Look at what you can make with a rice cooker - Macleans.ca

Look at what you can make with a rice cooker

Movie reviewer Roger Ebert shares his enthusiasm for his favourite kitchen appliance


Istock; Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

Shortly before Roger Ebert got sick with the cancer that cost him his ability to speak and eat normally, the once-pudgy movie reviewer lost 100 lb. the old-fashioned way, his friend Yvonne Nienstadt explains in the foreword to his fun-filled new book. Nienstadt, who runs a spa in Mexico, writes that Ebert once confided he was miffed “that most folks thought he lost all that weight because of his illness. I am here to testify that he worked his fanny off by self-discipline and by making profound lifestyle changes.” Cooking low-sodium, low-fat one-pot meals in his rice cooker was one of those changes. The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker includes Ebert’s favourite recipes, as well as charming musings on food and life. “Even though I stopped drinking in 1979 and, for that matter, stopped eating in 2006, I cook for others,” writes Ebert, “partly to make myself useful and mostly because I can have dinner on the table while most people are still spinning their wheels.” His book is for “You, person on a small budget who wants healthy food.”

“First, get the pot,” he instructs readers. “You need the simplest rice cooker made. It comes with two speeds: Cook and Warm. Sometimes Warm is named Hold. Not expensive. Now you’re all set to cook meals for the rest of your life on two square feet of counter space, including an area to do a little slicing and dicing.”

Ebert owns a Zojirushi brand rice cooker, but “you will not see me on TV in the middle of the night, hawking rice cookers. This book is strictly pro bono.” And you won’t need “no stinking cookbooks” either, he writes. “Whatever your gender, you will do this like a man, by refusing to read the instructions.”

A big part of his love for the rice cooker is the mystery behind how it works. “You put Minute Rice and the correct amount of water into the Pot, and click to Cook. Minutes later the Pot clicks over to Warm. The rice waits inside, perfectly cooked. Tomorrow night, you put in whole grain organic rice and the correct amount of water into the Pot, and click to Cook. Forty-five minutes or an hour later, the Pot clicks to Warm. Again, the rice is perfectly cooked . . . How does the Pot know how long to cook the rice? It’s an ancient mystery of the Orient.”

Your rice cooker will cook all your meals, he writes. For breakfast, he advises stone-ground oatmeal: “It can help you lose weight. You don’t get hungry before lunch. It contains hardly any fat.” Put the oatmeal in with the specified amount of water, then “slice the fruit of your choice into smallish pieces. Any fruit except something like watermelon. I shouldn’t have to be telling you this. Slice your bananas, your peaches, your apples, pears, plums, apricots, strawberries. Drop in maybe a couple of dried prunes or some raisins. No, hotshot. Not all the fruits at once. We’re making breakfast, not fruit compote. Let’s say two fruits together are nice.”

For lunch, “Let’s make some soup,” he suggests. “I have been known to start out with a can of Healthy Valley or Pritikin soup, usually not one of those high-sodium big-time soups, and then add fresh ingredients. When you have everything in, slam down the lid. This watched Pot boils. Click to Warm when the soup seems to be getting about right.” Immediately before serving, add frozen peas, he suggests, which “thaw out on the way to the table. They look delightfully green, taste crunchy and fresh, and add to the general interest.”

There are countless combinations of foods and grains you can try, he writes. “You will become the centre of attention when you claim you can cook almost anything in your Pot.” (Ebert claims he can caramelize an onion in a rice cooker with a bit of Pam olive oil spray.)

These days, Ebert takes his nourishment through a G-tube. “Thus I have been a perfect vegetarian without a single slip for 24 months on low fat and low salt. Today my cholesterol is 145 over something, my blood pressure is low normal, and I have never felt more clear-minded or zestful.” Nevertheless, he’s so enamoured of his rice cooker, he’s put it in his Who’s Who entry.


Look at what you can make with a rice cooker

  1. I swear have this article before – quite a while ago. Can't remember where.

    • Ebert wrote a long blog post once about his love for his rice cooker, maybe that was it?

      • I think it was, actually, because I remember the bit about the rice cooker being magical, and the "my cholesterol is 145 over something" bit. There was also a NY Times article about him and The Pot.

  2. I have a rice cooker. Just got it last Xmas. It's so great cooking rice, no fuss, no bother. However it never occurred to me to put other stuff in it. Gonna to get the house spouse to experiment.
    (what, you expected me to cook?)

  3. Tell us what you make in it! Recipes even.

  4. You too — please tell us what you like to make in it. Inspire us instead of looking down your nose on we who don't yet use the rice cooker.

    I mean, I have also read of people steaming fish in their dishwasher, but so far, continue to use the grill…

  5. don't steam fish in your dishwasher. total no brainer. I should know….tried it. gack!!!! dishwasher smelled like low tide on a hot summers day for about 3 loads.

