Steamers and Rice Cookers

Adding a little steam to your kitchen

If you love that breezy taste of steamed rice and vegetables you get at most Asian food restaurants and want to duplicate it in your home, agood place to start is by purchasing a steamer or rice cooker.

Steamers and rice cookers cook and re-heat rice and vegetables with little effort, and because the food is not soaked directly in the boiling water, the food's nutrients stay locked in rather than getting sent down the drain.

Steamers are a great way to enjoy broccoli, asparagus, beans or any other vegetable. These small appliances have become increasingly popular due to their practicality, simplicity and ability to provide great tasting food. Steamers and rice cookers give food a pleasing texture you just can't get by boiling. Green vegetables remain fresh-tasting and nutrient-rich, while rice comes out fluffy and light.

Most steamers are electric and often have a removable pan or bowl that houses the rice or vegetables. Many units come with stackable bowls that allow you to steam different foods at the same time. All rice cookers have timers, but many models offer programmable settings that allow you to store your desired cooking times for easy reference. Transparent lids allow you to monitor the steaming process to ensure your foods are cooked to your preference. Most models have a feature that will shut the machine down if all the boiling water evaporates before the time is up, sparing you the annoyance of rice burning on the bottom of a pot.

Generally both rice cookers and steamers will indicate your food is ready by beeping, and for extra convenience, many models have a warming setting that will keep your food at the right temperature until you're ready to eat.

In order to quickly measure the amounts of rice and water you need to make your meal, most steamers and rice cookers have transparent measuring lines on the bowl. Some models include accessories such as a convenient measuring cup and plastic rice paddles to ensure you don't scrape the non-stick bottom of your steamer.

Because most bowls and lids for rice cookers and steamers are removable and usually dishwasher safe, clean up is a snap.

Most electric rice cookers start at around $30. If you choose not to go with this option, steamers are also sold in basic models. They are usually cylindrical in shape and have holes similar to a colander. The most common material used for these models are bamboo and stainless steel. To use, you simply place them over a pot of boiling water on the stove - although they do not offer the convenience of an electric rice cooker, they are usually inexpensive and can easily be found at the local department store. Prices start at around $10.

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