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.
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.
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.
All text copyright Jack Monroe.