If you’re a student living in a campus dorm or an office worker slinking home every day to your cubicle-sized bachelor pad, or you have the means but just can’t be bothered to cook properly and are sick of snacking on unhealthy canteen or restaurant food, we have a solution.
Don’t worry, we’re not advocating a strict regime of fresh-cut vegetables, nuts and water, or any other health-conscious dietary program for that matter. Instead, we bring you (drum roll please)…the humble rice cooker (电饭煲, Diàn fàn bāo).
Yes, China’s vast array of culinary schools and dishes are yours for the sampling with the aid of this simple kitchen staple, the only limit is your imagination. As rice cookers tend to emit a low heat, they are perfect for slow cooking stews or boiling through vegetables and dumplings.
Yinuo, a post-80s girl, and graduate student at Wuhan University, recalls that her voyage of rice cooker-related discovery began by boiling dumplings during her undergraduate days.
She also says that she’s tested the limits of her creativity by attempting to exhaust the number of dishes she could turn out from her rice cooker.
“I love food and cooking, but canteen food is just so-so. We don’t have a kitchen in our dormitory, but my roommates and I make all kinds of food in our rice cooker, including Taiwan’s Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡， Sān bēi jī)，stewed beef with tomatoes, boiled dumplings and various types of hotpot to name just a few.”
As a Hubei native, she said she is proudest of the pork ribs and lotus root soup, a keynote dish of Hubei cuisine, that she’s perfected making in her rice cooker, the recipe for which she shares below:
500 grams lotus root, chopped into cubes
500 grams pork ribs, chopped into cubes and cleaned.
A teaspoon of black vinegar
10 grams ginger, julienned
Salt to taste
- Boil the lotus root for 15 minutes and then add the pork ribs with water to the rice cooker and cover. The longer you boil the lotus root the softer and more tender it will taste.
- Add the ginger and vinegar to the cooker (the vinegar will help tenderize the pork ribs)
- Boil for about 40 minutes. Remove the scum during the boiling process.
- Add salt to taste.
Yinuo’s rice cooker expertise is not unusual in China, and most people who’ve lived in digs without a kitchen will have had a similar experience. For me, one of the best dishes to whip up in a rice cooker is the ever popular Cantonese clay pot rice (广东煲仔饭) – stewed rice with lawei (cured meat) and vegetables. This dish has all the staples you need: meat, vegetables and a mix of colors. It’s super simple to make, too. When the rice is nearly cooked, add the lawei and vegetables to the top of rice and continue stewing for 5-10 minutes. Mix evenly before serving. That’s it!
If you have any dishes you can recommend for making in a rice cooker, please let us and other readers know via the comments section.
Add some color to your rice dish, with Rice of Five Colors.
Up for some more challenges? 21 more recipes for your rice cooker.