Often the biggest problem in planning a meal is the vegetable course. With a microwave oven, vegetables are fresh and tasty, their color heightened by just the right amount of cooking. But no matter how fabulous, sometimes plain is boring.
Zesty, hot vegetable salads, microwaved to preserve the vegetables' natural freshness and beauty, are a refreshing change from plain. They're also a fun way to serve salad--besides changing the texture of some ingredients, the heat also intensifies the flavor.
There are plenty of interesting flavors in the salads that follow, and each one contrasts crunchy ingredients with softer ones for variety of texture. You can make them, from start to finish, in the microwave while browning the roast in a conventional oven, or using the barbecue grill or broiler for a big, juicy steak. It's much easier to microwave these than to worry about burning them on the surface unit of a stove.
Because the salad vegetables are cooked with little water, many of the nutrients will be preserved. And they can be prepared in a take-to-the-table dish. If that dish is of heat-resistant Pyroceram (glass-ceramic), you can also set it right on the barbecue grill to keep warm until serving time.
CREAMY HOT SPINACH SALAD
8 slices bacon
1 pound spinach
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Arrange bacon in single layer on microwave bacon rack. Microwave on HIGH 6 to 8 minutes, until very crisp, rotating dish if necessary. Drain and cool bacon on paper towels. Reserve bacon drippings.
Remove spinach stems. Wash thoroughly in several changes of water until no dirt or grit remains. Drain excess water, then place damp spinach in 3-quart microwave casserole. Cover. Microwave on HIGH 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, just until spinach is wilted and slightly cooked.
Meanwhile, stir together 1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in small bowl. Drain spinach very well, lightly pressing to remove excess moisture. Place spinach in serving bowl or on individual plates. Top with walnuts, sour cream dressing and crumbled bacon. Makes about 4 servings.
Note: Low-fat cottage cheese may be substituted for sour cream in dressing to reduce calories. A 12x8-inch baking dish lined with paper towel may be used in place of bacon rack. Although paper towel will absorb some fat, required 1 tablespoon for dressing may still be poured off.
Hutsput ("hot spuds") is an old-fashioned dish of mashed potatoes and carrots. This hot, sweet-sour potato salad is much more colorful than usual because of the bright, sweet carrot slices and flecks of crunchy green celery.
Cooking the potatoes and carrots whole allows more control of their doneness, and they will be less likely to fall apart from overcooking. Use the waxy, red-skinned potatoes because they keep their cubed shape well after cooking. To make this ahead, leave out the celery slices until after reheating, then stir into hot salad at the last minute.
2 to 2 1/4 pounds red-skinned potatoes
1/2 pound carrots, peeled
12 slices bacon
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1 cup celery, cut into thin diagonal slices
Pierce unpeeled potatoes in several places with fork. Place potatoes, carrots and 1/2 cup water in 3-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover and microwave on HIGH 10 to 16 minutes, checking vegetables and removing those that are cooked after 8 or more minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on size of vegetables.
When done, vegetables may be pierced with fork, but should still be somewhat firm. Space vegetables on plate or cutting board to cool. Drain casserole, then add peeled potatoes cut into large bite-size pieces and carrots cut into 1/2-inch slices.
Cut bacon into square pieces and place in 2-quart microwave-safe bowl or casserole. Microwave on HIGH 11 to 14 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes, until pieces are crisp and light brown. With slotted spoon, remove bacon pieces and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
Add onion to 1/2 cup bacon drippings in casserole. Microwave on HIGH 3 to 4 minutes, until onion is almost translucent. Stir in flour, sugar, salt, pepper and poppy seeds and continue microwaving on HIGH 1 to 2 minutes, until bubbly. Add vinegar and 2/3 cup water and stir until no lumps remain.
Microwave on HIGH 5 to 8 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, until mixture boils and thickens. Stir celery slices into hot dressing, then pour dressing over potatoes and carrots. Add about half of bacon pieces. Mix salad gently until dressing evenly coats all ingredients. Sprinkle remaining bacon on top. Serve hot. Makes about 6 servings.
Black pepper and hot red pepper sauce give this salad plenty of zip. It's a good relish-type salad which goes well with plain meats, either hot or cold. Also it is a nutritious way to add texture and taste to sandwiches filled with cold cuts or sausages.
HOT AND SPICY GARDEN SALAD
1/4 cup butter or margarine
4 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cups chopped firm tomatoes
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 cups chopped green pepper
Place butter in 3-quart microwave-safe casserole. Microwave on HIGH 30 seconds to 1 minute, until melted. Add cabbage, onion, tomatoes, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire, salt, hot pepper sauce and black pepper.
Mix and cover. Microwave on HIGH 7 to 10 minutes, stirring after 4 minutes, until cabbage is tender-crisp and volume is reduced by about 1/3. Toss in green pepper and serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.