    • Stu, I have poached Arctic Char in my dishwasher on a number of occasions, always yummy and no smells after.

  6. One thing I will say is this: Roger certainly is courageous in his fight against cancer.

  7. He forgot to mention the rice cooker could use as steamer as well.
    I remember back in college age. I used it to steam broccolis, Cauliflowers, Sardines, HotDogs etc.
    I was so poor, add a quad of water to a can of Campbell chicken soup pour some dice potatoes & carrots with instant noodle, or rice for 3 meals till 2 of us graduate. Avg. cost: $55/month ( 1995 – 1998 )
    Eggs in soup, pouch or simmering cook for proteins. Safe lots of times beside money as well.

    • I expect you did not major in English?

      • At least googoo gave helpful advice!! Unlike you who wants to put someone down!

      • I SUSPECT you also did not major in English?

  8. Piles of meals you can make with a rice cooker same as a slow cooker: ham&bean soup, steamed chinese dishes, borscht, boiled rice pudding, stews, spaghetti dishes, and much much more.

  9. does a rice cooker operate the same as a slow cooker or are there differences?

  10. The best rice cookers in my experience are Japanese makes. The Panasonic (Japanese) one that I first had was the cheapest model and it did a fine job for about 20 years. Too bad I replaced it (when it finally expired) with a Cuisinart which only looks good on the shelf – in action it makes a gooey mess all over the counter so I have to put it in the sink whenever it is in use. I'm hoping that the Cuisinart will soon expire so that I can get another Panasonic.

  11. "145 over something" ?
    That is a hypertensive blood pressure reading, not cholesterol!

  12. Interesting how something that's been in existence for generations is being "discovered!" But hey, it's all goood!! More on the magic of the rice cooker — did you know that you can even make hard-boiled eggs in it? Place your eggs (I've used max 2 each time) in a paper towel and LIGHTLY wet the towel before placing it in the rice cooker. Cook for about 10 mins (I think, I haven't done it in a while…), then stop it and let it sit for another 5 before removing it. No mess. I am not sure what happens if you do not stop the cooker after 10 mins… experiment at your own risk.

  13. I used my rice cooker in sterilizing my baby's bottle 20 years ago. When i was in a dormitory and we were not allowed to cook and money was tight, can't afford to eat at canteen or outside 3 times a day, i was able to survive stealingly cooking using a small rice cooker, where food was hotter, tastier and more than enough than the budget food at dorm's canteen. Looking back those years. Yes, you can almost do anything with a rice cooker and its safe even.

  14. About Ebert's comment of getting the cheapest rice cooker around…I can't quite agree. I had a fabulous Japanese rice cooker while I lived in Japan and I loved the timer function (usually unavailable on the cheapy models). This allows you to offer perfect rice at the peak of freshness if you've got multiple dishes going and a 6 PM deadline let's say. Also, if you eat a Japanese breakfast (as I did with pickles, miso soup etc) it allows you to do a bit of prep and you awake to the fresh smell of calrose rice (almost as good as fresh bread & coffee). Can't say I've been too adventurous with mine (except using it for porridge). But a good rice cooker is certainly worth it.

  15. What a great and a simple way to eat healthy with so little effort. .Thank you . I will buy one. Lel's share some more ideas!

  16. sweeet

  17. I love chinese food

  18. Easy tricks:

    – Use broth or liquid soup base instead of water to boil the rice in your cooker. Easy way to add flavour.

    – If you are willing to watch the cooker, you can put eggs in to boil them. Put them early on the rice cooking cycle if you want hard boiled and just before it turns to "warm" if you want it soft boiled.

    – Mix in frozen peas when most of the water is evaporated but the rice is still soft and you can get rice and peas. Experiment, try different frozen foods and put them in when appropriate (Ebert is right, some frozen veges are perfectly cooked if you just put them on top of the rice and put the cooker on warm for about 5 minutes).

    – Experiment using different kinds of rice: long grain, white, brown. Just make sure they are all cooked.

    I too find it funny how something we grew up with in our Asian home is now something "discovered" in North America but hey – we're glad to share!

    • We're also glade you share. :)

      The rice cooker I bought during collage was definitely far and away the most useful cooking appliance I had in my kitchen. So much so that if I had to choose just one cooking appliance to use, the rice cooker would be it, not an oven, not a stove, just the rice cooker.

  19. All of these recipes can also be made with a pot and a lid.

    • Yes, but with a rice cooker you can forget about it and not burn down the house.

  20. Rice cookers are so convenient. Once you're sold on them, there's no going back. Have been meaning to find out whether there are any non-aluminum ones available.

  21. The trouble with brown rice is the length of time it takes to cook, and a rice cooker is no help. I use a pressure cooker for all my meals, and it takes a fraction of the time, e.g. 7 minutes boiling in pressure cooker vs up to 45 at atmospheric pressure.