"Microwaving cooks essentially by steaming," says Victoria Wise, chef and author of The Well-Filled Microwave (Workman Publishing, 1996). "And like steaming, it lends itself to low-fat or no-fat cooking. The foods that do well this way are vegetables, which retain their color along with their nutrients, and fish and chicken, which plump up well compared to beef and pork." Wise uses a 750-watt Panasonic model with a carousel that turns food, helping to cook it more evenly. The power of the microwave depends on the wattage per square foot of internal oven space: the higher the wattage and smaller the oven, the more powerful.
Best candidates: Beets, broccoli, fish, chicken, potatoes, spinach, carrots, cauliflower and apples.
Equipment: A medium-size, 750-plus-watt model with either a carousel to turn the food or a convection system that disperses the waves evenly throughout the oven will suit most needs. (A good one to try: Amana Radarange F1340 with 1,000 watts, 10 power levels and a 12.6-inch turntable for even heating, $209.)
Remember to use microwave-safe glass, ceramic or plastic cooking vessels. Most glass bowls and baking dishes are safe, Wise says, and ceramic and plastic items will say on the bottom and in the packaging if they are microwave safe. Never put metal, Styrofoam or plastic deli containers in the microwave.
* Cover food to contain the steam and moisture, which gives food its succulence. Although some manuals suggest using plastic wrap to cover, some studies show that molecules from the wrap can travel into the food. Use covered casserole dishes or cover with a flat, glass plate.
* You can cook two dishes at once by stacking them.
* Flash cook veggies to retain nutrients: 6 medium beets, cut up (12 minutes), 2 large sweet potatoes or yams (14 minutes), medium to large cauliflower or broccoli, cut into florets (6 minutes), 2 large bunches of spinach (3 minutes).
Try this: Wise recommends this basic fish recipe: Place 1 3/4-2 pounds of fish fillet (such as halibut, cod or snapper) in a large microwave-safe dish. Prepare a marinade of your preference (or try a combo of olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and crumbled bay leaf). Add marinade to fish and set aside for 20 minutes. Cover the dish and microwave on high for 4-9 minutes (depending on thickness of fillet) until juices are clear and fish flakes in center. Remove and let cool for 2 minutes.
For quick, homemade applesauce, Wise cuts two pounds of peeled apples into 1/2-inch chunks, puts them in a large bowl and sprinkles them with sugar, cinnamon and a splash of lime juice. Microwave on high for 10 minutes.