure, though there is a 2-minute sauté requirement.
posted by inkytea at 1:41 PM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is not a complete meal alone, but my favorite instant pot chicken recipe is:

- put chicken (can be fresh or frozen, white or dark meat) in instant pot
- dump jar of salsa on top
- cook for appropriate amount of time given the quantity and type of chicken

Since this only takes a minute or two of active cooking time, you can use your remaining eight minutes to open a bag of prewashed salad greens or baby spinach and/or heat up leftover quinoa or whatever grain you have around.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:46 PM on July 21, 2019

I think you’d have more success with making a big ass pot of brown rice, another of protein and then some frozen veggies that can be heated up in the microwave with the aforementioned items each night for dinner
posted by raccoon409 at 2:12 PM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think the best use of the instant pot for your situation might be to use it to batch cook grains (quinoa, brown rice), chicken (it does chicken thighs really well for shredded chicken for things like tacos), and maybe beans once or twice a week along with prepping hardy veggies like carrots, peppers, onions, and use the saved time while the grains/chicken are being reheated to prep veggies or prepare a sauce. With those components you can put together salads, grain bowls, and wraps and top up with things like hemp hearts, slivered nuts, seeds, feta.
You can steam asparagus in the instant pot in your time frame (set manual at 0), broccoli, cauliflower etc., but if you don't remove them from the pot immediately it gets overcooked because the steam has to be released manually (chicken can depressurize slowly without affecting it thankfully).
posted by lafemma at 2:14 PM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Your requirements are pretty tough because of the nature of pressure cooking (and even slow cooking) and I'm not finding recipes in my collections that work well for both time/steps involved, one-pot, plus no soups, chili, stews, risottos, or similar.

But adaptation is always an option! And I'd like to add a few bits of info that might help putting something together that does work much easier:

My first suggestion would be, do you have a generous friend or family member who is crazy about their instant pot and likes playing with recipes? Give them the task of finding and adapting a couple of recipes for your needs. I bet you have a loved one who would be psyched to experiment on your behalf! Now, onto some tips:

One spice to rule them all (in times of need): when we are too exhausted to even open the spice drawer and distinguish the oregano from the thyme, we just add garlic powder (usually), and Magic Mushroom Powder. Beware though, MMP has a LOT of salt. We cut the salt way down so we can use more of it as a spice. But wow, does adding this one thing pick up a lot dishes from nice to "wow, yummy!" We just keep it on the counter for ease of grabbing. Give someone else the task of whipping it up for you, but we make a half portion and use a small bullet type processor for the mushrooms, and it comes together quickly.

Mushy Veg? OR delicious vegetable sauce? You can't put it all together at once and have your vegetables come out al dente or lightly steamed, so just assume your vegetables are going to become a sauce for your chicken (and accompanying grain or whatever). You can use a hand blender (wand style) to blend the vegetable(s) after removing the meat. A few drops of cream at this stage can bring it all together.

Knorr's gel stock pots: You can add one of these directly into the pot with however much water you need, and forget about dealing with broth, or just add it for the extra flavor. These are waaaaay tastier than the old bouillon cubes, and very easy to just toss in. I use the vegetable version about 85 percent of the time.

Magical Fresh Greens: Bagged salad is a great thing for someone who has no time to spare, and for me, even easier is a bag of fresh Arugula always on hand. I end up topping a ton of dishes with this right out of the bag because I adore the flavor and I don't have the energy to make a veggie side dish.

Skip the sauté step -- or just do one side: Most recipes will call for browning the chicken, plus various veg (onions, mushrooms, garlic), but you can skip that and it won't be terrible. Or you can brown just one side of the chicken, which adds that extra bit of oomph, and gives you a bit to deglaze if that's called for. This can be a pretty significant time saver.

You don't have to mince the garlic! Pressure cookers don't really need mince. I just crush my garlic cloves to remove the skin and toss it in. No one will ever be the wiser.

