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Microwave Ovens in Indian Kitchens

Microwave ovens are now in the list of "must haves" in many Indian homes. But not many owners of microwave ovens are quite clear about its usage. They are not clear about the basic functions. The main reason for this problem is that most customers do not bother to read the instruction manuals or they do not try to understand them. Free cookery classes, sponsored by the manufacturers help those who attend them to a certain extent. Unfortunately many of these classes are aimed more towards selling the product than towards its usage and they project the microwave to be a "magical" appliance. So, before buying a microwave oven, it would help to know what we expect from it.

It is a known fact that the maximum usage of microwave ovens all over the globe is for reheating. So the Indian user need not feel disappointed or guilty about using it mainly for reheating. But if he/she had foreseen this, then a simple model would serve the purpose. There are many advanced models of microwave ovens in Indian market today. These are suitable only to those who have the interest and patience to understand the functions of all the features and put them to good use. One should also consider their application in Indian cooking. It is not enough to know that some Indian dishes can be prepared in microwave ovens. One should know how it is prepared and also what advantage it has over the regular cooking method, if any.

First and foremost let us take a look at how food is reheated in a microwave oven. Remember that dishes from the fridge take few seconds more to get reheated than those at room temperature.

  • Do not attempt to reheat large quantities at a time. This may result in uneven heating, causing some parts to go dry or soggy and leaving some parts cold. It is better and faster to reheat it in smaller potions, though you may have to do it two or three times.
  • Stirring the food a couple times while heating, helps to heat it evenly.
  • To reheat cooked rice and rice dishes like pulao, biriyani and mixed rice, place it in a microwave proof bowl, sprinkle with water, cover the bowl and microwave for 1-2 minutes. If you heat it open, the top layer of rice may dry out.
  • For dry Sabjis, follow the same method as for rice.
  • Gravy dishes may be reheated without covering and you can stir them a couple of times.
  • For idlies, sprinkle little water and cover the vessel and microwave it 1 minute for 3 idlies.
  • For rotis and chapathis, place two chapathis between two kitchen paper napkins and place them on a plate. Cover with another plate and microwave for 30 seconds. Be careful when taking it out. Slowly remove the top plate before taking out the lower one.
  • Fried food and crispy baked ones like puffs and pies become soggy when reheated in a microwave. Few microwave ovens have a special feature for reheating fried food. They may be reheated in grill or convection mode. But this takes more time than micro mode and also consumes more power. So unless you are reheating at least 6-8 pieces this may not be worth the time and cost.
  • For bread rolls, dough nuts (without chocolate topping) and buns, place a paper napkin on a plate and keep the food to be reheated on it. Microwave for 20-30 seconds for one roll or bun. The napkin prevents it from getting soggy.

Cooking Indian Dishes:

One of the general perceptions of microwave cooking is that it is very fast. But it is not true for all dishes e.g. rice, pasta and soups take almost the same time in microwave as on a gas stove. Dals and legumes (chana, rajma etc.) cook much faster in a pressure cooker than in a microwave oven. Chicken and mutton take approximately same time to cook in a pressure cooker or in a microwave oven. So which dishes are suitable for microwave cooking? When answering this question, I would like to mention that cutting down on cooking time is not the only advantage of microwave cooking. There are many other advantages:

  • During summer microwave cooking is a blessing as it spares us the discomfort of working near a hot gas flame.
  • Many dishes need less supervision in microwave than on fire.
  • In some cases the taste of the finished product is better.
  • It is excellent to thaw frozen food
  • Indian sweets like halwas and burfis not only cook fast, but require minimum of stirring.
  • Vegetables retain their colour and flavour better when cooked in microwave oven.
  • Sabjis and curries can be prepared with very little oil.
  • Steamed dishes like idlies and dhoklas cook very fast.
  • Some varieties of simple and delicious cakes can be prepared in micro mode really fast (5-8 minutes).
  • Cooking whole potatoes in a microwave oven has many advantages:
  • Since it is cooked without water it retains all the taste.
  • When peeled and mashed, it is not soggy and as such is better of use in tikkis, cutlets, fillings and bondas.
  • It holds its shape well, so it is better for stuffed potato cups.
  • It is easy and fast to roast papads in microwave ovens.

F. A. Qs answered

Q1. Should all dishes be covered while cooking in a microwave oven?

No. Whatever you bake, roast or saut should be cooked without covering. And what ever you boil or steam should be covered. Do not cover the dishes which have a tendency to over flow, like milk, white sauce or pasta.

