Rice isn’t the only food you can cook in a rice cooker. This versatile and cheap appliance can cook a whole range of foods. Here are 10 ideas.
The rice cooker was poorly named.
Well yes, it can cook rice and cook rice rather well, so the name seems pretty accurate.
It can also cook so much more than rice.
When I succumbed to buying a rice cooker after many years of “why do I need another appliance?” the first thing I Googled was “what else can I cook in a rice cooker?”
I was surprised that you could cook just about anything! People cook whole roast chooks in the rice cooker, cakes, braised ribs, hard-boiled eggs.
In this article, I share some foods you can cook in a rice cooker other than rice. Most ideas I’ve tried, a couple I have put on our meal plan for the upcoming weeks.
Also, at the bottom of the article, there is a quick reference guide for grain to water ratios for the rice cooker.
6 Benefits of a Rice Cooker
Why bother with another appliance when a stovetop is sufficient? That’s what I wondered for many years. Then I fell in love with my rice cooker and use mine every week for all sorts of cooking. Here are six benefits of using a rice cooker:
1. Inexpensive Small Space Cooking Appliance
Do you have a small kitchen or live in a college/dorm? Because a rice cooker can cook more than just rice, it’s a cheap option for small space cooking.
2. Travel Cooking
Another way to use a rice cooker is for travel cooking, especially if you’re road-tripping or you’re on a cabin stay. A simple recipe like this baked tandoori chicken and rice pilaf means you can have dinner on the table with only 10 – 15 minutes of hands-on work. More holiday. Less cooking!
My rice always boils over when I cook it on the stove. And if I cook brown rice, I have to continually watch it because it either boils over or boils dry.
With the rice cooker, I can walk away and let it do its thing without watching it. It’s one less thing to worry about when you’re juggling other parts of the meal plus kids who need help with homework plus everything else that goes on during a busy evening in your average family household.
4. Uses less electricity than the stovetop
Truth: you don’t get a massive saving in electricity costs, but it’s a bonus on top of convenience.
How much electricity does a rice cooker really save?
For cost comparison, let’s assume it takes 20 minutes to cook and the cost of electricity is 28 cents per kilowatt-hour. Here’s how to work it out:
Rice Cooker: 400 watts x 0.3333 (20 minutes) / 1000 = 0.133KWH x 0.28 = 3.73 cents
Stovetop: 1,000 watts x 0.3333 / 1000 = 0.333KWH x 0.28 = 9.3 cents
That’s a saving of 5.6 cents per pot of rice. It’s not a huge saving – about $9 a year if you cook three pots of rice a week – but it’s a nice bonus on top of convenience. At $9 a year, it would take nearly three years to recoup an initial $25 purchase price, less if you use it more often.
5. Less heat in summer
Using smaller appliances that don’t generate as much heat as the stove will keep the temperature down inside your house during Summer. This can reduce the need for air conditioning, saving you more money.
6. Free up stove space
If you have a small stove or if you’re using a few burners at once, a rice cooker frees up a stovetop burner, leaving you with more room and less stress.
Rice Cooker Basics – Cooking the Perfect Rice (White, Brown and Basmati)
You don’t need a fancy rice cooker to cook a variety of foods. A cheap ($25 approx.) rice cooker that has a ‘cook’ and a ‘warm’ setting is sufficient. This is the rice cooker I use.
Your rice cooker will come with directions. It’s best to refer the instructions specific to your rice cooker, but as a general guide:
White rice: 1 cup of rice to 1 cup of water
White long grain: 1 cup of rice to 1.5 cups of water
Brown rice: 1 cup of rice to 3 cups of water
Basmati rice: 1 cup of rice to 2 cups of water.
Once the rice is done and the rice cooker switches over the ‘warm’ setting, taste the rice. If it’s not cooked to your liking add a little extra water (¼ – ½ a cup) and then switch to ‘cook’ again. Note down your ideal ratios for next time.
Other Foods You Can Cook In a Rice Cooker
A rice cooker isn’t a one-show pony. It’s more versatile than the name suggests. And the convenience transfers to the other foods you can cook in a rice cooker.
Note: It’s normal to have a ‘skin’ on the bottom of the rice cooker when you cook grains. Some people (like me!) love this crusty bit and fight over it. If you don’t enjoy it, you can smear a little oil or butter on the base of the cooker to prevent the crust, or just leave it on the bottom when you scoop out the food. Leave to soak, and the skin will lift right off – no scrubbing!
