This super-quick, yet deeply flavorful Instant Pot dish was inspired by a recipe I saw in the New York Times a while back

Like so many vegan dishes, it was fairly low in protein (12 g per serving — most adults need two to three times as much per meal, esp. when the protein is derived from plants, most of which have an incomplete amino acid profile). So I upped the protein content by adding tofu. (Replacing tofu with shrimp and chicken will supply even more protein — see the “Notes” section below the recipe.)

Next, I replaced the sweet potatoes in the original recipe with diced eggplant and bell peppers – two equally delicious and nutritious vegetables with a significantly lower carbohydrate content and glycemic impact.

Cooking the dish in the Instant Pot rather than on the stovetop shortened the cooking time by half an hour (though you can make it in a regular pot if you don’t have an Instant Pot).

In Praise of Pressure Cooking

As many of you know, I love my Instant Pot — it’s quick, easy, energy-efficient, programmable, and minimizes cooking odors.

Best of all from a nutritional perspective, pressure cooking (it doesn’t have to be an Instant Pot — any pressure cooker works) retains foods’ nutrient contents better than any other cooking method.

This 1995 study, for instance, found that pressure cooking preserved vitamin C and beta carotene in spinach and amaranth — two important antioxidant nutrients — better than any other cooking method did. Boiling reduced nutrients the most, with 40-75% retained (that’s nutrient losses of up to 60%!). Roasting and steaming preserved up to 90% of nutrients (but in some measurements, almost half of the nutrients were lost). Pressure cooking, meanwhile, preserved 90-95% of nutrients.

In a 2007 study, pressure-cooking broccoli preserved 90% of its vitamin C compared to steaming (78%) and boiling (66%). Boiling and steaming were also found to destroy all the sulforaphane in the broccoli (sulforaphane is the cancer-fighting compound in cruciferous vegetables), whereas pressure cooking did not cause any significant loss.

Why is cooking under pressure nutrient-protective? For one, the food in pressure cookers isn’t always immersed in water, so there’s less loss into the liquid (and if you do cook it in liquid, as in soups & stews, the nutrients may leach into the liquid but remain available to you since you consume liquid). Moreover, pressure cooking times are much shorter than any other cooking method, so there’s less time for nutrients to leach out.

For example, it takes between 6 and 9 minutes to steam cauliflower florets (depending on the desired degree of doneness) in a regular pot — three to four times longer than the 1-2 minutes it needs in a pressure cooker. (Bonus: you won’t get cauliflower smells wafting through your house thanks to the tight seal on the pressure cooker!)

Pressure cooking is also thought to reduce the so-called anti-nutrients in certain plant foods better than other cooking methods. Anti-nutrients are natural plant compounds like lectins, phytates, and enzyme inhibitors that may make digestion more difficult and impair the absorption of essential nutrients.

In this study, the phytic acid content of peas soaked overnight and then boiled was reduced by 29%. But in peas that had been soaked overnight and pressure-cooked, the phytic acid was reduced by 54%! And this study found that pressure cooking was as effective as fermentation in reducing lectins in grass peas (a legume).

So while I don’t want to sound like a pressure-cooker salesperson, consider this: if you’re going to go to all that trouble to cook a nutritious meal, don’t you want to get the biggest bang for your nutritional buck?

Thai Lentil Soup with Crispy Tofu

Keyword: 30 Minutes Max., Dairy-Free (or can be), Gluten-Free (or can be), Instant Pot, Legumes, Soups & Stews, Vegan (or can be), Vegetarian (or can be)
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 478kcal
A delicious, quick & easy weeknight meal your family will love
Print Recipe

Equipment

  • 1 Instant Pot or other type of pressure cooker; a stovetop pot works, too, but will take about 30 minutes longer

