If you've got a rice cooker stashed in a cabinet somewhere, you seriously need to haul it out and put it to work. It can make you some amazing one-pot meals in no time flat.
Photo by Corsica_JP.
Despite their name, rice cookers are essentially giant steamers, so anything that benefits from moist cooking does great in the contraption. Fish, chicken, dumplings, vegetables — all kinds of good stuff. In fact, ethnic food like Caribbean or Middle Eastern cuisine make some of the tastiest dishes around. The New York Times explains:
Domingo Guillen uses his to make vast batches of Puerto Rican arroz con gandules, rice and peas, before a weekly domino game at his apartment in the Inwood section of Manhattan. Fairuza Akhtar, a restaurant owner in Jackson Heights, Queens, who was born in Pakistan, has developed a quick method for making fragrant, creamy biriyani with whole spices and bites of chicken, at home in her rice cooker. 'My mother would fall down in a faint,' she said, referring to the traditionally reverent attitude toward biriyanis in Northern India and Pakistan. 'But rice cookers are the way of the modern world.'
Real Simple has a few other ideas on using a rice cooker to put together steamed veggie side dishes and cool desserts like poached fruit. According to them, soups and hearty stews are also a great bet.
Give your rice cooker enough liquid and time and it will create long-simmered dishes without scorching or boiling over (the way slow cookers sometimes can). Try split-pea soup with ham, or put beef (that's been browned on the stove) and vegetables in the cooker with tomatoes, wine, and herbs for a hearty dinner.
I make all kinds of cool (and sometimes weird) stuff in my rice cooker. Bean dishes are a snap and perfect for softening pintos for refried beans. Salmon wrapped in a foil pouch is awesome, and you can cook long-grained wild rice right underneath it so everything's done at once. Or, snap a pound of pasta noodles in half, cover with water, and let your cooker take over. I've even made a cake with my trusty cooker — just mix all the ingredients right in the rice pan and turn it on.
I know Lifehacker readers are a clever bunch, so let's hear your ideas for meals and sides in the comments. Now, go forth and cook.
The Steamy Way to Dinner [NYT]
5 New Cooking Uses for Your Rice Cooker [Real Simple]