7 Whole Meals You Can Make Entirely in a Rice Cooker
Published on October 15, 2021
Last updated October 18, 2021
By Heather Anderson
Cooking can be a fun hobby, but after a long day I sometimes find myself staring at the fridge thinking, “Dinner, why can’t you just cook yourself?”
Lately, I’ve been turning to my trusty rice cooker — not just for grains, but to make whole, complete dinners. In a rice cooker, meals can safely cook themselves: in fact, even kids can throw pre-measured ingredients into the pot and press the button. The rice cooker will turn itself off when the meal is ready, then keep dinner warm. Plus, the non-stick cleanup is a breeze.
I’ve rounded up some of my favorite ways to use my rice cooker to make a whole meal below, but basically any recipe that involves grains, corn, or legumes can probably be made in the rice cooker — get creative!
This fantastic salmon bowl recipe becomes rice cooker-friendly in a flash: just place frozen edamame in the steam basket above sushi rice 20 minutes into cooking, letting it steam for the final 10 minutes. Add fresh salmon filets for the final 5 minutes to steam them (or just sear with oil in a pan). Once cooked, add diced cucumber, sliced avocado, and red chili. This would also be delicious with some bonito flakes or sesame seeds, and soy sauce spiked with lemon juice is a great, healthy finish.
Risotto is an infamous stove-top stirring dish, but this recipe is actually among my favorite rice cooker meals. Mince shallot and celery stalk and place in the cooker first to receive direct heat, along with olive oil. Pour the dry white arborio rice on top. Next, go in with the stock and wine, and add butternut squash cut into 1/2″ cubes. Fragrant, fresh marjoram or thyme make this dish extra-special. Cover, then stir once about halfway through the 30-minute cook time. To serve, bump the protein content with ground pistachios or pecans sprinkled over top.
This delicious chicken drumstick recipe is actually crafted for the rice cooker specifically, and it’s phenomenally simple. I’d recommend adding your favorite vegetables before cooking so you have a whole meal — kale, carrots, and cabbage should take about 10 minutes to steam, while green beans and broccoli take about 5.
Light and filling, this farro salad is the kind of rice cooker meal that makes you feel like you did yourself a favor. Increase grain variety and texture by going 50/50 with farro and pearl barley. Also note: you can substitute roasted red pepper for sundried tomato if that’s all you have on hand. Simply rinse the farro (and pearled barley, if using) and add to your rice cooker along with a pinch of salt. 1 cup of grains requires 3 cups of water or stock to cook. I like using stock because it’s a great way to boost depth in both flavor and nutrients.
Italian polenta is so velvety and comforting, but it’s also one of those infamous dishes that requires constant supervision and stirring. However, it’s much easier in the rice cooker: just give it a single stir at the 20-minute mark during a 30-minute cook, and add a little butter and parmesan cheese. Traditionally, this is where you’d also throw in ¼ cup of cream — and by all means, do you. But you can also substitute cream for a spoonful of B-vitamin-rich nutritional yeast for a healthier alternative. No matter what, don’t forget the bay leaf, which makes flavors pop. You can also cook asparagus in the steam tray of the rice cooker, which will be the perfect accompaniment to this dish: just set for 5 to 10 minutes depending on the stalks’ thickness.
Inspired by this Spanish paella recipe, you can substitute nutty basmati and a handful of wild rice in place of arborio, which adds color, fiber, and richness. Mince onion and red bell pepper, and place in the cooker first to receive direct heat along with olive oil, then pour the dry rice on top. Go in with saffron bloomed stock, adding sliced raw Spanish chorizo. With a single bay leaf on top, cover and cook. 20 minutes in, stir once, and add raw shrimp (tossed in olive oil, paprika, and garlic powder) to steam on the rice for the final 10-12 minutes.
Take-out Chinese food is often a go-to on busy weeknights, but it’s not a super healthy choice — and it’s also not always a great value, either. This one-pot fried rice recipe is ready in just 30 minutes and is better both for you and your wallet. Adjust this for the rice cooker by using basmati or jasmine rice, as they are less starchy and will crisp up nicely. Start the pot with rice, oil, and water or stock, and if you’re feeling it, add some diced BBQ pork. 20 minutes into the cook, pour in the sauce, beaten eggs, and optional raw prawns and/or frozen peas. Cover to steam for the final 10-12 minutes. Toss together with loads of fresh green onion.
Heather Anderson is a food writer based in Seattle, WA. After working in restaurants around the world, she has devoted herself to making refined food accessible to the home cook. Follow her on Instagram @heatherscottagekitchen.