Cook the Book: Dinner In an Instant by Melissa Clark


Welcome to Cook the Book, an occasional series where I cook my way through books I love and explore how poetry surfaces in the kitchen. This post contains affiliate links, so if you click through and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission.

This blog post could very well be titled Instant Pot: A Love Story, because in the course of a year my adoration of this machine has grown by leaps and bounds. It wasn’t love at first sight though …

The first thing we should clear up about the Instant Pot is it will not make your dinner instantly. Yes, you can cook rice in about nine minutes, tortilla soup in about six minutes, and carrots in about three minutes, but here’s where the learning curve comes in: warming up. The process of allowing the Instant Pot to pressurize takes roughly 10 minutes, so you need to tack that on to whatever you’re making, as well as some release time on the back end.

Some recipes call for a manual release, which is when you press a magic button and all the steam comes whizzing out in about two minutes. Other recipes have you delay the release, and others don’t have you touch the release button at all, which can take up to 20 minutes. Also, some recipes call for using the sauté function first, so everything essentially happens in one pot. This is ideal for making cleanup easier, but adds cooking time.

But once you learn how it works, there’s a lot to love. When I first started using it, I followed the advice of Heidi Swanson who suggested trying one new recipe a week to keep from getting overwhelmed. Overall, using an Instant Pot significantly cuts cooking times, especially for dishes like braised meats and stock. In about an hour, you can have an enriching broth ready to freeze, and in about an hour and a half, garlicky pork, which would normally take three hours to braise in the oven.

My favorite thing about the Instant Pot is being able to walk away. Normally, I like tending to the pots. After all, when it comes to finding poetry in the kitchen, the actual process of cooking itself is where much of it is revealed—the chopping, the stirring, the listening, the staring off into the yard as you wash dishes.

But sometimes it’s nice to not have to worry about turning the flame up or down. The Instant Pot gives you some time back. Once everything is locked up inside and the appropriate buttons are pushed, you don’t have to think about anything until it’s time to plate your dinner. You can reallocate the time you’d normally spend puttering around the kitchen to other domestic or creative tasks. If you’d like, you can walk straight to the bookshelf and pull down a book of poetry, reading it while you wait.

I was scared of the not cooking at first, of tossing everything into a pot and trusting its precision, never having to come check on things, to stir, to taste as I go. In many ways, cooking with an Instant Pot is an act of trust. But there’s also a satisfying rush that washes over your body when you turn the lid and lift it open.

An Instant Pot will never replace my Dutch oven, its enamel, its heaviness, its history. But an Instant Pot does offer a gift many of us are in short supply of: time.

An Instant Pot will never replace my Dutch oven, its enamel, its heaviness, its history. But an Instant Pot does offer a gift many of us are in short supply of: time. We can leave the kitchen and tend to other parts of our lives. Sometimes I write or read, other days I vacuum or fold laundry. I’ll go upstairs and play with my son for a few minutes longer, or cook something in the morning so it’s ready for dinner in the evening. For giving the ability to walk away, I’m grateful.

Other recipes I enjoyed from this book:

  • Steel Cut Oats: I make steel cut oats in the Instant Pot about once a week. The whole process takes about 30 minutes in total (so keep that in mind if it’s a school/work day) but it’s nice to have a warm breakfast option no matter the season.

  • Tangerine Carrots With Ricotta, Chives, and Walnuts: These carrots cook in 3 minutes. Seriously. Such an easy side! I’ve also made it a meal by tossing the carrots with quinoa and baby kale for a salad situation.

  • Garlicky Cuban Pork: I saw this recipe when it was printed in the New York Times and remember my mouth watering. This is one of those secret weapon recipes that’s so easy to make it’s almost laughable, but everyone clamors for more, tells you repeatedly how good it as, and asks for the recipe.

  • Indian Butter Shrimp: The shrimp are marinated in yogurt and lime, and the tomato-based sauce is full of flavor thanks to ginger, lime, and a generous hunk of butter.

Black Beans With Green Chiles and Cumin

Barely adapted from Dinner In an Instant by Melissa Clark

Black Beans With Green Chiles and Cumin (Instant Pot Recipe, Vegetarian)

I wanted to share this recipe because it’s one of the unsung heroes of the cookbook, I think. First of all, it comes without a picture, so it’s easy to flip the page without giving black beans much thought. But these are worth the pause. First, the versatility. A pot of these fragrant beans can transform your meals in many different ways—serve them alone, spooned over rice, or as a base for veggie tacos. I always freeze about half for later. The ingredients list looks long but everything is probably sitting in your pantry already (except the poblanos), so don’t let that deter you, either.

And this recipe essentially illustrates everything I’ve shared about the Instant Pot above. You start by using the sauté function (about 15 minutes), cook beans (unsoaked, hooray!) for 40 minutes, then let the pressure release naturally (up to 20 minutes). So you see, there’s nothing instant about these beans, but you get the benefit of not needing to remember to soak them, and only one pot to clean up. It’s a win in my book!


3 poblano chiles
2 serrano chiles (leave these out if your kids don’t do spicy)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped sage
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound dried black beans
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 medium-size ripe tomato, quartered
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems and leaves separated
Monterey Jack cheese, for serving (optional)
Lime wedges, for serving


Roast the poblano and serrano chiles over an open flame, or under your broiler, until their skins are blistered and charred, about 10 minutes. Transfer them to a bowl, cover with a plate, and let them sit until they are cool enough to handle. Rub the skins off with a paper towel, then seed and dice the chiles.

Using the sauté function, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in the pressure cooker (I use the low setting). Stir in the onion and cook until golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sage, two-thirds of the minced garlic, and the chili powder and cumin; cook for 1 minute. Stir in the chopped poblanos, half the serranos, and the beans, salt, and 5 cups of water. Cover and cook on high pressure for 40 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally. If the beans aren’t cooked through, cook on high pressure for another 5 minutes, then manually release pressure.

While the beans are cooking, combine the tomato, cilantro stems, half the cilantro leaves, the remaining garlic, the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, and remaining serranos. Add a large pinch of salt. Blend until smooth.

When the beans finish cooking, stir in the tomato puree and let sit for 5 minutes. If the mix seems thin, simmer beans on the sauté setting for a few minutes until thickened up.

Transfer beans to bowls and serve topped with cheese (if using), remaining cilantro leaves, and lime wedges on the side.