Kitchenless Meals with Rice Cookers

A few months ago I attended a cooking course with renowned Ayurvedic doctor Ramakant Mishra in which he and his assistant prepared a delicious seven-course meal for 30 people—without a stove. Using rice cookers, a blender, and a toaster oven, Dr. Mishra whipped up a nourishing and tasty dinner in no time.

It turns out that Dr. Mishra, who travels extensively throughout the country, takes his rice cooker everywhere—to the office, to hotels, and in his car. You can cook just about anything in a rice cooker. On long distance trips, Dr. Mishra uses an adapter to cook while he’s driving, then stops to eat his meal at a park!

As a single parent with a busy lifestyle, I was excited to learn how I could put together delicious meals in a rice cooker—at home and on the road—that would satisfy both my teenager and myself with hardly any prep and cleanup time.

The Basic Principle

First thing in the morning, I spend a few minutes assembling the meal. Here’s the basic formula, which you can vary according to your tastes. Add to your rice cooker a handful of grain, fast-cooking legumes or other protein (paneer, nuts, cheese, poultry, or fish), vegetables, a teaspoon of spice mixture, olive oil, and just enough water to cover the ingredients. Then  30 minutes before you’re ready to eat, click the “on” button. No more worrying about beans or grains boiling over onto the stove or burning anything because it automatically shuts off and keeps the dish warm. In 30 minutes you will have a hearty casserole with vegetables on the side. Add some bread and a beverage and you’ll have a flavorful, well-rounded meal. Cleanup is a snap: one cooking bowl and the steamer.

Choosing a Rice Cooker

I invested $80 in a Lotus brand stainless-steel rice cooker. It has a bottom section to cook grains and legumes, and a top part to steam vegetables, paneer, fish, or chicken. It makes cooking and cleaning incredibly efficient, and so far my daughter says she likes the food.

The most advanced rice cookers continuously adjust the cooking time and moisture level to produce perfect rice, but the trade-off is longer cooking time. Advanced rice cookers also have timers that can be preset for up to 24 hours; they have settings for different textures and types of rice, and a choice of chime or beep at the end of the cooking cycle. Some rice cookers also act as a crock pot to make soups, and you can even bake a cake in some of them.

The interior surface is another important element to consider—should you choose stainless steel or non-stick? Some research suggests that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used in the production of Teflon and other non-stick surfaces, increases risk of cancer. Choose brands such as Lotus, Miracle, or Tayama, all of which have stainless steel interiors.

Tips for The Perfect Dish

• If you want the final dish to have a soupy texture, turn off your rice cooker a few minutes early. It automatically shuts off when all the water is absorbed, so just open the lid to see where you want the texture to be.

• Make cleanup easier by rubbing a little oil, butter, or ghee on the bottom and sides of the stainless steel interior before adding your ingredients.

• Purchase pre-mixed spice mixes—such as Mexican, Italian, Indian curry, Thai, Chinese, or poultry. This is especially helpful when you’re traveling.

• Some beans, such as whole mung beans, peas, and French lentils, need to be soaked overnight in the rice cooker, but fast-cooking beans such split mung dahl and orange dahl cook well without soaking.

• For grains, choose among rice, millet, barley, quinoa, bulger wheat,  or couscous.

• Vegetables may be steamed in the upper basket or mixed into the other ingredients.  If you leave the rice cooker on warm for too long, the vegetables in the steamer become overcooked and too mushy. Potatoes and artichokes cook well.

• Other possible items to add to the grains are cashews, almonds, paneer, feta cheese, fish, and chicken.

Fish or chicken can also steam on the upper level as the rice cooks on the bottom level. (Note: keep poultry refrigerated until cooking time!)

Breakfast Lunch and Dinner

Here are a few recipe ideas to get you started.

Breakfast: oatmeal with dates and cinnamon, steamed apples, rice pudding

Lunch and Dinner: Greek Casserole: rice, spinach, feta cheese, Greek spice mixture, potatoes with oregano in steam basket. Indian Kitchari: mung dahl, basmati rice, Indian curry spice, paneer cubes, cashews, with string beans in steam basket, and a sprinkle of lime juice and cilantro after cooking. Chicken Casserole: rice, cubed chicken breast, poultry seasoning, sliced carrots, chopped potatoes, and chopped celery.

Don’t forget to add water. The water should cover all the ingredients, or follow instructions for the particular amount of water needed for each grain.