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Monday, July 22

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About four years ago (I'm amazed how long this site has been around) I wrote a column about ways to utilize your rice cooker to create interesting, quick and healthy meals. And it's one of the columns I've gotten the most in-person comments about. I know of several people who have purchased a rice cooker after I suggested it and I'm thrilled that I've inspired people to enjoy such a wonderful kitchen implement.

But that handful of recipes was intended to be a starting point, not the range of options. And if you're willing to invest a little time beforehand, you can do a little cooking prep on the stove to expand your options and flavors when you cook. If you plan ahead, all you have to do is throw the ingredients in the following recipes into a storage container, pop it in your freezer, and then when you're ready, add the other ingredient or two to your rice cooker with the frozen contents, and turn on your rice cooker. I know we all suffer from brainless evenings, but wouldn't it be nice to spend an hour or two thinking about food on one day and then have five different meals to come home to during the week? I think so, and based on past response, I think some of you will too.

If you haven't purchased a rice cooker, I highly recommend it. Essentially what you need is the most basic of models. Mine is a National, which at the time was a highly rated brand. It cost me $20 and I've had it for eight years and it shows no signs of dying anytime soon. If you've got cabinet space and think you'll use it once a month, then it just might be a justifiable purchase. And like I said in my original column, if you don't have air conditioning, it is a great way to cook without heating up your kitchen.

My previous column had fairly basic recipes that were short on prep and admittedly short on flavor. These recipes will admittedly take a bit more prep time, but they'll also have more flavor. And since my culinary experience has grown a bit in the last four years, they'll be more adventurous as well. But only slightly, I think.

My rice cooker only holds 6 cups of cooked rice, which seems to be the smallest size available. So these recipes can easily be doubled or tripled if you have a larger rice cooker. But don't feel like you have to get a huge rice cooker just because you can. These recipes will make 2-3 servings so a small size should be fine.

Mock-Chana Masala
Chana Masala is an Indian dish that involves chickpeas cooked in a creamy, tomatoey sauce. This will be not cream-based at all. (This has become one of my favorite dishes lately.)

1 small onion
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of garam masala
1 clove of garlic, minced or run through a press
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped into small bite-sized chunks
1 cup of basmati or long-grain rice
1 14 ounce can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
1 14 ounce can of chopped tomatoes

Bring a skillet over medium heat and add the onion and olive or vegetable oil. When the onions are just starting to soften, sprinkle the spices over the onions and stir continuously until the onions are very soft. Remove this from the heat and let it cool. Put the onion mixture, chopped potatoes, garlic and rice into a quart-size zipper bag and place it in your freezer. when you're ready to cook, empty the contents of the bag into your rice cooker. Add the rinsed can of chickpeas and the can of tomatoes. Add one cup of water, turn it on and let it cook until the cooker says it is finished. Fluff the rice, taste before adding salt, and serve immediately with fresh chopped jalapeno and cilantro if desired. If the garam masala has made it too spicy, add a tablespoon or so of yogurt to the dish and stir it in.

Vietnamese-inspired Peanut Rice
This can be a dessert or it can be a breakfast dish. And this mix doesn't actually need to be frozen — it can be stored in your cupboard until you're ready to use it.

Add to a quart-size bag or bowl:
2 cups of sushi rice
1 cup of peanuts (chopped or whole, depending on your preferences; salted or unsalted depending on whether you like the salty-sweet combo)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of shredded coconut
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon (optional)

When you're ready to eat, add the contents of the bag to your rice cooker along with:
1-1/2 cups of water
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1 tablespoon of canola or other light-flavored vegetable oil (or butter)

Turn the cooker to the on position and wait until it has finished the cooking cycle. Test a few grains, if they seem undercooked, simply add 1/4 cup of water and turn on again. Repeat until it seems done to your liking. Serve immediately after fluffing.

Swiss Chard and Rice
1 small onion
1 tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil
1 pound of swiss chard that has been cleaned, torn into pieces, and stems chopped

Peel and cut the onion in half from stem to root. Cut the onion into thin slices. Add the onion and oil to a skillet over medium heat and cook until the onion starts to turn yellow. Add the swiss chard and cover. Remove from the heat and let it sit to cool.

Once the onion mixture is cool, add it and the following ingredients to a quart-sized bag or bowl:
1 cup of long or medium grain rice
1 scallion, chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced or run through a press
juice from 1 lemon
1 large pinch of red pepper flakes

When you're ready to cook, add one 14-ounce can of vegetable or chicken broth to the rice cooker along with the contents of the bag. Turn on and cook until the cycle is complete. Fluff and taste before adding salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Curried Lentils and Rice
The good thing about lentils is that they don't take very long to cook. About the same amount of time as the rice, thankfully. This dish can be adapted any number of ways depending on your favorite ingredients.

Add the following ingredients to a quart-sized bag or bowl and then place in a freezer:
1 cup of rice
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/2 cup of lentils
2 bouillon cubes
1 clove of garlic minced or run through a press
1/2 of a small onion, chopped fine

When you're ready to cook, add the contents of the bag, along with 3-1/2 cups of water (or you could omit the bouillon and use stock or broth). Set the cooker to the on position and wait until the cycle has finished. Once done, taste before adding salt, fluff and serve immediately.

Hopefully these recipes will inspire you to try your hand at using a rice cooker and will give you some ideas for experimenting with some of your favorite rice dishes to see if you can make them into one-pot rice cooker meals. If you've got any other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments.

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amyc / May 5, 2008 6:47 AM

Are you using white rice or brown for these? Obviously there's a big difference in cooking times, and I wouldn't want to overcook the veggies.

Magda / May 5, 2008 11:42 AM

Rice cookers turn themselves off when the rice is done - they have a sensor in the bottom that can tell when the temperature drops below boiling - indicating that all the water is gone and the rice is done. So really you have no control over cooking time...

Cinnamon / May 5, 2008 12:55 PM

I've used white rice mostly but brown would be okay. I guess in this type of dish I'm not too concerned about the overcooked veggies, and if they're frozen before they go in, I find that the thawing process reduces the overcooking tendency.

If you are concerned, you could add the veggies halfway through the cooking time by simply taking off the lid, adding your vegetables and returning the lid.

Caryn / December 26, 2010 4:56 PM

What is the freezer step for? Would it work to saute the veges and add it without freezing? or do they need to be cold to keep from overcooking?

swandiver / September 10, 2011 8:24 PM

This is great advice. I was looking at the last recipe for Curried Lentils and Rice and thought that if you subbed the onion and garlic for the dried minced kind, you could create a bunch of those mixes and store them in the cupboard and cut out the chopping completely.

My only question would be if I would have to add extra water to make sure they hydrate properly.

Janine Edwards, St James’s Place / May 21, 2012 4:12 AM

Add rinsed can of chickpeas and the can of tomatoes. Add one cup of water, turn it on and let it cook until the cooker says it is finished.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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