Set It & Forget It

10 Indian Instant Pot Recipes for Rich, Comforting Flavor Fast

Including Urvashi Pitre's viral Instant Pot butter chicken.

November 20, 2020
Photo by Colin Price

"My son Mark learned to cook with a [stovetop] pressure cooker when he was nineteen years old," Urvashi Pitre writes in the introduction to her forthcoming book, Instant Pot Fast & Easy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2019). "I still remember the day he mastered four different dishes in one day. Now, Mark is scary-smart, this is true, but it's also true that pressure cookers are not that complicated."

Pitre—aka the "Butter-Chicken Lady," per New Yorker contributor Priya Krishna—is probably one of the smartest people I've ever talked to; she's a scientist by day and a cookbook author by night. From a single 30-minute phone conversation with her, I learned more about pressure cooking than I have reading about it for years in cookbooks, online, or even in my own kitchen tinkering with my little 3-quart Instant Pot, the electric pressure cooker Pitre also uses for her recipes. In these 30 minutes (about the time it takes for her Instant Pot butter chicken to come together), she expressed her frustration at all of the Instant Pot recipes out there that make you sauté first, when science shows a simple dump-and-cook would do.

"People aren't thinking through how a pressure cooker really cooks," she tells me. "They're not leveraging the full capabilities of the Instant Pot or coming at it from a scientific perspective."

Photo by Rocky Luten

According to Pitre, the Maillard reaction—which is a web of chemical reactions that happen between amino acids and carbohydrates when food is cooked, making it smell and taste great—is often conflated with sautéing, or that "brown crust" we all love on steak.

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Top Comment:
“I think when many bloggers jumped on the Instant Pot bandwagon in the beginning, some didn't understand the way a pressure cooker worked and just changed the cooking vessel. I've made some things that weren't all that great and always go back to recipes that I know will work and taste wonderful. As many of us in the Two Sleevers Facebook groups say... #trusturvashi”
— Debbie W.

But this conflation disregards that the Maillard reaction can happen without caramelization and at temperatures as low as 130°F (though the lower the temperature, the longer it'll take to achieve the reaction, e.g. even in a slow cooker with liquid, or in a pressure cooker). "In a pressure cooker, the boiling point of water is increased as the pressure rises," Pitre explains. "So a pressure cooker can get to about 230°F, and that’s definitely high enough for Maillard. What this means is that when you put your food in a pressure cooker, essentially that super-heated water starts to create the Maillard reaction even though the environment is moist. It's not an all-or-nothing reaction."

What she was telling me, in short, was that a pressure cooker can create a Maillard reaction, even without the sauté function. This blew my mind.

"It's a mistake to take the moisture out of food by searing it first, and then just adding back plain water," Pitre says about the Instant Pot's sauté function (for which there is, of course, a time and a place, such as when you need to fry spices in oil for a tadka).

Ready to put all of this science to the test, I've collected Pitre's most delicious Instant Pot recipes below, along with a few from Archana Mundhe, author of The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook. Mundhe's recipes celebrate another aspect of the multi-cooker that's worth mentioning here: convenience. "The Instant Pot makes the process more hands-off, especially for Indian cooking," Mundhe writes. "It is a true one-pot experience where you can cook traditional recipes like biryani, pongal, korma, and other dishes that would normally use multiple pots."

When I asked Pitre whether or not Indian food in particular lends itself well to the Instant Pot—perhaps explaining why "Instant Pot recipes Indian" is one of the most searched Instant Pot–related queries according to Google—she said:

"Does it lend itself? Hm, sure. One thing is that Indian food has been prepared in stovetop pressure cookers for years. Indian home cooks have been using them for so long, so when it comes to writing Indian recipes for the Instant Pot, there's no translation needed."

Our Best Instant Pot Indian Recipes

Instant Pot Butter Chicken by Urvashi Pitre

This 30-minute, Keto-friendly butter chicken recipe’s not-so-secret ingredient is butter, plus paprika and good-quality garam masala. Vegetarians should also feel free to swap in peas and paneer, or tofu, for the chicken.

Archana Mundhe's Instant Pot Butter Chicken

For a slightly different take on butter chicken (here we’ve got ghee and Kashmiri red chile powder), try this recipe.

Instant Pot Indian Tomato Coconut Soup

Though this simple soup of canned coconut milk and tomatoes may not seem any more exciting than a can of soup, think again—thanks to ginger, garlic, turmeric, it’s packed with nuanced flavor.

