Microwave cooking is often relegated to those wacky 1970s cookbooks that you find in the back of charity shops. Indeed, they may be better known within Trinity as bargaining chips in presidential campaigns. But the nifty little things get a lot more flak than they are due. They are lifesavers when you don’t feel up for doing the dishes or properly cooking.
“The classic microwave hack is reheating leftovers or ready-meals, but it is often overlooked that you can use it to cook entire meals from scratch.”
The classic microwave hack is reheating leftovers or ready-meals, but it is often overlooked that you can use it to cook entire meals from scratch. While I love the experimental side of cooking, it is sometimes only the activity of eating with others that makes it worth the time and effort. Microwaves are much faster than ovens and hobs: they do not need time to warm up, plus they save on washing up time too as you use fewer utensils. Their limited capacity also lends itself to individual cooking—only a few portions can be made at once.
It is important to understand the basic mechanism of microwaves to see where they can speed up traditional cooking techniques. To my limited understanding as an arts student, they work by heating the oil and water in food very quickly, so any technique that mostly relies on heating water-based fluids or heating water-or-oil-based solids should be good to go in the microwave. However, frying is a bit harder with the whole door-on-microwave-to-avoid-deadly-rays and possible splattering situation, so that is probably best kept to the hob. Be careful with the temperature too: a lower temperature is better for larger blocks of food that won’t cook evenly or dishes that might dry out easily. For example, when you’re defrosting meat, make sure to use the defrost setting or a low heat setting.
Rice and pasta can be boiled in a microwave. With a premade sauce, you’ve got yourself a whole meal. It is exactly the same method as on the hob, but has the added benefit of being edible right out of the same container you cooked it in. But do take it out to stir a couple times, and make sure to have a container with a large capacity that will not overflow. Instant noodles do well in the microwave too, if you’re looking to graduate from cup noodles.
Steaming fresh vegetables is also easily done with a microwave. Cube or chop the veg into regular shapes, cover loosely and then microwave in bursts until fork-tender. Harder fresh vegetables like carrots usually take around 5-10 minutes. Most vegetables will be fine with their own juices but if they are looking as though they might be drying out, a teaspoon or two of water in the bottom of your container will provide some much needed moisture.
Conversely, if you have too many fresh herbs to use, you can dehydrate them in the microwave to use later. Remove any stems and place the herbs on a kitchen towel to absorb any moisture, then zap them in 30-second intervals on high heat until the leaves are crunchy.
In the recipe below, I have used the microwave to make a noodle bowl that is inspired by the Vietnamese dish, Bún Chay. It is quite a summery dish, but the virtual holiday might do us all some good. I stuck with rice vermicelli because it cooks in about two minutes, but you can substitute for any other noodle. Feel free to add any other vegetables and herbs. Mint would be a great addition but I was out of it.
- A handful of rice vermicelli, or any other kind of noodle
- 1 large carrot/2 small carrots
- 1 stalk celery
- ½ tin braised tofu
- 4 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- A handful of chopped peanuts
Submerge the noodles in boiling water and then cook in the microwave on high. Cook according to the instructions on the packet. Remove and cover to preserve heat.
Chop the carrots and celery into small matchsticks and then steam them until crunchy but cooked all the way though. In my microwave, this took a minute and a half.
Combine the water, sugar and lemon juice until the sugar dissolves. If the sugar is not dissolving, heat briefly in the microwave. Then add the minced garlic and set aside.
Chop the braised tofu into smaller pieces and then arrange it with the carrots and celery on a bed of noodles. Drizzle with the sauce and then cover with peanuts.
At the moment with current restrictions in place, popping to the shop for a quick pick-me-up is more and more of a gamble. However, the craving for a chocolate bar can be satisfied by one of these quick chocolate mug-cakes. I like to add cinnamon for a little fun pizazz but it’s not necessary. This is an adaption of a Bigger Bolder Baking recipe. The website has many more mug recipes, both savoury and sweet.
- 4 tbsp sugar, ideally brown but white works too
- 4 tbsp cocoa powder
- 4 tbsp plain flour
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch baking powder
- 4 tbsp milk (non-dairy works too)
- 4 tbsp oil
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a mug, and then mix in the wet ingredients. Microwave for 1 minute on high.
After making these recipes, you’d be hard pressed convincing me that your life isn’t both better and more convenient. Ignore the discourse around cooking with microwaves and get zapping.