Learn How to Use the Instant Pot with Chef JJ Levenstein

Plus two easy peasy fall recipes.

  • Category
    Eat & Drink, People
  • Written by
    Linda Grasso
  • Photographed by
    Shane O’Donnell

I popped into the BLVD Kitchen to pick up a quick takeout dinner recently and spotted Chef JJ Levenstein with what I thought was a Crock-Pot. “Gosh JJ, what does a gourmet chef like you cook with that old-fashioned thing?” “Oh, it’s not a Crock-Pot,” she laughed. “It’s an Instant Pot. Don’t you have one yet?”

JJ, who used to be a popular pediatrician here in the Valley, now teaches cooking classes at the BLVD, including one on how to cook with the Instant Pot. (The next one is on October 1; go to theblvdkitchen.com for more) She says for her the appliance has been an “all-purpose game-changer. It’s like five appliances in one. It can act as a rice cooker, a pressure cooker; it can steam and sauté. It can also sous vide. You can put meat in a Ziploc bag, suspend it in liquid at a constant temperature and then you can toss it on the grill and basically sear it. It really locks the moisture in and enhances the flavor.”

She also likes the fact that after you turn the Instant Pot on, you can just walk away. “It is especially nice this time of year when it is still hot out. You don’t have to cook over a hot stove,” says JJ.

JJ prefers the larger model rather than the smaller one. “It just makes more sense, especially if you have a family.”

Here, she shares two of her favorite Instant Pot recipes for fall.


12–16 servings; freezes well

Traditionally made with pork, posole is a Mexican soup/stew that’s great for a crowd, and highly customizable for meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans. This particular recipe is made with vegans in mind, but you can serve chicken, beef, pork or grilled shrimp on the side. Green posole is my go-to for parties, because everyone is happy, and once it is on the table, my work is over and I can join the party.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, washed and chopped
  • 2 medium poblano (pasilla) peppers—washed, seeded, and chopped
  • 4-ounce can mild green chiles, chopped
  • 2 – 14.5-ounce pouches fire-roasted tomatillos (I use Frontera brand)
    or 28 ounces prepared mild green or tomatillo salsa
  • 12-ounce beer or vegetarian stock
  • 25-ounce can of hominy, drained and rinsed
  • 14-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 14-ounce can of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon each of dried oregano, ground cumin and chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon each of garlic powder, salt and pepper
  • 4–5 corn tortillas, torn in small pieces
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 4 limes

Set Instant Pot to Sauté. Add olive oil, and when it shimmers, sauté the onions, carrots, celery and poblanos until soft.

Add the green chiles, tomatillos, beer or stock, hominy, beans, dried spices and seasonings, and tortilla pieces and stir.

Place lid on Instant Pot and set Pressure Cook to HIGH and cook for 5 minutes.

Let pressure release naturally for 15 minutes (i.e., unplug unit and let sit), then vent (using a towel) until pressure is fully released (steam will initially be forceful, and then dwindle to nothing).

Open the lid, add chopped cilantro and lime juice. Stir and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and more lime juice if desired.

Bring Instant Pot with posole to the table and set up a “bar” with the following add-ins:

Shredded cabbage, chopped red or green onions, chopped cilantro, shredded cheese, pumpkin seeds, tortillas or tortilla chips, assortment of salsas, quartered limes, sliced radishes, shredded chicken, beef, or pork or grilled shrimp.


Instead of beans, add a 20-ounce can of jackfruit (brined type, rinsed and drained) and 3 cups of broth or beer. Pressure cook for 10 minutes and naturally release pressure for 20 minutes so the jackfruit has time to cook and soften.

Use shredded vegan cheese in lieu of dairy.


Serves 4 as main course or 6–8 as a side; adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Spaghetti squash is available year-round and normally is a little labor-intensive to prepare. Using the Instant Pot, we can eliminate roasting it in the oven or steaming in the microwave. With this recipe we prepare a fresh tomato sauce in the cooker, and then use its moisture to steam the squash. If you are watching your calories, this is a tasty (and fiber- and vitamin-filled) way to eat a pasta alternative. It also a great way to use your end-of-summer bumper crop of tomatoes!

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 pounds plum tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ cup dry white wine or veggie stock
  • 1 (4-pound) spaghetti squash—rinsed, stem removed, quartered, and seeded (use a tablespoon to scrape out the seeds)
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • Shaved parmesan or ricotta salata or a vegan cheese

Heat Instant pot on Sauté at highest setting. Add olive oil, and when it shimmers, add the garlic, tomato paste, oregano, pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Stir frequently, until fragrant—about 30 seconds. Stir in white wine and tomatoes.

Season squash halves with salt and pepper and nestle, cut-side down, into the Instant Pot.

Lock lid in place, close pressure release valve, and select Pressure Cook – High function and cook for 10 minutes.

Unplug or turn off cooker and perform Quick Release, and once all traces of steam dwindle, carefully remove lid.

Transfer squash to a cutting board, let cool slightly, and then shred with two forks. Discard the skins.

If a thicker sauce is desired, set cooker on Sauté on highest setting and continue to cook the sauce until tomatoes are broken down and sauce is to your liking—about 10–15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Platter the drained squash, drizzle with a little more olive oil, then top with tomato sauce, a generous dusting of shaved parmesan and fresh basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Top with crispy fried shallots or fried sage leaves

Add more fresh herbs—Italian parsley, cilantro or dill

Top with panko or croutons sautéed with olive oil and Italian seasoning, toasted pine nuts or walnuts

For more on Chef JJ Levenstein, check out the SheSez with Linda Grasso podcast at shesez.com