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When you hear about an appliance named a "rice cooker", you would naturally think that it's used to make ... surprise! Rice. And that's true. But in addition to being able to make a perfect pot of rice, a rice cooker is a secret meal helper in kitchens all over the globe. Everything from rice-based stews to soups to legumes to specialty grains can benefit from a rice cooker and a creative cook.
Rice cookers operate on a very simple principle. Water boils at a specific temperature and, in the absence of it, a dish will rapidly rise in temperature. Add a method for registering that temperature change and a way to switch into a warming (or off) mode, and you've got a basic rice cooker. It's an ingenious way to make perfect rice -- brown, white, sushi or basmati -- it can handle it all.
But, you can also use the same appliance to make any number of other great dishes. Since there's no substitute for getting into the fray, I'm going to offer a few great dishes to illustrate my point and introduce you to the joys of a rice cooker.
Formerly relegated to a special occasion dish because of its long preparation time, a rice cooker makes fast work of this lovely Indian favorite.
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into pieces
1 c. fat-free plain yogurt
1 T. vegetable oil
2 T. garam masala -- look for this in the ethnic section with the spices
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 T. minced ginger
1 T. minced garlic
1 finely diced onion
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp. red chile powder
2 tsp. tumeric
2 c. basmati rice
5 c. water
2 cinnamon sticks
6 green cardamom pods
The night before you intend to make biriyani, combine the chicken and yogurt in a dish. Refrigerate until you are ready to make the biriyani.
Pour the oil into a rice cooker turned on the HIGH setting. Add the spices (garam masala through garlic) and the onion. Sauté until the onion is golden and the spices are fragrant.
Add the tomatoes, chile powder and turmeric; cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the chicken and yogurt; cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Add the rice, water, cinnamon sticks (break them into two pieces each) and cardamom pods. Stir, cover and cook until the rice cooker switches itself to the WARM (or OFF on some models) position.
Serve hot and garnish with golden raisins, hard-boiled eggs and nuts.
Yields: 6 servings
Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus steaming time -- approximately 45 minutes total