Finally, microwave cookbooks that take advantage of the high-speed zapper! Up to now, most microwave books have been tedious and usually contrived compendiums of favorite old recipes adapted for the microwave -- exacting recipes that typically demanded specific pan sizes the cook never had and required the chef's constant attention, calling for dishes to be turned or stirred every few minutes. And when all was said and done, the final product was usually better off being cooked the old-fashioned way, either in the conventional oven or on the traditional range.
But this holiday season, with the publication of "The Good Health Microwave Cookbook" by Carl Jerome (Bantam Book, $22.95) and "Better by Microwave" by Lori Longbotham and Marie Simmons (Dutton, $19.95), there is encouraging news for those who are looking to make more than popcorn or warmed-up leftovers with this high-tech appliance.
These books do away with excruciating instructions on how to work a microwave, assuming most people -- even those who don't cook -- know by now. What's more, both are not terribly specific autocratic about the equipment needed (Jerome's book, for example, simply calls for medium bowls, large shallow dishes or round pans).
For those who believe "good health" doesn't necessarily mean good taste, Jerome's book has the power to change that notion. It is full of mouth-watering recipes, none of which take a lot of time or effort. The Green Beans with Green Sauce -- a simple concoction of beans topped with a sauce made primarily of chilies, parsley and yogurt -- is worth the price of the book alone. The sauce is such a refreshing winter treat that cooks will certainly put it to other uses as well. Meanwhile, the swordfish -- cooked in only 4 1/2 minutes -- is one of the juiciest and goof-proof ways of cooking a fish that often is overdone and dry. There's no constant tending required in Jerome's recipes either -- the Spicy Brown Rice with Lentils, for example, cooks into a cozy winter dish in just 25 minutes without any stirring or dish-turning.
"Better by Microwave" also is packed with a wide array of tantalizing and unusual recipes -- from a Garlic Thyme Spread (in which the garlic turns sweet after being cooked with shallots in stock) and Creamy Lemon Pasta Sauce to Tangier Chicken Stew and Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding, which takes even less time to make than the instant pudding mixes sold in the supermarket. These recipes require a bit more attention than Jerome's, calling for dishes to be turned every two to four minutes in some cases. But the results are worth the effort.
For microwave enthusiasts who already are using the appliance for heavy-duty cooking and are looking for more challenging recipes or for fans of Indian food in search of new ways to prepare old favorites, there is "Moghul Microwave" by Julie Sahni (William Morrow & Co., $17.95). Although the recipes are intriguing, the book is somewhat disappointing. For one thing, Sahni, a well-known Indian cook, calls for equipment that even well-stocked kitchens probably don't have -- a covered, glass 5-quart microwaveable casserole, for instance. And in spite of her exactness, the timing in her recipes are off: Those tested all needed to cook substantially longer than the times called for in the book. Even more important, it seems that many of the dishes would still be best made the conventional way.
GREEN BEANS WITH GREEN SAUCE (4 servings)
This is one of the best green bean dishes ever. The microwave brightens the beans, leaving them more vibrantly colored than would be possible with ordinary cooking techniques. And the green sauce enlivens the sweetness of the beans with an unexpected but gentle piquancy. Serve hot during the winter or cold in summer.
1 pound fresh green beans, snapped and strung
4-ounce can mild green chilies
Leaves from 1 small bunch of fresh parsley
2 tablespoons plain non-fat yogurt
1 large garlic clove, peeled
Juice of 1/2 lime
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place the beans in a large bowl or shallow dish, cover, and microwave on high for 7 minutes. While beans are cooking, combine the remaining ingredients in a food processor and pure'e. Pour dressing over the cooked beans, mix well, and serve; or refrigerate to serve cold.
Per serving: 56 calories, 3 gm protein, 13 gm carbohydrates, .4 gm fat, .1 gm saturated fat, .1 mg cholesterol, 130 mg sodium.
From "The Good Health Microwave Cookbook" by Carl Jerome (Bantam Books, 1990, $22.95)