The microwave oven is a truly helpful device, particularly when it comes to leftovers. The microwave heats by exciting water molecules just like a conventional oven. Most people don’t take it so seriously as to cook food from scratch in it, but there are some exceptions that are easy and safe. Whether the foods have the same resulting texture as steaming on a stovetop and other ways of cooking, compared to microwaves, is another story.
We think microwaves are most useful for reheating, melting cheeses, and softening breads, tortillas, etc. Melting cheeses in the microwave requires attention to the cooking time, and most cheeses that are sliced or grated melt in under 1 minute. Since the microwave will melt the outside of a block of cheese first and work its way in to the center, it’s wiser to shred, slice, or grate cheese first. That way the entire quantity of cheese melts evenly.
Steaming tortillas and other kinds of wraps is simple. Hold the wrap in your hand and give it a quick, light spray with water first. Put the sprayed tortilla on a ceramic plate, cover with paper towel, and microwave for 1 minute. Voila! Tortillas come out similar to steamed tortillas.
How to Microwave a Simple Wrap
It’s a lot easier but maybe not as perfect in texture (if you have a tortilla steamer) to warm tortillas in the microwave. To make a simple wrap, spray the tortilla on both sides, lay it on a plate, spread the cheese, beans, or rice, on top and microwave for 1 minute. These are the “hot” ingredients. Then remove it from the microwave, fill with the “cold” ingredients like shredded lettuce, sliced or chopped tomato, salsa, chopped green chilis, etc. Roll it, folding in the sides as you go, and you’re ready to go.
How to Microwave Cooked Rices, Beans, and Grains
Put your cooked rices, beans, lentils, cracked wheat or other grains into a ceramic bowl or plate. Spray them lightly with water. Why? Since the microwave excites water molecules, you will be able to heat them more efficiently, while providing moisture to the grains. They’ll come out nearly as wonderful as they were when first cooked. Microwave for several minutes, depending on how deep your food dish is. If the food is deep in the bowl, extract after one minute, stir, and microwave for additional minutes until thoroughly warmed.
Naturally, we have some simple warnings about reheating in a microwave. Most importantly, never use plastic in a microwave. We can’t state this emphatically enough. This is the most common mistake that people make, and it can be a deadly one. Plastic is made from deadly chemicals, so why risk imparting them to your food? Plastics are made from petroleum and natural gas, with additives like adipates, phthalates, polyvinyl chloride, Bisphenol A, etc. to produce brittle or more durable plastics, resist UV light, etc. Some of these additives are known to be harmful; for others the research is not complete.¹
Petroleum is a synthetic estrogen, which means that, in our bodies, it mimics natural estrogen but is much stronger than that which our bodies produce. Steer clear of this stuff if you want to enjoy a healthy old age. We have been warned repeatedly that plastic, when warmed or chilled beyond room temperature, can leach its deadly chemical components into the food that touches it. There are those who dispute it, but you and your family are the guinea pigs.
Here is a great article from Wikipedia on concerns about plastics getting into our bodies. Page down to the Heading “Toxicity.” What is true for humans is also true for our environment, so please recycle plastics at every opportunity.
The Environmental Working Group has also weighed in on the subject at: Pick Plastics Carefully, 11/15/11. It’s brief and is worth the read.
Here are some simple guidelines:
- Microwave only in ceramic or glass dishes. Never use plastic bowls (we don’t even use the ones that claim to be microwave safe), plastic food storage containers, styrofoam containers, or plastic wrap as a cover for the food. Microwaves heat unevenly, partially softening or melting plastic surfaces, imparting the components of plastic to your food; i.e., stuff you don’t want to eat. Leave the plastic out of the microwave entirely.
- Covering the food saves energy and moisture, so use paper towels or moist kitchen towels or another plate, but never plastic, to cover before microwaving. The plastic wrap is not designed for the microwave and doesn’t belong in it.
- Don’t put Melmac or any type of plastic plate into the microwave. Many of them say explicitly not to put them in the microwave, so take this as a general guideline and stick to ceramic plates. Avoid serving plastic for dinner with your food.
- Spray foods that are not liquid or in sauces lightly with water first. You’ll add moisture, restoring the food to its pre-refrigerated state and effectively steam the food.
You will do yourself a favor by reading up on plastics used in food preparation and storage, even if only using the Internet. Plastics are useful, but many are not as safe as we have been led to believe. Don’t believe it; look for yourself. Here is another great resource:
The Healthy Child web site cautions us to be very careful when using all plastic. Check out their article, “Be Wise With Plastics” here.²
On that web site, be sure to click on the buttons for Safe Solutions and Safety Checklist. They give you the nitty gritty about which plastics to avoid completely and what alternatives are safe.
1. Environmental Working Group, Pick Plastics Carefully, EWG.org/, http://www.ewg.org/healthyhometips/pickplasticscarefully, 11/15/11.
2. Healthy Child, Healthy World, “Be Wise With Plastics”, Healthychild.org, http://healthychild.org/5steps/5_steps_5/?gclid=CKaSmNCwuawCFYUbQgodFHZfoA, 11/15/11.