I so badly wanted to believe the American Heart Association was going to change the way weeknight dinners go down in my house with their new Instant Pot cookbook, “Instant & Healthy: 100 Low-Fuss, High-Flavor Recipes.”

Photograpy by Lauren Volo/cover courtesy of the American Heart Association

I imagined a wholesome, nutritious and delicious middle ground between our strict six-week paleo cleanses that are quite yummy but altogether unsustainable and the sad parade of take-out that too often bookends our attempts at getting this healthy eating thing right.

But much like the 2019 Red Sox, this cookbook disappointed, at least based on the three recipes I tested. Unlike that same team, however, it didn’t cheat. (If it had, the recipes might have had more taste!) But in my repeated attempts at cheating my genetic legacy, I have cooked enough healthy food to know that nutritious food doesn’t have to be bland.

Perhaps, though, nutritious food cooked in an Instant Pot in between doing two loads of laundry, letting the dog out to pee, changing the batteries in a squawking fire alarm, helping my daughter pick out high school electives while fighting off the last vestiges of a persistent cold must, in fact, be bland.

I tried three recipes from “Instant & Healthy”: a shrimp jambalaya (not as good as other versions I’ve made, although definitely lighter), gingered pork tenderloin (too many steps for an Instant Pot recipe, requiring me to babysit the dish more than I’m willing to) and the butternut squash soup, which I’ll probably make again.

I have been on the hunt for a lighter version of Panera Bread’s autumn squash soup. There are nights I would trade the beloved, aforementioned dog for a big, hot bowl of that soup. Or I’d at least let you pet her, a lot, if you looked like a nice person. But at 230 calories per cup, that soup is dangerous.

The Instant & Healthy version was a little thin, but I think I can add heft and flavor next time by upping the squash to 4 cups instead of 3 and roasting it for some caramelization before adding it to the soup, perhaps with a bit of rosemary. I also might use sunflower oil instead of canola.

Sadly, the ingredient that turned my first attempt at this soup into a delicious lunch was a slab of crusty bread. Yes, I know, the bread undercuts the whole point of the soup, which clocks in at just 54 calories per 1 cup serving. The sunflower seeds sprinkled on top helped, but the bread, which we used to sop up the soup, made it.

I don’t begrudge you your self-righteous hiss of shame. But that thin slice of bread was the best thing that could happen to this low-fuss soup, and the only way I could get my family to enjoy it. Because to truly be healthy, a food must be eaten — sometimes with a spoon made of crusty bread.

Butternut Squash Soup

Recipe from “Instant & Healthy: 100 Low-Fuss, High-Flavor Recipes.”

Total prep, cooking and pressure release time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons canola or corn oil

2 medium shallots, chopped

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed, about 3 cups

3 cups fat-free, low-sodium vegetable broth

2 tablespoons minced, peeled gingerroot

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon course ground pepper

1/3 cup fat-free half-and-half

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg

Heat the oil in the pressure cooker on sauté. Cook the shallots for 3 minutes, or until soft, stirring frequently. Turn off the pressure cooker.

Stir in the squash, broth, gingerroot, salt and pepper. Secure the lid. Cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then quickly release any remaining pressure. Turn off the pressure cooker. Remove the pressure cooker lid.

Allow the soup to cool slightly. Working in batches, transfer the soup to a blender (vent the blender lid) and puree it until smooth. (Use caution as the soup and steam are hot and vent the blender away from you.) Return the soup to the pressure cooker.

Stir in the half and half. Cook on the sauté setting for 2 to 3 minutes, or until heated through, stirring frequently. Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with the nutmeg.


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