Q2. When I make cakes in micro mode, they are soft when they are done but become hard on cooling.

Dishes rich in sugar, fat and proteins absorb microwaves very fast and retain them longer. They continue to cook even after the oven is switched off or the dish is taken out. This is known as the "standing time" So if you cook the cake till it is fully done as in a conventional oven, it turns hard while cooling because it continues to cook. This is one of the most common mistakes. So the testing for "done" is slightly different for cakes in a microwave oven. When the specified time is over, the cake may look slightly moist with few wet spots. These dry out during the standing time. Also, cakes do not brown in microwave mode. So do not look for colour. When the specified time is over, if the cake is obviously wobbly or not set, cook it for a minute or two more .But if looks just moist, let it stand for 10 minutes. If it is still wet or moist, cook it for 1-1 minutes more.

Q3. When I cook potatoes in microwave, the skin does not peel away easily and I loose thick layers of potato with the skin.

To cook potatoes, wash them but do not wipe them dry. Poke them with a fork to prevent them from bursting while cooking. Arrange them on the turn table, like the spokes of a wheel. It takes about 8-9 minutes for kg of potatoes in a microwave oven 0f 800 watts. Half way through cooking, turn the potatoes upside down. When the cooking time is over, press one carefully and lightly. It should yield slightly like a ripe mango. If it is still very hard, cook for 1 -2 minutes more. Now transfer them to a cloth napkin and cover them fully. Let them stand for10 minutes. During this time they continue to cook and the steam softens the peel. When cold enough to handle, peel them.

Q4. My idlies turn out dry and hard when cooked in a microwave oven.

Idlies require steam to remain soft and moist. If you are using a microwave idly steamer, pour about cup of water in the base plate and microwave on full power for 2 minutes till it begins to boil. (or pour boiling hot water) During this time grease the idly plates and pour the batter in it. Place it in the base, cover with the lid and microwave for 2- 2 minutes for 2 plate set. If the water in the base is not boiling hot at the time of cooking idlies, they cook without steam and become hard and rubbery.

Q5. My dhoklas rise very well in microwave but collapse by the time they are cooked.

The dhokla batter is very light and effervescent. (i.e. full of air bubbles) So it rises very fast and is not able to hold the air because the batter is still uncooked. One of the ways to arrest this is to cook dhoklas on medium power instead of full power. Cook them covered. Open the lid after 2 minutes.

Q6. When I make chicken curry in microwave, the chicken does not absorb the masala and it turns leathery on cooling.

Make deep cuts on chicken pieces and apply some salt, chili powder, ginger garlic paste and vinegar. Keep aside for 30 minutes before cooking. This way the pieces taste well seasoned. Remember that bones absorb microwaves faster than meat. So pieces with bones cook faster than boneless pieces. Chicken is rich in protein. So it continues to cook during standing time. So adjust the cooking time keeping this in mind. If it is over cooked, it becomes hard and rubbery.

Summary

  1. The cooking time changes depending on the quality of ingredients, temperature, size and shape of dishes and voltage fluctuations.
  2. It is safer to check if the food is done with shorter cooking time and then cook further if necessary.
  3. Over cooking protein rich foods like chicken, fish and meat, cheese, and paneer will cause it to be tuff. So they should be checked only after the standing time and cooked further if needed.
  4. Cover the dishes to get steamed or boiled effect. Cook without cover to get baked, roasted or fried effect.
  5. The cake dish can be greased or lined with butter paper to prevent sticking of the cake to the dish but it should not be dusted with flour .
  6. Cakes look slightly moist on top (not sticky) when done and will dry during the standing time.
  7. Open the cover of steamed puddings during standing time.
  8. Round or oval dishes are better than square dishes for cakes as the corners tend to get overcooked.
  9. Mixtures rich in fat and sugar cook very fast in microwave. So avoid over cooking.
  10. Arrange large pieces of vegetables, chicken, or fish in a single layer, bigger pieces outside and smaller ones in the middle.
  11. When making sugar syrup with a small quantity of water, mix sugar and water and keep aside for 15 minutes, stir to dissolve the sugar before cooking in microwave. Otherwise sugar may caramelize or recrystallize.
  12. Remember to stir frequently sugar syrups, halwa, burfi, jam, white sauce etc.
  13. Wider the dish, lesser the cooking time; narrower the dish, longer the cooking time. Remember this rule especially for sugar syrups.

CHANDRI BHAT

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