Chillaf aka Chilli Pilaf, 50p (VEGAN) (MICROWAVE)

Chillaf. Silly name but hey, we all need a little more silliness in our lives.

Chillaf. Silly name but hey, we all need a little more silliness in our lives.

I’m a few days into the microwave cooking project since I gave up my oven for Lent and I have to say, I’m having a blast. I’ve set up a test kitchen in a corner with a fridge, microwave and kettle, and it’s like learning to cook all over again. Today I poached an egg for lunch, and mucked it up – I am completely out of my comfort zone and learning new things all the time, but what I’m hoping to achieve at the end of it is a useful resource for people to take into their offices, workplaces and kitchens and cook simply, cheaply, and with a microwave. It’s nothing new, microwave cooking was big recipe book business in the 1970s, and I have a few rather old and slightly hilarious microwave cookbooks that I’ve spent the last few days reading – anyone for defrosted hash browns with Campbells soup and crunched up cornflakes on top? It’s a real recipe from Easy Livin’ Microwave Cookin’ by Karen Kangas Dwyer, called ‘Elegant Potatoes’… Hmm.

My 'new' kitchen! I've taken over a corner of the house with The Microwave Project, so this is my test kitchen - it's so much easier to clean...

My ‘new’ kitchen! I’ve taken over a corner of the house with The Microwave Project, so this is my test kitchen – it’s so much easier to clean…

One thing I’ve noticed from microwave cooking is that flavours change – it’s not as simple as flinging a recipe that I would normally cook on the hob, into the microwave. Garlic retains a tang of its raw taste if not cut up really finely, as does onion. Spices don’t have a long development and infusion time, so some need a little more than before, and some need less. Cumin seeds are basically a no, as they stay hard and crunchy with the short ping time as opposed to a long softening in a pan. Dishes retain a lot more moisture, so rice needs far less liquid to cook. Like I said, learning new things every day with this – and loving it. I’m also trying to strip the ingredients list back to be as simple as possible while staying as yummy as possible – some of my readers who have got in touch to say they only have a microwave to cook with, aren’t in a position to fill up their storecupboards, so I’m knocking out things that could be considered extraneous… And besides, these are meant to be quick and simple!

So with no further ado, here’s my microwave chilli pilaf – the chocolate lovers among you will be pleased to note it’s got extra chocolate in!

Serves 1 at 50p*

¼ smallish onion (about 40g), 2p
1 small clove of garlic – makes a change from me stipulating a fat one but the small ones have to go in something, 2p
70g rice (about an espresso cup sized), 2p
¼ tsp ground cumin, 1p
½ tsp paprika (sweet or smoked, depends on preference and storecupboard), 2p
200g chopped tomatoes, 17p
130g canned kidney beans (half a 400g can drained and rinsed), 18p
½ a vegetable stock cube, 1p
2 squares of dark chocolate, 4p
150ml cold water
a splash of vinegar (malt will do) and a pinch of salt to serve <1p

I cooked this twice, the first time without rice and by flinging all the ingredients in at the same time. It was delicious, but there was a very slight tang of raw garlic. When I cook chilli on the hob, and indeed lots of other recipes, I’d start by gently sauteeing the garlic and onion to soften first, then adding the other ingredients. So, I tried again, gently cooking the garlic and onion on a low setting in the microwave first to soften them, the same way I would when cooking on the hob. Seeing I was making it again, I decided to add rice to my chilli to make it a true one pot meal, and thus the chillaf was born. You can choose to throw all the ingredients in together if you like, but you might like to leave the garlic out, unless you don’t mind it super strong.

Finely chop your garlic and onion and pop them into your vessel of choice – I cooked mine in a jug and it worked really well, but think a tupperware or a bowl would work too. Remember, no metal, metal in microwaves sets fire to things, even the smallest amount of metal embellishment on a plate could be disastrous. Add a tablespoon of water to stop them from sticking, cover with clingfilm and pierce in a couple of places. Turn your microwave to around HALF power. Cook for 90 seconds, and leave to stand for a few more. Carefully peel back the clingfilm, starting with a side piece so you don’t get steam burns – rare but seriously painful.

Add the rest of the ingredients, crumbling the stock cube in to it dissolves rather than sits at the bottom in a lump, and add the water. Re-cover with clingfilm (remember to pierce it if you’re using a new bit), and cook on FULL power for 3 minutes. Remove, carefully uncover and stir really really well, cover again and pop back in for another 3 minutes. Remove, carefully uncover, and leave to stand for a minute before serving. If your rice isn’t cooked (just nibble a piece to check), then pop back in for two more minutes – not all rice is created equal. Basic white rice cooked in 6 minutes in my microwave with a 1 minute rest in the middle and a 1 minute rest at the end, but brown rice takes longer and black rice and red rice are somewhere in between. Add a tiny splash of and vinegar and a pinch of salt to serve, it just makes it.

Jug it. Cover it. Pierce it. Ping it. Stand it. Ping it. Stand it. Eat it. Simple.

Jug it. Cover it. Pierce it. Ping it. Stand it. Ping it. Stand it. Eat it. Simple.

Prices based on my most recent Sainsburys shop and correct at time of blogging. Other supermarkets offer similar products at competitive prices and if you find anything at a super bargain price please comment below and share the info so we can all rush there instead! 🙂

Basics white rice 45p/1kg. Basics onions 85p/1.5kg. Basics garlic bulbs 35p/2. Ground cumin £1/42g. Paprika £1. Basics chopped tomatoes 35p/400g. Basics kidney beans 30p/400g. Basics vegetable stock cubes 25p/10. Basics dark chocolate 30p/100g.