You don't have to chop the onion! Seriously, just getting the onion skin off the onion is enough effort. Cut the onion in half and use your mandolin to slice it in a flash. Again, pressure cookers aren't precious about having tiny minced bits of things in the mix. I've never once said, "hmm, good, but would have been better if the onions had been chopped."

Anchovy paste. This is another simple trick for getting more spice / variation flavor in dishes. Keep a tube in your fridge, and squeeze in a bit when you feel like you need a bit more lift in your recipe. No cutting chopping crushing grinding thawing peeling measuring. You don't even need to worry about stirring, since pressure cooking pretty much cooks things in a way that a stir at the end is all you need.

Instant Couscous! Enough said. This is the absolute easiest grain side dish in the world, and it loves to soak up the sauce or gravy that most instant pot recipes end up with. Just mix 1 part couscous to 2 parts hot water, and let it sit for a bit. You can add thawed frozen chopped vegetables to the couscous with a little olive oil and squeeze of lemon, if you'd like, and you have your basics covered with nearly about zero effort.

Speaking of gravy... If you find yourself with too much broth / juice mix after you've cooked your dish, stir up some corn starch and a little water and dribble and mix a bit at a time into the juice during the "keep warm" period to thicken. Gravy, son!

For grain-in-pot, think about barley: Barley is very healthy, and takes more cooking than most rice or similar, so it's something you can add with your meat, and it will probably come out just about right ... if your meat isn't too fast cooking. You might like something like beef barley soup, but with less liquid so it's not a soup but a pot dish.

Finally, most fish is not going to work in a not-soup instant pot dish, but I've been thinking a lot about squid. Here's a non-complicated recipe for Squid Adobo I've been meaning to try. If the squid is pre-cleaned, this should be an easy dish, though not complete with veg and grain.

Good luck with it all, and I hope you find many more precise recipes, but perhaps some of this info might also help when you are looking at pulling something together around a basic idea or recipe that can be simplified!
posted by taz at 3:37 PM on July 21, 2019 [15 favorites]

Japanese curry cubes are delicious- I do them in my slow cooker, so I would expect them to work well in an instant pot. It makes a thick stewy curry that's great on rice or by itself. Using starchy veg like potato makes it super filling.

I'd dump in a box of low-salt broth + 2-4 curry cubes (they're well salted) + 6 pieces of skinless chicken + 4 cups of chunked sturdy veggies, like carrot, onion, potato, sweet potato, squash, and even Caribbean pumpkin (this is sold sold in big unappetizing wedges on styrofoam trays in my grocery store, but it's quite delicious when you chop it and stew it like this).

Once the stew is cooked and the Instant Pot is open, I'd dump in a few handfuls of veggies that don't need to be cooked much, like baby spinach, baby kale, a can of corn niblets, or frozen peas that I rinsed to thaw a bit- throw them into the hot mixture, stir them in to warm/wilt, and enjoy!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:44 PM on July 21, 2019

No one has mentioned pot-in-pot cooking yet and I use it ALL the time.

-> Ground beef or chicken breast tenders with 1/4 broth and 1/4-1/2 c. liquidy salsa (I use cheap picante sauce or pico de gallo that's not perfectly fresh). Set the rack on top of the meat and place a 6" round cake pan above it, dump a can of black beans in it with garlic salt, lime juice, or just spoon more salsa in there. Use chopsticks or metal straws across the top of the cake pan and put ANOTHER cake pan on top with a pre-mixed dry Mexican rice mix and the required amount of liquid. Manual,high pressure, 8-10 minutes. Eat with tortillas or tortilla chips.

-> This was the first meal I ever cooked in the Instant pot, and I mix up variations of this often. Works with gluten free pastas, a variety of veggies and meat. Use pre-made frozen meatballs or sauté Italian sausages directly in the pot, deglaze with water. Add salt, garlic, a spoonful of tomato paste, your favorite pizza-appropriate herbs. Add pasta, and use just enough water to almost cover the pasta. Stick broccoli florets stem side down into the water (this is important, so they don't get mushy). Lid on, the rule is to cook pasta on manual high pressure for 1/2 the time stated on the box, usually 2-4 minutes.