Because you don’t have to watch the rice cooker, you can switch it on when you get up in the morning, have a shower or a cuppa and then come back to hot porridge!
The general ratio for cooking rolled oats is 1 cup of oats to 2 cups of water.
I like to put the oats and water in the cooker the night before to let soak so that all I have to do is switch the rice cooker on in the morning.
You can substitute the water will milk if you prefer and add flavourings like cinnamon to the cooking oats.
Quinoa is super easy to cook in the rice cooker and comes out perfect. Rinse your quinoa in a fine sieve before putting it in the rice cooker.
Water ratio: 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water.
3. Other Grains
I’ve been eating the McKenzie’s Freekah, lentil and bean mix lately for extra fibre after reading about them in the CSIRO’s Healthy Gut book. You can buy the grain blend at the supermarket(Australia) for around $4 depending on the store.
The packet instructions for stovetop are 1 cup of grain mix to 3 cups of water, but in the rice cooker, I prefer 1 cup of grain to 2.5 cups of water.
For other grains like buckwheat, the ratio is 1 cup of grains to 2 cups of water.
Polenta is messy and time consuming on the stove. Save the bother by cooking it in the rice cooker. I don’t think I’ll ever cook polenta any other way now that I’ve cooked it in the rice cooker.
Ratio: 1/2 cup of polenta (not instant) to 2 cups of liquid (stock or water). Once the rice cooker clicks over to the ‘warm’ setting, stir in some parmesan cheese and a little cream for deliciously creamy polenta.
I use this recipe with a few variations for delicious cheesy polenta.
Should you soak lentils before cooking?
They are better digested if you do soak them, but it’s not essential. Let your tummy be your guide.
The ratio for brown or green lentils in the rice cooker is 1 cup lentils to 3 cups water.
Red lentils go mushy when cooked, which is great if you want a dhal. Add spices and vegetables for a delicious vegetarian meal.
Looking for a dhal recipe? Here’s a great video recipe for rice cooker dhal ( the actual recipe starts at the 2:19 mark if you want to skip all the chit-chat)
6. Stewed Apples
Confession: I’ve ruined a pot stewing apples. They are not something you can forget about and leave on the stove.
But they are something you can leave in the rice cooker and not worry about while they stew.
Here’s how to stew apples in the rice cooker: peel (if you like) and chop apples. Place apples, any favourite flavourings (like cinnamon) in the rice cooker along with a little water to cover the bottom, so they don’t burn (about ¼ cup of water). Let cook until mushy to your liking.
If there is too much liquid, cook for a further few minutes with the lid off to reduce the liquid.
7. Steamed Vegetables
Most rice cookers, even the basic models, come with a steamer rack. Place vegetables on the rack over rice or other grains to steam while the grains cook. This saves you time, washing up and electricity!
I also like to stir some baby spinach through whatever grain I’m cooking and let it wilt on the ‘warm’ setting.
8. Super Easy DIY Mac ‘n’ Cheese
I haven’t tried making mac ‘n’ cheese in the rice cooker yet, but this super easy recipe from Around My Family Table makes me want to give it a go.
Update: I cooked the mac ‘n’ cheese recipe and it turned out really well. However, I would avoid doing the second cook and just use the warm setting to melt the cheese.
Do you have some extra fruit? Turn it into jam using this easy recipe for jam in the rice cooker.
10. Dessert (that’s NOT rice pudding)
Why would you cook a cake in a rice cooker?
Well, if you don’t have an oven, you’re travelling, or you want to reduce the heat at home but still have dessert, then you can cook a pudding in a rice cooker.
Rice Cooker quick reference guide (download and print)
There are so many things you can cook in a rice cooker besides rice, and there are whole books on the topic. The Everything Rice Cooker Book and The Pot and How to Use It are just two books that would make great gifts for college students and travellers wanting to cook where there is no oven or full kitchen.
For simple grains, I’ve included a quick reference for grain to water ratios but use your tastebuds to guide you and adjust the proportions according to your preferences and rice cooker!
Alternatively, for a super simple quick reference, use a sharpie to write the ratios on the back of the actual rice cooker.
Download the rice cooker quick reference guide as a PDF.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.