Ode To My Rice Cooker


Back in the old days (before I had kids and lived in a big fancy house), I lived a simple life.  I had small apartments with roommates, and kept my expenses really low.  Less than $10 a day (not including rent).

I cooked much of my own food (like today), but I did so with a very limited set of culinary tools —  Two knives, some mixing bowls, a microwave, and a rice cooker.  Sure, I could have eaten out, but I chose to save my money instead.

I really loved having that rice cooker back in my younger days — For less than $15 I could buy a 20 pound bag of rice.  Combine it with frugal toppings, and I had some very affordable and healthy meals!

Normally I try to avoid these single purpose kitchen gadgets — They’re usually a waste of money.  Instead, I prefer “general use” kitchen implements (aka multitaskers) — The kind of tools that get used all the time instead of gadgets that get stashed in a drawer.  

So how exactly does a rice cooker fit into my multi-use ethos?

 

Rice

A rice cooker was the very first kitchen appliance I ever owned.  I first picked one up back in college because the dormitories didn’t allow most forms of cooking.  But the use of rice cookers and microwaves was considered OK.

Thus began my long love affair with the rice cooker.

That original model was very basic model, but it still cooked perfect rice.  It looked a lot like this simple and affordable Tiger model (which costs a mere $68):

These days our family has upgraded to a fancier induction heating model.

While both models worked great, I’ve got to say that I prefer the new induction heating models.  It cooks fast and evenly.  Literally, every pot of rice has been perfect.  It never burns or sticks.

For a single guy with little cooking skill, minimal space, and a desire to save money — a rice cooker is a perfect first kitchen appliance.  

Although not widely publicized, rice cookers are incredibly versatile tools that are able to cook a wide variety of dishes.

I’m not kidding!  They cook more than just rice!

The secret in making good use of a rice cooker is understanding how it works — It brings water to a boil (212F or 100C) for either a set amount of time, or until the water cooks off.  

If the temperature rises significantly above boiling this usually means all water has been boiled off, and the power level is reduced.

Temperature profile of an electric rice cooker via Wikimedia.

Many newer rice cookers now reduce the power to a warming level.  This typically holds a temperature of 150F (65C).

Keeping this temperature profile in mind, we can utilize the rice cooker to make a wide variety of foods.  Many of which might surprise you…

 

Beans & Lentils

Probably the first dish everyone tries outside of rice, is throwing beans into the rice cooker.  And it works perfect.  Like magic, rice and beans work well together, and form the basis of many a cheap and flavorful dish.  

One of my favorite dishes to cook in the rice cooker is lentils.

Red split lentils
Lunch Of Champions — Red split lentils. This bag only cost me $1.99,  and makes several servings.

Yes, I know lentils can be cooked over the stove in a pot, just like rice.  This same cooking method has all the same problems as cooking rice:  The potential for the pot boiling over, and burning to the bottom of the pan.  

To avoid these issues, the chef has to closely monitor the temperature and stir the lentils occasionally…  That’s boring as shit!

With a rice cooker, you don’t have to worry about any of that crap.  You turn-on the lentils and walk away.  Set it and forget it.

Today for lunch, I made spicy garlic lentils in my rice cooker.  I added lentils, water, garlic, my favorite Mesquite spice mix (from Costco), and salt and pepper.

  Mesquite Lentils

I closed the lid, pressed the start button and ran an errand.  I wasn’t even at home while my lunch was cooking.  

When I returned, I added some butter to the mix on the ‘warm’ setting. Why?  Because it’s friggin delicious on lentils!  

Lentils in Ricecooker
Not kidding, I really made this for lunch today.  Frugal and delicious!

 

Soups And Stews

But why stop at rice and beans?  The rice cooker is also great for making soups and stews!  

This is typically a job I’d designate to a slow cooker, but if you don’t have one, a rice cooker works great!

The rice cooker’s temperature is slightly hotter than a slow cooker, so soups tend to cook a little faster.   (Rice cookers might also be slightly more energy efficient, due to better thermal insulation.)

Either way, they both make delicious soups and stews.

Here’s a couple soup & stew ideas for the rice cooker I thought looked really good:

 

Pasta

Next up — Can you think of another ingredient that lends itself to cooking at temperatures where water boils?  Pasta of course!

From spaghetti to lasagna, every form of pasta you can think of can be cooked in a rice cooker.  Just google it.  There’s hundreds of recipes!  

One of my favorites is this macaroni and cheese recipe:

How about some lasagna?  This recipe looks fantastic!

 

Bread & Cakes

OK, now this is where things start to get weird.  Unbeknownst to me during my college years, rice cookers can also be used to make bread and cakes.  Unreal, right?

Why would anyone use a rice cooker instead of an oven?  Well, not everyone has access to an oven!  Students and travelers often need to make due without an oven.

