It’s estimated that nearly 95% of American households have a microwave oven, and about 15% of those have more than one. Yet, most of these ovens are only being used for defrosting, reheating, and popping popcorn. For the person who is trying to put delicious, low-fat meals on the table quickly, the microwave oven can be a great asset. You just have to choose the right foods to microwave and understand the microwave’s strengths and limitations.
In his introduction to The Good Health Microwave Cookbook (Bantam Books), Carl Jerome says “by its very nature the microwave encourages its user to prepare healthful food. It cooks without the need of added fat…the microwave enhances flavors, in large part, because it cooks foods without the need for added water — which drains food of its flavor — thus minimizing the need for salt.”
We agree! The microwave cooks fresh vegetables wonderfully (and makes frozen vegetables seem almost fresh). It cooks cereals, grains, beans, and peas perfectly. Fish cooked in the microwave is marvelous, and the microwave does an excellent job with poultry and game. Fruit is better when cooked in the microwave than on top of the stove or in the oven.
“The microwave is basically a giant steamer, ” says Lori Longbotham, author of Better by Microwave (Dutton Books). That’s probably why most people don’t care for microwave baked potatoes. The potato is cooked in about 7 minutes, but it’s actually been steamed and lacks the crunchy outside skin that makes a baked potato so wonderful. So, microwave the potatoes while you’re preheating the regular oven to 450°F (230°C). Finish the potatoes in the hot oven so they can develop a crisp skin.
Have you ever tried cooking artichokes in the microwave? Four artichokes, arranged in a shallow dish and sealed airtight with a double covering of plastic wrap, cook perfectly in less than 15 minutes, in about a quarter of the top-of-the-stove cooking time and without all the fuss. Fat spears of asparagus cook in 5 minutes, retaining their emerald green color and fresh-picked flavor. Brussels sprouts do an amazing thing when you cook them in a microwave. The leaves actually separate as the sprouts cook in about 7 minutes to a delicate flavor and leafy texture. A small head of cauliflower, cored and cut into flowerets, cooks in just 6 minutes with its natural, delicate cabbage flavor and flowery aroma intensified.
No need to husk your fresh corn before cooking, just arrange the corn still in its husks like spokes of a wheel on the floor of the microwave oven with the small ends in the center. Four ears of corn will take 10 minutes on HIGH. Using an oven mitt, remove the corn from the oven and carefully pull off the husks and silks (they will separate easily from the corn). Be careful as the corn will be cooked all the way through the cob. As the Persians do, dip the cooked corn on the cob briefly in a pot of lightly salted water and offer wedges of fresh lime to squeeze on the corn just before eating. You won’t miss the butter!
Sometimes just changing the shape of a familiar vegetable elevates it from the everyday to something special. Children love these ribbons of colorful squash.
Squash Ribbons with Garlic Lemon Sauce
(Adapted from the The Joslin Diabetes Gourmet Cookbook © by Bonnie Sanders Polin, Ph.D. and Frances Towner Giedt, Bantam Books)
(makes 4 servings)
|2||medium zucchini, about 1/2 pound (225 g), washed well|
|2||medium yellow summer squash, about 1/2 pound (225 g), washed well|
|1||teaspoon (5 g) margarine|
|1||small garlic clove, minced|
|2||teaspoons (10 ml) fresh lemon juice|
|1/4||teaspoon (1.25 ml) salt (optional)|
|1/8||teaspoon (0.6 ml) freshly ground pepper or to taste|
|ground nutmeg to taste|
|1.||Using a sharp vegetable peeler, cut the squash lengthwise into thin ribbons. Place the ribbons in a large microwave-safe dish with a lid. Cook on HIGH for 1 to 2 minutes, until wilted.|
|2.||In a glass measuring cup, combine margarine, garlic, and lemon juice. Microwave on HIGH for 20 seconds, until margarine is melted. Pour over squash ribbons and add salt (if using), pepper, and nutmeg. Toss well and serve.|
|Per serving:||39 calories (23% calories from fat), 1 g protein, 1 g fat (0.2 g saturated), 5 g carbohydrate, 1 g dietary fiber, 0 cholesterol, 174 mg sodium|
Some Microwave Tips
The above recipe was tested on HIGH or full power at 650 to 700 watts in a carousel microwave using microwave-safe containers. Since microwave ovens vary significantly by manufacturer and model, you’ll need to determine the power of your own oven from the manufacturer’s instruction manual. If your microwave is less or more powerful (the newer models are 800 to 900 watts), add or deduct 15 seconds per minute per 100 watts of power difference. Watch the dish carefully, and be sure to rotate the dish occasionally while cooking, if your oven does not have a carousel.
Food cooks (and reheats) better in round dishes in a microwave.
Salt attracts microwaves. Add it after the cooking, not before.
Not all china, glass, plastic, and paper dishes are microwave-safe as we specify for in all of our recipes. To determine if a particular dish is usable, we like the test suggested in Microwave Cooking Handbook by the International Microwave Power Institute of Clifton, Virginia:
“Place a glass measuring cup with 1/2 cup water in the microwave oven. Set the dish to be tested near the measuring cup, but not touching. Microwave on HIGH (100 percent) power for one minute. If the dish is cool or slightly warm to the touch, the dish is acceptable for microwave cooking. The water (in the measuring cup) should be quite warm or hot. If the dish is hot, do not use it in a microwave.”
Next month we’ll explore more ways to use your microwave, creating a complete low-fat meal in the microwave with recipes.