Instant Pot Indian Kheema Pulao

This dish of spiced ground beef and rice is the most comforting dinner after a long day or a cold walk home. Though it’s technically optional, you shouldn’t skip the spice blend.

Archana Mundhe's Instant Pot Palak Paneer

Creamy and spicy, this palak paneer relies on whizzed-up cashews and a splash of milk (use cashew or coconut milk to make it vegan) instead of heavy cream—the bright green color of the spinach is preserved thanks to a super-quick flash-cook in the Instant Pot.

Instant Pot Lamb & Rice Casserole (Lamb Dum Biryani)

Biryani is usually worth the trouble (lots of different pots; worrying about rice and lamb cooking to the right doneness at the same time; takes several hours). But on busy weeknights, try this version: it’s done in about an hour.

Instant Pot Pea & Paneer Curry

Creamy cheese (or tofu!) and tender peas float in a creamy, tangy coconut-tomato curry.

Archana Mundhe's Instant Pot Spicy Lentils

Simple yellow dal with a swoosh of spicy, garlicky ghee is just as satisfying for breakfast as it is for lunch and dinner.

Instant Pot Sambhar Lentils With Tamarind Paste

These twice-cooked, sour-sweet lentils mixed with warm seasoned ghee are best served with a big pot of rice.

Madhur Jaffrey's Instant Pot Buttery Dal

This dal is a hearty a blend of dry kidney beans and urad, but the real star of the show is the paprika-dusted, ghee-fried onion topping.

What do YOU like to cook in your Instant Pot? Please share your wisdom below.

Photo by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Urvashi Pitre recipes excerpted from Instant Pot Fast & Easy © 2019 by Urvashi Pitre. Photography © 2019 by Ghazalle Badiozamani. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Archana Mundhe recipes reprinted with permission from The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook, copyright © 2018 by Archana Mundhe. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photograph copyright © 2018 by Colin Price.

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Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


