Q: All of the pressure cooker instruction books say that you shouldn’t cook split peas in your pressure cooker. But Doris, you told me you did! What happened? Is it safe?
(a conversation between Doris and Jilly)
Well, Jilly. No, you really shouldn’t do this. I tried, and it’s the only time that I have been frightened when using the pressure cooker. This happened:
I put the split peas and their broth in the cooker, and everything was going swimmingly. The regulator was rocking, it was hissing—no problem. But suddenly I noticed that the jiggling stopped. The pressure cooker became very, very quiet. Suspecting what had happened, I immediately turned off the heat and waited. After about 30 seconds, the cooker made a horrible sound and split pea mash started emerging from the underside of the regulator. It didn’t actually explode, but had I not turned off the heat, it’s hard to say what might have happened.
So, kids, it turns out that the instructions are correct: it is not safe to cook split peas in the pressure cooker. They foam, and the foam clogs the vent. Pressure can’t escape and you’ve got yourself a ticking time bomb. However (!), you can still prepare them in the pressure cooker, but—and this is a big but—you must enclose them in a separate pan. Simply put your split peas and broth in a small, heatproof bowl, cover it securely with foil, and place it on the steaming rack. Add 2 cups of water to the cooker and cook as you normally would (about 5 minutes should be plenty). This is the same procedure that we used for steaming the barley. All set!
One more thing: this accident was averted because I was in the kitchen and noticed that it stopped jiggling. Never leave your pressure cooker unattended.