Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to cut down on your microwave use.
Our family took on this mission about two years ago, and I’m nearly ready to relegate the microwave to the basement to make room for a big old Berkey water filter system. My husband is not quite ready to get rid of the microwave completely, but I think he can handle reheating his oatmeal in the laundry room once a week.
I never used to be wary of the microwave at all. In fact, when I was expecting my first child and still teaching full time, I remember my principal tsk-tsking me because I was squatting down and watching my leftovers get nuked. He didn’t think my pregnant belly should be hanging out by the microwave. I brushed it off completely.
With my second, I think I would back away a bit when I turned the microwave on, but I certainly gave it hardly a second thought, and definitely not a third one. (How different life with my third will be!)
When I started getting into the traditional foods movement and writing this blog about two years ago, I discovered all sorts of reasons not to use my microwave. I got a bit testy at one author who thought the microwave should be nothing more than “a plant stand” and, I thought, made anyone who dared to turn one on in their home feel like they were going to kill their families. That made me mad. It’s the opposite of the balanced approach so important to me and which is the cornerstone of Kitchen Stewardship.
I’m not into scare tactics, but I am into baby steps. I felt at the time that ceasing to use the microwave would be next to impossible, but I decided I could take a baby step and simply become more aware of how I used it. Whenever I was about to turn the microwave on, I asked myself, “Do I know of another way I could accomplish this task?” If it was convenient enough, I’d do it.
Thus began the nugget of thought that became “Mind the Microwave,” my first big challenge here at Kitchen Stewardship.
Why Avoid The Microwave?
A few years ago I did some research on the effects of microwaves on our food and in our bodies. I read some research that claimed broccoli (our house’s first place prize for “most appearances as a side vegetable”) lost something like 85% of its nutrients when cooked in the microwave vs. steaming. What?!? You mean I’ve been eating 15% healthy broccoli, boringly cooked and eaten out of nutritive obligation, for years???? No way dude. I was not a happy camper.
Even if the research is flawed or has other sources that totally discredit it…or just disagree with it…I know that steaming broccoli is the healthiest way to eat it. Almost every source I can find agrees on that. So if there’s a chance the microwave oven is destroying even 25% of the healthy vitamins in there, I’m going to go with the stovetop. Why risk it?
That’s what I’m inviting you to do. Learn to cook veggies properly, especially broccoli and our other cruciferous friends.
How to Cook Vegetables WITHOUT a Microwave
I cooked my veggies, like my mother before, in the microwave for my entire adult life until I realized it wasn’t the most healthy way to do so. Here’s how to get the most nutrition out of your veggies and avoid the microwave for preparing them
Buy good vegetables
Frozen are fine, although I can’t stand the taste of frozen broccoli anymore. Frozen peas are a staple in our house, especially with little ones – finger foods! Fresh is good. Canned are no-nos!
To steam or to boil?
Boiling vegetables results in water full of nutrients and veggies limp and less healthy. Unless you’re going to drink the cooking water – gross – don’t boil your vegetables, please.
Steaming retains almost all nutrients for almost all vegetables, AND it’s quicker than boiling because you don’t have to wait for so much water to heat.
Get a steamer basket
I’ve seen them at dollar stores and there are many styles on Amazon. They kind of look like something from a spaceship, but are made to fit most pots. If you don’t have one yet, don’t despair. I’m thinking that you can just put a cm. of water in the bottom of your narrowest pot and still end up steaming most of your vegetables since they’ll be stacked on top of the few that are sitting in the water. (Don’t tell, but that’s what I always do with frozen peas because I’m too lazy to get out my steamer basket and big pot.) Worth a shot!
You don’t need a lot of water
Tonight I put an inch or less in my pot, and before I could get my already-cut broccoli out of the bag in the fridge and into the steamer basket, the water was ready. See? No more time than the microwave, I promise.
Add the veggies after the water is boiling
You can turn your heat down to medium or less, just enough to keep the water steaming but not wasting energy.
Set the timer for 5 minutes.
Or less. Check them — they should be “crisp-tender“, which means their color is enhanced (green veggies get gorgeous when steamed!), they are slightly tender when you stick a fork in them, but not limp. Green veggies will tell you when they’re overcooked – they start to look more like fall colors than vibrant springtime.
Either serve immediately or use one of the following methods to stop the steaming process:
- Run cold water over the steamer basket (or in a colander) quickly and keep vegetables warm in a separate dish.
- Plunge veggies quickly into a bowl of cold water and return to hot pot to keep warm.
This is important because even after you turn off the stove, the vegetables will continue to cook in the pot of hot water. If you’re like me and can’t perfectly time all the parts of dinner and the diners themselves to be ready at exactly the same time, your green beans will be limp before you know it if you just leave them in the pot. This happens with microwave steamed vegetables, too, so no complaining about extra steps!
You can season the vegetables before or after cooking, in the steamer basket or in a bowl. I find drizzling olive oil or melting butter, then adding salt and pepper is super easy right in the steamer basket. You can also throw on some crushed red pepper, cumin, or even chili powder for a little zing!
For me, baby steps without any pressure on myself was all it took to gently slide from a standard, microwave-reliant household to one in which my 2-year-old daughter has no idea what the thing does. It’s become a large and expensive kitchen timer, for all intents and purposes (if you don’t ask my husband).
If you buy into the fact that the microwave is no good for you, or if you figure that IF something MIGHT cause harm is enough reason to at least cut down on using it, then take it from me: it’s a lot easier than you think to mind the microwave.
More on Microwave Usage: