Dinnertime, STAT!

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | May 22nd, 2007 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating

In my quest to find a way to get dinner on the table quickly, without resorting to my bachelorette specialty of Cereal a la Skim Milk, I’ve discovered an unlikely ally: My rice cooker. I’m sure most of you have one of these machines kicking around in your pantry gathering dust—a wedding present, maybe, or an impromptu purchase during your short-lived sushi-making craze. Well, dust it off and give it a prime position on your counter. It’s going to save your skin come 6 o’clock.

I never used to make much rice before—it seemed like I’d never get the water-rice proportion right, or I’d inevitably burn it on the bottom, no matter how closely I monitored the heat. But since I rediscovered my rice cooker, our pantry has not one, but probably four different kinds of rice in it—brown, basmati, jasmine, sushi, you name it.

There’s a reason that rice is the main staple of more than half of the world’s population: it’s cheap, filling, and nourishing. I’m partial to brown rice because as a whole grain, it has more fiber than its white counterparts, which have the nutrient-rich bran and germ removed. Plus, I prefer its chewy texture and nutty flavor.

But the best thing about rice is that in addition to being so good for you, it’s incredibly versatile. With my rice cooker, I can make tasty side dishes by adding just a few ingredients to the rice and water before I start the cooking process. For instance, some soy sauce, cilantro, and chopped scallions; or half a jar of chunky salsa and some kidney beans. The fact that it takes the cooker an hour to make white rice, and two hours to make brown, might seem contrary to my quick-fix credo, but really, it’s not. I just turn it on and then I have time to go for a walk, get the groceries for the rest of the meal, and cook everything else.

In fact, the rice cooker makes one of our favorite weeknight meals. My husband and I affectionately refer to it as “Fish Rice,” which makes it sound a little like something that some starving “Survivor” contestants would gobble up, but it’s an incredibly nourishing, satisfying comfort food, chock full of gooey sushi rice, chunks of fish, and tender vegetables, all seasoned with a gingery Asian sauce. We adapted the recipe from one in the Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook and it is a one-pot meal that gives me enough leftovers for lunch the next day… if we aren’t too greedy at the dinner table.

Don’t limit yourself to just rice. We also use our rice cooker to make the best steel-cut oats you’ve ever had, flavored with cinnamon, vanilla, and brown sugar. Again, it takes an hour for them to make, so this is best saved for the weekend when you can throw together all the ingredients when you first wake up, and then hit the snooze button for an hour while they cook. Use it to cook other whole grains and free up your stove burners to make the rest of the meal.

By the way, I’ve found that the cheapest way to buy grains like rice or steel-cut oats is to head straight to the bulk section at your local health food store, food co-op, or Whole Foods. It’s generally less expensive than what you can buy in the package, and it’s often organic.

So I hope you’ll give your languishing rice cooker a try… I’m eternally grateful for how it’s bridged my need to save time in the kitchen and the rest of my family’s desire for a square meal.

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