I’m on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe and on Facebook at If you like my stuff, check out my books on Hive, supporting local independent bookshops, and little me:

A tale of two chillis, Chilli Mk 1, and Chillaf. Chillaf won, despite its slightly silly name.

A tale of two chillis, Chilli Mk 1, and Chillaf. Chillaf won, despite its slightly silly name.


  1. Rather than use throwaway clingfilm and risk steam burns so much, try a microwave steamer instead: there are tiny holes in the lid and it has a steamer basket but can be used without it in place of your bowl.
    My old one cost under £10 from Lakeland and the bigger, current one, even less from John Lewis – I can’t cook much without it, it’s so useful.

    I’ll be trying the chillaf in it very soon – this sounds too good to miss!

  2. Hey Jack. What a great project. Some years ago I Worked my way through the recipes in my microwave instruction book and realised that microwave didn’t just mean blasting stuff as high and quickly as possible. I found casseroles were fine if cooked on high for an initial short period and then low for a longer time. Cakes were good too but had to be eaten more quickly than those conventionally cooked.

  3. Well done Jack! I am cooking with a combo of camping stove / microwave / slow cook pot as I am saving up for a kitchen so any micro recipes are eagerly awaited.

  4. Made this for dinner and it was great. I threw in some leftover steamed kale & cabbage.
    I went a few months last using only my microwave & toaster oven to save on utilities – saving both the cost of cooking gas and avoiding heating up my home & costing electricity for fans (no AC). I used glass plates as lids for the glass bowls & inverted glass bowls over the glass plates that I cooked the foods in instead of cling film – again, saves money, and better for the environment. I have a collection of various sizes/shapes of oven-safe glass bowls & plates, mostly picked up at thrift stores for $1 or $2.

  5. This looks fantastic – I’m really looking forward to all your microwave recipes, after a day of work sometimes standing at a saucepan is just waaaay too much effort :o)

  6. Errm chilli with no chilli in it guess depends on the paprika but may come up short on heat…. P x

  7. Gosh I could have done with this back in the day.

    I lived for two years after leaving my first husband, raising a permanently hungry teenage lad and having no cooker just a microwave to cook with, recipes like this would have been a godsend. But hey ho we coped and survived and lived to tell the tale. 🙂

  8. I’ve found from experience that dried granulated garlic – healthfood shop is cheapest in my area at least – is better for microwave cooking. You don’t get the raw taste, and it keeps for ages. A quarter teaspoon = approx. one good sized clove in terms of flavour. I haven’t costed it, but a large bag seems to last for ages, so there must only be pennies in the cost difference.

  9. Something I used to make which looks and tastes much more special that you would believe. The juice from the tomatoes cooks and flavours the fish a treat, Skinned salmon fillet in dish, season with S&P plus tarragon, sliced toms on top. Cover, 2 mins then add some spinach and another 10 seconds. Voila!

  10. Great idea. I meet increasing numbers of people with minimal cooking facilities. Also, microwaving uses little electricity which is very important.

  11. This recipe looks amazing. Im always on the lookout for new, healthy cheap options for quick midweek hassle free dinners.
    Thank you!

  12. This looks lovely! I notice that a few folks have commented on the lack of chilli, that struck me too, I’d probably add a sprinkle of chilli flakes in with it at some point. I’ve got a microwave soup mug with a vented lid that will be perfect for this recipe. As a side note, I never buy chopped tomatoes, I find them to be poorer in quality than the tinned whole ones (I jiggle a sharp paring knife in the tin a bit before adding them to a dish). Aldi and Lidl tinned tomatoes (by the way) are the same price as supermarket basics but far, far better quality.

  13. A friend has just pointed me in the direction of the “wonderbag” (, which appears to be a giant beanbag like thing which insulates food so that you can use it as a slow cooker without using electricity. I thought it might be worth checking out for your microwave experiment. You could potentially start off a stew in the microwave and then slow cook it in the wonderbag.

  14. I rarely have chocolate in the cupboard but always have cocoa powder…anyone know of a way I could sub them? Thanks

  15. We’ve just gone vegan this week (we went from veggie so it wasn’t a massive leap!) and oh my god, all these recipes are so useful! Especially for people with chronic illness/energy issues like myself.

    Shopping day is tomorrow so I was out of some stuff, so I subbed. Skipped the onion, used garlic from a grinder and used harricot beans instead of red kidney. So good!

  16. Just cooked this! I subbed the cumin with a tiny bit of chili powder because I had no cumin, and had to cook it for 12 mins (plus standing between each lot of 3 mins)- co-op basics rice is obviously made from bullets! Although the fact I doubled the quantities may also have influenced that!!

    Thanks again Jack!
    Also I might now microwave everything in my jug- the handle makes taking things out so much safer!

  17. I made this for the first time last night. Used basmati rice which cooked in two five minute bursts with some waiting time. It made enough for a late supper, and was delicious cold for a packed lunch today. I did not have kidney beans so used half a can of baked beans with sauce rinsed off. I plan to try with brown rice next time, which will need longer cooking. The recipe could also be used as a base with more veggies included, I should think.
    I am always looking for packed lunch ideas, so this ticks a lot of boxes.
    Thanks again. I am not quite vegan yet, but your recipes are helping me to eat more veg, and I do not miss meat much. Still struggling to cut eggs and dairy though.
    So glad you have a deal for a fourth book!!!

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