In praise of rice cookers. September 26, 2008Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Chinese food, ginger snap soup, recipes, rice cookers
Silence Dogood here. Every cook has his or her hurdles—things that ought to be easy, but that you just can’t do well to save your life. Mine (besides an unfortunate and occasionally fatal tendency to wander off and start reading when things are in the oven) is cooking rice. Boil water, add rice, right? Wrong, at least in my case. As faithful readers know, I’m extremely texture-sensitive. I don’t want hard rice, soggy rice, gummy rice. I want perfect, fluffy rice, and I want it, reliably, every time. I want, in short, Chinese-restaurant rice.
To make matters worse, our friend Ben and I love rice. We use it as a base for many of our dishes, be they Mexican or Indian, stir-fries or sautees. And we love it as a side dish, too. Take the word of one who knows: Nothing can ruin a meal faster than a panful of soggy or otherwise badly cooked rice. I finally resorted to making a run—or, often, sending poor Ben to make a run—to nearby Chinese restaurants to buy rice. And our friend Ben, after one or two rice runs too many, began agitating for a rice cooker.
Of course, I resisted. First of all, we’re Luddites, and we prefer not to load up on plug-in gadgets of any kind. We already have plenty, thanks. To buy a big pot that just cooked rice seemed stupid.
Then there was the whole aluminum thing. Most rice cookers are made from aluminum, and just as with cast iron, when you cook with an aluminum pan, some of that aluminum migrates into the food (unless, of course, the inside is clad with another metal or enamel, not the case with thin-walled rice cookers). As all of us now know, Alzheimer’s is characterized by a buildup of aluminum in the brain. No one yet knows if this is a cause or effect of the disease, but I’d prefer to do everything in my power to keep what few wits I possess about me, thank you very much. I’d long ago refused my grandmother’s thick, marvelous aluminum cookware, choosing instead my own much-used, much-loved LeCreuset enamelled cast iron pots and pans.
After ongoing badgering on the part of Ben, I did some online research and discovered that there were a few rice cookers out there with stainless steel rather than aluminum inserts. But aaarrrgghh! Unlike the $20 aluminum models, they cost more like $200—a high price tag for a bowl of rice. Even so, I’d almost decided to start saving up for one when our good friend Cole delivered the coup de grace. I was visiting Cole and his partner, Bruce, in beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia, as I do every Hallowe’en, and complaining about the whole rice situation one night when Cole and I were making dinner in their fabulous kitchen. Cole said, “You know, Bruce and I got one of those stainless rice cookers. But it doesn’t work nearly as well as our old aluminum one.”
Good grief. This little conversation taught me two things at once: First, that in this case, cheaper was actually better; and two, that even accomplished cooks like Cole and Bruce used rice cookers. However, I was still on the fence about the whole aluminum business when our friend Ben finally took matters in hand.
“Come on, we’re going to buy a rice cooker,” he announced, grabbing the car keys with one hand and my arm with the other.
“But, Ben! What about the aluminum?!”
“Look, we’ve all got to die from something, right? And besides, what do you think those Chinese restaurants cook their rice in?”
We went to a nearby department store and bought an Aroma rice cooker for a whopping $19.95. We have used it several times a week ever since. We now have perfect rice, every time, to accompany whatever dish I care to concoct. If I’m cooking a meal that involves rice for our Friday Night Supper Club, I’ll even pack up the rice cooker and take it along with the other ingredients. So far, my memory doesn’t seem to be suffering.
Last night, I decided to be brave and attempt to create a Chinese dish for our friend Rudy. I’d beeen thinking about it ever since our local CSA began offering Asian eggplant. Eggplant with garlic sauce is one of our friend Ben’s and my favorite dishes when we go to Chinese restaurants, being sweet and spicy at the same time, a nice complement to salty-spicy dishes and, of course, to rice. When it’s done well, the eggplant is practically caramelized, with no bitterness or mushiness. I was dying to try to make some version of this at home.
I’d already created a warming Chinese-style soup that I could make ahead of time in the Crock-Pot (aka slow cooker), so I made that in the morning before heading out to Curves, then enjoyed the gingery fragrance until it was time to get serious about cooking dinner. Fortunately, Rudy loved both dishes, so I’ll share them with you here. You could doubtless do a one-pan version of the main dish if you’re adept with a wok, but I made it with ordinary pots and pans, so if you don’t have a wok, don’t let that stop you. I made my soup in the Crock-Pot, but you could certainly make it in a heavy pot on the stove, as well.
Silence’s Ginger Snap Soup
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 or 2 leeks, halved and sliced (white and light green parts only)
2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
1 large carton veggie stock (every brand I’ve tried is good)
1 carton super-firm diced tofu
sliced mushrooms, mixed (as in button and shiitake mushrooms), about 1 cup sliced or more to taste
1/2 cup wild rice mix
1 T ginger paste
1 T ginger chutney
1 T fresh ginger root, minced, or more to taste
2 T red miso, or more to taste
1 T Thai curry powder
hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa), to taste
Real Salt, Trocamare, or Herbamare, to taste
extra-virgin olive oil for sauteeing
Saute all ingredients except green onions, rice, and veggie stock in olive oil. (Add diced tofu just before taking sauteed ingredients off heat.) Add saute to slow cooker with veggie stock and rice. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Top each bowl with sliced green onion before serving.
“Chinese” Eggplant and Rice
4 Asian eggplants, sliced
1 head broccoli, stem sliced and florets separated
small box button mushrooms, quartered
1 large or 2 medium sweet onions, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 T minced fresh ginger root
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1-2 T Chinese five-spice mix
Real Salt, Trocamare, or Herbamare to taste
soy sauce, orange-ginger sauce, or General Tso’s sauce, to taste
olive or canola oil for sauteeing
Sautee garlic and onion in oil in a heavy pan. Meanwhile, steam eggplant and broccoli until just tender; set aside. When onions have clarified, add ginger, mushrooms, Chinese spice, and salt; cook until mushrooms have cooked down. Add red pepper, stirring for a couple of minutes, then add steamed eggplant and broccoli, stirring to mix. Turn heat very low and cover pan.
Just before serving, add soy sauce, orange-ginger sauce, or General Tso’s sauce to taste, stirring to coat all ingredients. (I used the orange-ginger sauce, available at our local grocery, when I made this. Don’t use more than a couple of tablespoons of whichever sauce you choose to start; once it’s heated through, taste it and add more as needed.) Allow the sauce to heat through, then serve over rice.
I hope you enjoy them. Let me know what you think!
‘Til next time,