David L. December 12, 2018
Ummm... Pitre neglects the fact that water activity or moisture adversely affects the Maillaird reaction. The chemistry to produce the flavour compounds also results in the generation of water molecules. If the environment is too wet, you won't get the full extent of possible Maillaird reactions happening. Temperature alone is not enough to guarantee flavour. Moisture content is equally important, as of course are, flavourful ingredients.
Susan L. December 11, 2018
Excellent recipe! Great flavors. Kids even loved it.
Johanna H. December 10, 2018
First time cooking Indian food in instapot. Delish! And whole past was massively enlightening. But any hints as to removing the curry aroma from the gasket, as we use it for other non-Indian recipes? Or doesn’t it matter?
Eric K. December 10, 2018
Hm, if you're using the stainless steel pot, can you run it thru the dishwash? All signs of previous cooking should be gone after that!
Johanna H. December 10, 2018
It’s the silicone? gasket in the lid interior. Not anything stainless.
Eric K. December 10, 2018
Oh, gasket; sorry misread. Did some digging and found that you can remove that silicone gasket and place in the dishwasher as well:
Ana R. December 11, 2018
I have not had luck getting the smell out, except by cooking other foods that leach their smell onto the gasket. I purchased additional silicone gaskets, one red and one blue. The color coding helps me remember which are for "stinky" foods and which are for neutral or sweet foods.
Johanna H. December 11, 2018
Instant Pot sent a number of suggestions. Yours was one. Another was steaming it for5 minutes with a white vinegar solution. Haven’t tried that yet.
Rebecca December 21, 2018
I don't have an Instant Pot but my sister does, and the gasket is the one thing she mentioned that is important to know - buy extra gaskets, and keep one for cooking savory dishes, one for sweet, and another for everything in between. Works for her! And I'd try the vinegar suggestion below.
Lylah C. August 24, 2020
I have two gaskets. Really the spicy smell will never leave the gasket. The newer instant pots come with two gaskets, but with my old instant pot, I bought an extra gasket from Amazon and reserved one just for the Indian foods. Also be sure to wipe down your lid inside when you are done.
Sarah December 5, 2018
CourtB December 5, 2018
I've been following Archana for a while now and her recipes are wonderful. She is my go to for Indian recipes.
Peggy December 5, 2018
Great article Eric! I feel so thankful to have found Urvashi's Indian cookbook and blog when I began my Instant Pot cooking adventure. Her recipe results make me feel like a pressure cooking pro! Now I think I need Archana's book too. Her lamb dum biryani has caught my eye!
Eric K. December 6, 2018
Thanks for reading, Peggy.
46jimbo December 4, 2018
If you want a low fat version of Urvashi's butter chicken, try substituting a can of evaporated milk for the cream and butter. Perhaps not as rich, but the results suited me just fine.
Eric K. December 4, 2018
Great tip!
Briony L. December 4, 2018
I honestly don't think I would've used or enjoyed my Instant Pot as much without Urvashi's cookbook, blog and Facebook group. Her recipes are delightful, her blog posts succinct and to the point, and her advice, humor and candor abundant. And now I know how to make things even easier by cutting out this sauteing business. I wish she was my next-door neighbor!
Eric K. December 6, 2018
Tanis S. December 4, 2018
I enjoyed your article, which I found to be well written and informative. I also have made those of Urvashi’s recipes offered for review/testing. Depending on the mood, Butter Chicken [but[ter] of course]; then Indian Coconut Tomato Soup vy for first place! I have not been disappointed in any of the recipes I’ve tried from the various cookbooks authored by Urvashi. I’m a huge fan of her cooking and of Urvashi, personally. I am simply overwhelmed by how non-judgmental, patient, nurturing and caring one individual can be. Thanks again for the great article!
Eric K. December 4, 2018
Thank you so much, Tanis.
Archana D. December 4, 2018
Hi Eric, This was a great article. I am a huge fan of Urvashi Pitre and it was a honor to have a mention of my book alongside her recipes. Thank you for this wonderful writeup!
Eric K. December 4, 2018
It was an honor to feature you! Love your book and recipes. Thanks for reading.
Archana D. December 4, 2018
It was a pleasure!
Debbie W. December 4, 2018
Great article! I always like to learn the scientific reason why things work. Once Urvashi did her video on the Maillard reaction I stopped browning things in other recipes. Time saving and tastes as good or better. I think when many bloggers jumped on the Instant Pot bandwagon in the beginning, some didn't understand the way a pressure cooker worked and just changed the cooking vessel. I've made some things that weren't all that great and always go back to recipes that I know will work and taste wonderful. As many of us in the Two Sleevers Facebook groups say... #trusturvashi
Eric K. December 4, 2018
Trust Urvashi indeed! Thanks, Debbie.
Jill S. December 4, 2018
I had the pleasure of having Urvashi in my home earlier this year for a cooking demo and hands down it's been one of the highlights of my year. We all learned so much in that time and I've even been ok not stirring when I dump everything in the pot - a lesson learned from Urvashi! :-) Urvashi is a wonderful, gracious person and I'm so glad so many are learning about her through great articles like this one. Thank you Eric.
Eric K. December 4, 2018
I love that lesson. Thank you so much for this sweet comment, Jill.
Doreen M. December 4, 2018
You learn something new every day: >>It's a mistake to take the moisture out of food by searing it first, and then just adding back plain water, Pitre says about the Instant Pot's sauté function.<< Thanks for an article I've truly learned from!
Eric K. December 4, 2018
Ha, my eyes grew wide when she said that! Thanks for reading, Doreen.
Mgw417 December 4, 2018
Urvashis lovely recipes reflect her personality. She is truly one of the most gracious and kind people. It’s reflected on her Facebook site and known by all who meet her.
Urvashi P. December 4, 2018
aww thank you so much!
Eric K. December 4, 2018
Clearly! I love seeing the passion from her Facebook community.
Susan J. December 4, 2018
Very interesting article. I love Urvashi's recipes for several reasons. They are easy and use real food, not packaged food. I hadn't realized that Indian cooking is often done in pressure cookers. I learn something new every day. But today I learned two things... The second thing is why I don't need to day he anymore.
Eric K. December 4, 2018
Glad to hear, Susan.
Beryl C. December 3, 2018
It's a very interesting read. Thanks for the explanation. I always skip the sauteeing step -- out of laziness. Now I have a legit reason to skip.