(Again, the rice cooker might also use less energy than a large western-style oven… earning it a frugal thumbs-up.)

While the technique is slightly different, this recipe for making bread looks very familiar:

How about some cheesecake?  Yes, I said cheesecake!  This one looks mind-blowingly good:

 

Other Ideas

I hope this post has inspired you to see the lowly rice cooker in a whole new light.  I’m a richer person today because I own a rice cooker, and I use mine nearly 4 times a week!

They really are versatile home appliances that can be used for more than just white or brown rice.

With a little practice, they can save you a considerable amount of money…and you don’t have to eat rice all the time!

If you’re a student, traveler, or just a financially independent stay-at-home dad (like me), the rice cooker is an excellent tool to have in your kitchen arsenal…perfect for whipping-up quick, cheap, and easy meals that need very little attention.

While I’ve shared a few of the recipes I thought were interesting, there are literally thousands online.

If you’re the kind of person that prefers professional cooking books, these rice cooker recipe books look excellent:

  

I hope you’ll give some of these ideas a try, but let’s make this more interactive —  I know a bunch of you must have rice cookers…

Do you have any great rice cooker recipes?  Please share in the comments!  

 

[Image Credit: Flickr1]


30 thoughts on “Ode To My Rice Cooker

  • January 25, 2017 at 12:04 AM
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    I love rice cookers!

    When I was in college, I would usually use it as a slow cooker to make my meal (pork roast) for the week. Then I’d scoop it into containers and then freeze it after cooking up some rice in the same rice cooker.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a new one after I moved into my new place. I’m also on a low-carb diet these days, but I definitely recommend everyone to get a rice cooker! There’s so much you can do with one!

    Reply
  • January 25, 2017 at 12:25 AM
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    I agree with this post. My high tech rice cooker (costing about $70) has made all sorts of great dishes: stews, steamed pumpkin, potatoes, corn, amaranth, quinoa and all types of rice. It’s super versatile and easy. It is great for taking dried chick peas, soaking them overnight and cooking them for several hours. They normally turn out really well.

    It is easily the most used appliance in our kitchen.

    -Mike

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  • January 25, 2017 at 2:53 AM
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    My wife and I received a rice cooker as a wedding gift almost 20 years ago (god I am getting old). I remember having a good laugh. Who needs a special device to cook rice? All you need is a pot with a lid! I think we may have even considered returning it for cash.

    Boy were we wrong. We are now on our 2nd model. The 1st one was still working, but we couldn’t help but upgrade while living in Japan. It is probably the most used kitchen gadget we own (close second is the toaster oven).

    Reply
  • January 25, 2017 at 5:37 AM
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    I own a rice cooker. We eat a lot of rice so it gets plenty of use but all it has ever done is make rice. Oh Mr. Cooker, party time is over. You are going to have to work much harder now!
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  • January 25, 2017 at 6:45 AM
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    Interesting! I’ve heard of people using rice cookers in numerous ways. Everything else makes sense–it’s basically like a specialized, small rice cooker. But man, the breads and cakes surprised me for sure!

    When you first said “rice cooker,” I surely thought you’d gone crazy! But it seems that a rice cooker is a very affordable option, particularly if you don’t want to have a lot of cooking gadgets or use a lot of power.

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  • January 25, 2017 at 8:25 AM
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    Mind blown. Who knew you could do so much with a rice cooker? And here I am using only the stove and microwave like a sucker, but now I know about a whole new world of rice cooker goodness! Thanks for that! I especially like the idea of using it to make cheesecake. Yum!

    Reply
  • January 25, 2017 at 9:58 AM
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    I have no idea you could do so much with rice cooker.

    Funny story, when I first made rice for Mrs. T (we were still dating then), she was very unimpressed that I used rice cooker to make rice. In her mind, all Asians knew how to cook rice properly using a pot on a stove.

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    • January 25, 2017 at 10:16 AM
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      I’ve used both methods, and I can definitely say the rice cooker works far better!

      Reply
  • January 25, 2017 at 10:50 AM
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    We’ve had a Zojirushi for years, and usually have some rice ready to go. It’s nice that it can keep a batch of rice warm for days before it dries out. We do a lot of different spice and bean combinations with our rice, but I haven’t ever tried making pasta or cake in it. Interesting how many other things you can do with it 🙂

    Reply
  • January 25, 2017 at 1:18 PM
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    I always wanted a crock pot or a rice cooker, now I will definitely get one 🙂
    I also wonder if I could make my own yoghurt in it?
    thank you so much for reminding me.

    Reply
    • January 25, 2017 at 8:30 PM
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      I’ve seen yogurt done, but I believe it requires a model that can do especially low temperatures.

