If a microwave oven were unearthed 1,000 years from now, what would it reveal about the way we ate? Here's an analysis from a 22nd-century microwaveologist:
Disproving the popular theory that microwaving meant eating junk food, the discovery indicates that the more advanced earthlings of the late 20th century tried their best to cook and eat tasty healthful meals. They used microwaves, along with other kitchen appliances, to save time while preparing fresh, seasonal foods.
Evidence suggests that while chickens sizzled on the grill (a popular cooking method, particularly on a holiday called Labor Day), the ancients microwaved quick salsa accompaniments. Signs also point to use of the microwave to create various relishes. In fact, microwaved condiments were frequently used because they offered quickly prepared, interesting tastes.
The popular summer and early fall ingredients of the era -- tomatoes, peppers, squash, herbs -- retained their flavors and textures when microwaved because of the shortened cooking time. And unlike commercial condiments excavated nearby, microwaved condiments allowed ancestral cooks to control the exact amount of salt and fat (excessive amounts of which plagued the health of the society of the time).
Besides quick cooking, taste and health, an extra advantage of microwaved condiments was that most could be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen. Since the flavors and textures of microwaved condiments were brighter and crisper to begin with, the cold storage was less apt to destroy their integrity. All in all, one might conclude that cooks who used the microwave, for condiments or otherwise, were way ahead of their time.
These recipes were discovered stuck to a period refrigerator with a small magnetized piece of metal in the shape of a chile pepper. They were created for a 700-watt microwave, similar to modern units. If your microwave has more wattage, decrease the timing slightly. If it has less wattage, increase the timing.
GREEN PEPPER SALSA
(Makes 1 1/2 cups)
4 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped
1 cup tomato pure'e
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
7 sprigs fresh cilantro or parsley
1 clove garlic, mashed through a press
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
Combine the peppers, pure'e, olive oil and onion in a 4-cup measure. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on full power until the peppers are just tender, about 4 1/2 minutes. Uncover and let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes.
Scoop the pepper mixture into a blender and toss in the cilantro, garlic, hot pepper sauce and oregano. Whiz until not quite pure'ed, about 2 to 3 seconds. Serve warm with omelets, grilled chicken, beans or tortillas, or cold with chilled poached fish. Freeze in meal-sized containers for up to six months, adjusting the spices after freezing.
Per 1/4 cup: 60 calories, 2 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, .4 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 22 mg sodium.
(Makes 2 cups)
1 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, mashed through a press
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1 pound zucchini, chopped to 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped to 1/2-inch pieces
In a 4-cup measure, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, garlic, celery seed, turmeric, dry mustard and mustard seed. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on full power until just ready to boil, about 2 minutes.
Combine the zucchini and onion in a large casserole dish. Pour the liquid over the zucchini mixture and cover with vented plastic wrap. Microwave on full power until the vegetables are just tender, about 2 minutes. Pour into glass jars and refrigerate for up to two weeks. Serve slightly chilled as an accompaniment to curries, pa~te' or as part of an antipasto. Also great with poached chicken.
Per 1/4 cup: 29 calories, 1 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, .2 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 mg sodium.
GREEN TOMATO RELISH
(Makes 2 cups)
1/2 cup raisins
2 small to medium green tomatoes, finely chopped, about 3/4 cup
1 tart medium apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 teaspoon loosely packed fresh lemon zest
1/3 cup minced onion
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Combine all of the ingredients in a 4-cup measure and cover with vented plastic wrap. Microwave on full power until the tomatoes and apple are tender, about 5 minutes, stopping to stir midway. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to blend. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature as an accompaniment to grilled or roasted poultry or meats. The relish will keep, tightly covered and refrigerated, for about 3 weeks. Per 1/4 cup: 62 calories, .7 gm protein, 16 gm carbohydrates, .2 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 mg sodium.
Judith Benn Hurley is a Pennsylvania cookbook author; her latest book is "The Healthy Gourmet."