Love Urvashi's recipes. #urvashirocks
Eric K. December 4, 2018
Love a scientific excuse for laziness, especially in the kitchen!
Urvashi P. December 3, 2018
Thank you so much for such a lovely article! You were such a joy to talk to, so quick to pick up ideas and run with them, that it was a delightful conversation that stayed with me well after we hung up. I see so much success ahead of you Eric, can't wait to see it unfold.
Eric K. December 4, 2018
What a lovely comment! Thank you so much, Urvashi, for sharing your knowledge with all of us. More soon.
jmckillop December 3, 2018
Some years ago, before Instant Pot became a phenomenon, I read about it in a food blog I follow by Clothilde Dusoulier. Out of the blue she wrote about the Pot in the most glowing terms, noting that it had even replaced her treasured pressure-cooker -- a family heirloom that she had written about fondly in an earlier post. I thought that was odd, but that it must mean the Instant Pot was truly special, and I would have bought one if I'd had room for it in my kitchen. Later the CBC (Canada's national broadcaster) had a piece on the Instant Pot which was designed by a Canadian who claimed it had never been advertised in the media, and that its phenomenal success was due simply to word-of-mouth. The journalist, however, noted that food bloggers and others had been used to promote the product -- which of course was simply another form of advertising. It was at that moment that I realized Clothilde must have been a paid by Instant Pot to endorse their product, and that I had been 'had'. How naive of me to think that a trusted food blogger -- whose apparently independent advice and expertise I had counted on -- was a paid endorser of products, and saw no need to distinguish her own content from her product endorsements. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and a new awareness of how manipulative the on-line world can be. So how can I help but bring this perspective to an article on Instant Pot recipes by a Senior Editor at Food52? I don't know whether Instant Pot has paid for this coverage or not, but that's a problem itself. I think consumers should be able to distinguish between critical, independent writing on one hand, and paid advertising on the other, and that we should expect to see full disclosure when it's actually advertising. I would like to know what Food52's policy is on this.
Eric K. December 3, 2018
Hi jmckillop, thanks so much for your comment. It’s an issue I’ve thought about myself over the years. All I can speak to is how we do it here: If something’s not labeled “Sponsored,” then it is 100% NOT sponsored. I wasn’t a believer in the Instant Pot’s “fad” until I finally bought one myself and tested short ribs in it, side by side with my slow cooker. The slow-cooked version took 4 hours, and was less soft and melting than the 40-minute pressure-cooked version from my Instant Pot. I know it might sound “sponsored,” but there’s a reason journalists like Melissa Clark of The New York Times and cookbook authors like Urvashi are shouting from the rooftops about the Instant Pot. It may be the next Crock-Pot (a brand of slow cooker, in the same way that the Instant Pot is just a brand of electric pressure cooker, in the same way that Kleenex has come to mean “tissue” and a pair of Nikes has come to mean “tennis shoes”). If it helps, I’d be happy to replace the word Instant Pot with “electric pressure cooker,” but that’d be ignoring the cultural impact that the Instant Pot has had on home cooking in the last couple of years. In short, I did not make money off of this (if only!).
jmckillop December 4, 2018
Thank you Erik, I appreciate your clarification.
CourtB December 5, 2018
Pitre is shouting because she jumped on the bandwagon herself and saw opportunity to make money. She was new to the whole concept and pretended to be an expert and used her marketing skills to convince the masses. Pitre promotes the instant pot because there is money to be made. She will jump on the next big thing and claim to be an expert and most likely steal more recipes to write more books.
janice December 8, 2018
I don't consider her "jumping on the bandwagon"! That implies that someone just cobbles together miscellaneous recipes to take advantage of a new market.
Urvashi, in her books, removes the fear of stove-top pressure cooking while showing us how to prepare the Indian dishes that many of us have felt were too difficult to attempt. She has provided many of us with new insight as well as the opportunity for wonderful meals.
In her own words "One thing is that Indian food has been prepared in stovetop pressure cookers for years. Indian home cooks have been using them for so long, so when it comes to writing Indian recipes for the Instant Pot, there's no translation needed."
I see hers as an honest effort to educate and encourage us to enjoy new meal options as we learn new methods.
EmilyC December 3, 2018
Wow, I love this scientific explanation for why you can ditch the sautéing step in many Instant Pot recipes and just dump-and-cook! When testing my Instant Pot (or not) soy-ginger pork, I found in side-by-side tests that the browning of the pork and aromatics didn’t boost the flavor (and in fact, I liked the cleaner, brighter flavor when ditching the sautéing step!) but I really didn’t understand the *why*. So thanks for sharing this Eric!! I find sautéing big chunks of meat in an Instant Pot clumsy and time-consuming anyways!!
EmilyC December 3, 2018
p.s. I made Pitre’s Instant Pot butter chicken not too long ago and I understand why it’s gone viral!! : )
Eric K. December 3, 2018
Right! An unnecessary step, in my opinion. I tested osso buco recently and preferred the unseared Instant Pot one. Tasted cleaner to me.
Urvashi P. December 3, 2018
Thank you Emily!