Basically if you have 1/2 of liquid on the bottom of the pot, you can stack and layer other pots full of grains or meat mixes. I've done curries this way, with liquid in the pot, rack, cake pan with meat and a pre-made marinade, chopsticks/straws, next cake pan with jasmine rice and spices.

The goal is to layer things that have roughly the same cook time. If you're using raw frozen meat, you're going to be cooking it in the pot at least 15 minutes on manual high pressure, so a good accompaniment is foil wrapped potatoes or something that deal with longer cooking. Pre-cooked frozen meat is more forgiving. Sauteing raw meat first cuts down the length of time it needs to be pressure cooked and adds flavor.

I also liberally use canned beans and vegetables that are basically just getting seasoned and heated while meat or grains (or both cook). The item with liquid (or just water by itself) goes in the pot first, then a rack, then stacked cake pans. You can do chickpeas with olive oil and salt in the pot, white rice with spinach and lemon in a cake pan, and fish fillets in a cake pan, for ex.

I also liberally use canned beans and vegetables that are basically just getting seasoned and heated while meat or grains (or both cook). The item with liquid (or just water by itself) goes in the pot first, then a rack, then stacked cake pans. You can do chickpeas with olive oil and salt in the pot, white rice with spinach and lemon in a cake pan, and fish fillets in a cake pan, for ex.

I also use the pot to pre-cook meats and potatoes for sheet pan roasting. We have a lot of food allergies, so things the Instant Pot really excels at (like risotto) doesn't come up often for us, but may be a good option for you.
posted by annathea at 5:48 PM on July 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

I was really surprised how good the aforementioned Urvashi Pitre's (Frozen) Fish Saag is given how freezer-based (both the fish and spinach are frozen) and dead simple it is. You have to parchop (if that) some veggies then get them blended up (I use a stick/hand mixer; a mini food processor would work too), and the fish needs to start frozen and be wrapped up within the pot in order to cook appropriately, so hopefully that's not too much prep for you...but otherwise it is all one go in the IP, very healthy based on your parameters (fish and spinach!), and surprisingly spice-flavorful.

My only caveat is you end up with tons of sauce, enough so you won't know what to do with some of it (I've been thinking about not including the added water to the pot, but can't vouch firsthand as to the results)--I suppose that could be a plus if you can think of something to use it leftover to dress (caulirice later maybe?).
posted by ifjuly at 10:38 AM on July 23, 2019

(and forgot to mention, some personal tips on that saag recipe: handblend the onion/tomato/garlic etc. veggies right in the pot liner to streamline things, go easy on the salt, and yeah, i haven't tried it yet myself but the results are so extra-liquid saucy--flavorfully so, but still--i'm considering skipping the 1/4 cup water and some of the coconut milk in both parts in the future--if i do that i'd perhaps adjust the spice amounts)
posted by ifjuly at 10:45 AM on July 23, 2019

By the way, speaking of garlic and "just crushing it to remove the skin" for the instant pot: I have recently discovered that the Korean market next to the place I occasionally stop for lunch has big containers of peeled garlic for essentially nothing. I afterwards found Trader Joes also has peeled garlic for a few times as much, but still really cheap. Keeps for weeks in the fridge and a real time-saver.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:02 PM on July 30, 2019

Instant pot is good for dump and go but an easier one may be using the slow cooking mode for you.

You could dump meat, vegetables , beans etc in the morning and have it prepared for dinner time. Healthiness depends on the ingredients you are adding ( chicken instead of red meat ) and number of vegetables and spices. You said no soup but what about stew or chilli?
posted by radsqd at 12:54 PM on October 10, 2019

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