Asian Secret #1: Rice Cooker as Steamer!

Rice Cooker Options

I’m not sure if this is a big secret, per se; you probably use a steamer unit to cook your rice anyway! But, for those of you who don’t have one and are wondering about getting another machine, please don’t waste your hard-earned clams yet! Stick with one machine for now…

A rice cooker is most famous for cooking one thing…. RICE! And it really does a good job, because sticky rice comes out tasting nice and fluffy (moist) if set correctly. But that’s not all it does. In fact, you can do loads of other things with a rice cooker. Here I will show how a basic rice cooker works and how it can be used to steam food as well.

To the left are some standard rice cooker options. I prefer option 2 because my family doesn’t eat large portions of rice and the smaller machine is cheaper. This might also mean that the steaming space will be limited, but it will still work. (Visit this tutorial for more details on how to make rice.)

Steel Steamer Basket

PREPARING: In order to transform a standard rice cooker into a steamer for just about anything, you’ll need to get a steamer basket, which adjusts to the container it is put in. It will sit in the inner pot of the rice cooker. The water level shouldn’t come above the steamer basket. Make sure that you can put the steamer tray (a simple stainless steel plate will be fine) solidly on top of the steamer basket, without it floating around.

Stainless Steel Plate

Take a look at the eggplant I cooked using this method. You’ll notice that the steel plate can continue to be used as a serving dish when you are finished. This plate costs about $.05 here in China, but I’m sure you can get one for $1.50 in any large marketplace in the West. NOTE: If you don’t care about the juices leaving your food, you can leave out the steel plate.

COOKING: When you have placed the steamer basket in shallow water inside the rice cooker, you can then place your plate of food on top to prepare for steaming. When the plate is level, close the top of the rice cooker and start it up! It will cook the same way you cook rice. Check your recipes for length of time required. But if you are like me, you can just guesstimate when its ready!

Steamed Eggplant (vinegar + garlic)


One type of cooking that has always worried me is “steamed” anything! I know white rice is steamed, but how do I actually steam food without another special machine. If you are like me, read about using your rice cooker as a steamer for dishes first, then come back and follow these easy steps.

PREP: Finely mince 2-3 cloves of garlic and put them aside. Keep bottles of sesame oil, vinegar, and soy sauce handy. Salt too. (See image below) Also, use a steamer or your rice cooker.

1~ Slice up the eggplant in half, then into 1/2″ thick strips-lengthwise. This can be altered as you do the recipe more often and develop a preference.

2~ With your cooker/steamer warmed up, place the raw, sliced eggplant strips into the steaming tray. Let them steam for 5-10 minutes.

3~ Pull tray out of steamer carefully… let the tray sit on a cooling rack or kitchen counter. Sprinkle salt over them. After a minute, start pulling the eggplant into strings with chop sticks or a fork. You’ll notice that water is pulled out of the eggplant by the salt.

4~ After draining the water out, you’ll see the resulting mushy stuff that is in the image below. Let it cool for about 5 minutes before adding about a tablespoon of vinegar, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce, and the minced garlic. Mix completely.

Nearly finished product

* This dish is best served cool. You should be able to taste the fragrant sesame with a twang of vinegar.