Ingredients

Tofu (or chicken or shrimp) and marinade

  • 3 packs baked or extra-firm tofu I like this brand, this brand, or this one; cut into ½-inch cubes. Alternatively, use 1 lb chicken (cut into bite-sized pieces) or 1 lb shrimp (shelled)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp Thai seasoning paste like this brand; alternatively, use 1 tbsp minced garlic, 1 tbsp minced ginger, 1 tbsp minced lemongrass, ½ tbsp srirachi sauce, 1 tbsp lime juice, ½ tsp fish sauce (I love Red Boat), and ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp fish sauce I recommend Red Boat

Lentil soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
  • 1 large yellow onion diced
  • 1 large eggplant topped, tailed, and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 large bell peppers one red, one green; cored, seeded, and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp Thai red curry paste or more if you like it hot; my favorite brand is Mae Anong
  • 1 tbsp garlic minced; about 5 medium cloves
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger minced; I use a MIcroplane zester to grate it
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves fresh or dried (optional)
  • 1 cup red lentils rinsed
  • 3 cups vegetable broth or chicken bone broth if you're using chicken or shrimp; even water works here
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 5 oz baby greens kale or spinach
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce I recommend Red Boat
  • ½ lime juiced
  • ½ cup cilantro and/or Thai basil for garnish

Instructions

  • Combine olive oil, fish sauce, and seasoning paste (or fresh herbs and spices, if using) in a medium bowl. Add the tofu cubes (or cubed chicken or defrosted, peeled shrimp, whichever you are using) and toss to coat. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, ideally a few hours (or overnight) in the fridge.
  • Set the Instant Pot to SAUTE, HIGH, heat 1 tbsp of the oil, and add onion, eggplant, and bell pepper; sprinkle these with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes.
  • Add Thai curry paste, garlic, ginger, lemongrass paste (if using), and turmeric, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Add the lentils, kaffir lime leaves (if using), and stock or water. Lock the lid and change the pot’s setting to PRESSURE, HIGH. Set the timer for 4 minutes. Once the timer beeps, let the pressure release naturally for 5 minutes, then release the rest by switching the pressure valve to VENTING.
  • Change the pot’s setting to SAUTE, LOW. Stir in the coconut milk and bring back to a gentle simmer. Stir in the baby greens and simmer until just wilted, 1-2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the lime juice and season with fish sauce to taste. Cover to keep warm.
  • Once the soup is ready to serve, heat a skillet over high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive or coconut oil and sear the marinated tofu for 5-6 minutes, turning occasionally with tongs until browned all around. (If using chicken or shrimp, sear until browned all around and cooked through; for the shrimp this will take less time than the chicken. Careful not to overcook the shrimp -- they'll turn dry and rubbery.)
  • Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the crispy tofu cubes (or shrimp or chicken). Scatter with chopped fresh herbs and serve immediately.

Notes

Approximate nutritional contents vary depending on the type of protein you add to this dish. These were calculated on Cronometer:
  • Approx. nutrition content (just the soup, per serving of 6): Calories 373, Fat 18 g, Saturated Fat 13 g, Sodium 495 mg, Total Carbohydrate 39 g, Dietary Fiber 10 g, Net carbohydrate 29 g, Sugars 9 g, Protein 16 g.
  • Approx. nutrition content (using tofu, per serving of 6): Calories 478, Total Fat 25 g, Saturated Fat 14 g, Sodium 751 mg, Total Carbohydrate 39 g, Dietary Fiber 10 g, Net Carbohydrate 29 g, Sugars 9 g, Protein 29 g.
  • Approx. nutrition content (using shrimp, per serving of 6): Calories 460, Fat 21 g, Saturated Fat 13 g, Sodium 682 mg, Total Carbohydrate 39 g, Dietary Fiber 10 g, Net Carbohydrate 29 g, Sugars 9 g, Protein 29 g.
  • Approx. nutrition content (using chicken, per serving of 6): Calories 480, Fat 23 g, Saturated Fat 14 g, Sodium 562 mg, Total Carbohydrate 39 g, Dietary Fiber 10 g, Net Carbohydrate 29 g, Sugars 9 g, Protein 31 g.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 478kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 0mg | Sodium: 630mg | Potassium: 894mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 2747IU | Vitamin C: 84mg | Calcium: 93mg | Iron: 6mg