Many people avoid cooking with a microwave, using this quick option only when reheating or thawing food. Although microwaving can affect the texture and flavor of some foods, you can use this handy appliance to make quick and easy meals and snacks. Plan ahead to have microwave-friendly foods on hand, and use the right equipment such as steamer bags or browning plates.
Microwaving is one of the simplest methods for cooking vegetables. Slice any vegetable and arrange the slices in an even thickness in a microwave-safe bowl. Add a small amount of water to the vegetables and cover the bowl with plastic wrap, or use a microwave bowl with a vented cover. The cooking time will vary according to the thickness and texture of the vegetables, which should be tender but not limp when properly prepared. If you prefer the taste of steamed vegetables, purchase plastic steamer bags meant for the microwave. Load them up with your favorite vegetable and follow the cooking time instructions on the back of the bag. Your vegetables will be crisp and flavorful. Sprinkle on dry salad dressing and seasoning mix to enhance the flavor of microwaved vegetables before serving.
If you cringe at the thought of microwaving meat, you probably haven't tasted meat cooked on a browning plate. Browning plates are designed just for browning meat in the microwave. A browning plate heats up and acts like a frying pan, searing the meat as it cooks. To cook meat on a browning plate, cut it into smaller pieces; if you try to microwave a large piece of meat, the outside will become tough before the inside cooks. Use 50-percent power to prevent the meat from becoming leathery. A simple dash of powdered ranch dressing mix as seasoning livens up any microwaved meat.
Any grain that you cook on the stove top can also be cooked in the microwave. Rice, wheat berries, barley and bulgur wheat all are good candidates for microwave cooking. Like cooking on the stove top, these grains must be covered with 1-inch of water and then cooked slowly and at half power. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and cook the grains until they are al dente, or tender but with a firm texture. Set the covered bowl on the counter, and let it rest until the water is completely absorbed. The total cooking time depends on the grain. Add zesty flavor to grains by stirring in dry dressing and seasoning mix before cooking.
You don't just have to stick to single ingredients, however. Save time by making foods such as soft tacos and quesadillas in the microwave. Cook the meat first and then assemble the taco or quesadilla. Finish heating them in the microwave to melt the cheese and soften the tortillas. Baked potatoes are also easy to prepare in a microwave. Simply pierce a potato, place it on a plate, and microwave until it's tender. Use creamy salad dressing instead of sour cream or butter for a taste treat, and try a light version if you want to cut calories.
Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.