      Reply
  • January 25, 2017 at 6:22 PM
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    To be honest before I met my wife I didn’t even know what a rice cooker was. Now it’s one of the kitchen appliances we use almost every day. I have never thought that you can make bread and cheesecake with it. I’ll give it a try 🙂
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  • January 25, 2017 at 7:57 PM
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    Count me in the No Idea You Could Do That With A Rice Cooker crowd. I was so clueless, I thought it was for people too lazy to cook. Those lentils look amazing.

    Reply
  • January 26, 2017 at 4:37 AM
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    We use the rice cooker to make lentil and rice dishes of various types. Truly versatile appliance indeed. We have an old Panasonic model from 10 years ago that keeps going strong. All it has are 2 simple ‘cook’ and ‘keep warm’ buttons and that’s enough for us.
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  • January 26, 2017 at 8:59 AM
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    I love my rice cooker! I’ve never used it for anything other than rice, but that cheesecake looks delicious! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • January 27, 2017 at 9:22 AM
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    I wonder if I should buy now the rice cooker or a crockpot? if you only could have one of the two, which one would you choose?

    Reply
    • January 27, 2017 at 6:23 PM
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      Annabella,
      I have had a rice cooker and a crockpot for 20 years. Bought myself an Instant pot. We are a family of 5 with 2 competative basketball players and my husband races road bikes.

      If I could only buy one, I would buy the Instant Pot. I makes rice, beans (from dry in 40 minutes), homemade yogurt, stews, etc. It can also be used to sauté, and aa a slow cooker it also has a timer you can set. (So it can begin cooking before you get home from work.

      My second purchase would be a rice cooker. I use mine at least 3 days a week. In fact at least 2 of those rice days, I use both the rice cooker and the Instant Pot.

      Going through keep the crock pots on hand for holidays, but they don’t get used as much.

      Reply
      • January 28, 2017 at 1:53 AM
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        Thank you so much Marisa, 🙂
        the Instant Pot does not get shipped to Switzerland but to Germany, my german friend will get me one now, this is what I really would love to use.

        Reply
  • January 27, 2017 at 10:08 AM
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    Wow, you’re rice cooker warrior. 🙂 That’s pretty awesome. I only use our rice cooker for rice. Last year, we got a new rice cooker because the old one was peeling and I don’t like eating non stick coating. We got one with an inner stainless steel pot and I love it. I usually go with our crock pot for things other than rice.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2017 at 12:39 PM
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    Wow! I had no idea you could cook so many awesome things with a rice cooker! Thanks for sharing.

    I never knew about these things until I met my Asian wife, and then of course I became a quick convert. typically we just do white Jasmine rice, which serves as the starch base for other delicious things. Super simple and automatic to make in the rice cooker.
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  • February 2, 2017 at 5:10 AM
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    I had no idea you could cook all those things with a rice cooker. I just might have to try one out!

    I keep it pretty simple when it comes to meals. Usually going with chicken, some sort of vegetable, and lentils, quinoa, or rice. I can make more fancy dishes (I think cooking is pretty easy as long as you have a recipe to follow) and do on occasion, but overall I like meals that can be made quickly and easily.

    Thanks for sharing!
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  • February 2, 2017 at 6:27 AM
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    I have to smile about this post. We eat a lot of rice, and I mean, A LOT. One of dishes we were used to eat when I was kid in Taiwan was that my mother used to shaved some sweet potato slices in with the rice in a rice cooker – it was a very simple dish but delicious and packed with nutrients. We also mixed with some cooked pork marinated in soy sauce so viola, that is one instant delicious meal to die for. My kids took rice to school in the thermos and always had something hot to eat – I know many people watch “Fresh Off Boat” that depicts some stereotype Chinese life style, but truthfully, you really can’t go wrong with rice if you are trying to be sensibly frugal.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2017 at 6:35 AM
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    This is amazing. You’ve sold me. I’ve never owned a Rice Cooker, but damn if i don’t love me some cheesecake!
    Thanks for the detailed post. I really enjoyed it.

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  • February 2, 2017 at 10:12 AM
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    I had no idea !
    We use our rice cooker non stop and have that 20kg bag. It is our number one way to save money and eat well at the same time. Now you’ve stepped it up a notch with all these recipes. Thanks for sharing and will seriously look at the other cooking options.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2017 at 11:17 AM
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    I just got a pressure cooker. I didn’t know the big deal was with it, I always just cooked rice on the stove with a timer and a close eye. I’ve never had a big problem with it. Then I got this fantastic device, and I’ve been using it every meal. Sometimes I make stuff up on the fly too. It’s fast easy and easy to clean. I am so glad I read this because I’m excited to try cooking the other recipes, especially the cheesecake.

    Reply

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