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Vegetables: New Twists on Old Favorites

December 26, 1986|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN | Hansen is a Louisville-based cooking consultant specializing in microwaving

This time of year, when hearty eating is at its peak, you might have occasion to wish you had one or two new ways with vegetables. But if you're like me, you find that most of your family or friends really like the old favorite vegetables you serve all the time. The challenge is to fix these with a new twist.

One way is to take a few extra moments to combine a couple of vegetables with a simple sauce. I like to add a grated carrot to a 10-ounce package of frozen peas and microwave them on HIGH (100% power) in a 1 1/2-quart casserole with two tablespoons water just until the carrot is tender-crisp, about five to eight minutes. Then I toss the vegetables with three tablespoons mayonnaise, a quarter-teaspoon salt, a quarter-teaspoon curry powder and one teaspoon sugar. It is a delicious, pretty and easy vegetable dish.

The trick with microwaving two or more vegetables together is to understand their natural rate of cooking. In the idea above, the carrot, which is hard and usually takes longer to cook than peas, is grated so the small pieces steam as quickly as the peas.

If I had wanted to serve the carrot in slices instead of shredded, I could have steamed the carrot slices alone three to four minutes first, then added the peas just to brighten and heat them during the last part of the microwaving. On the other hand, I have found that same-size slices of fresh celery and mushrooms steamed in chicken broth microwave together with no problem. For four servings you allow about five to seven minutes (on HIGH), stirring every three minutes or so.

ONION CHRYSANTHEMUMS BASTED WITH BOURBON

4 strips bacon

4 medium onions

1/4 cup bourbon or water

8 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

Arrange bacon slices in 12x8-inch microwave-safe dish. Cover with wax paper. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) 3 to 6 minutes until very crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels. Pour bacon fat into small bowl or cup and reserve bacon dish.

Meanwhile, peel onions and remove thin slice from bottoms so onions will sit flat. On cutting board with sharp knife, make 5 to 6 parallel vertical cuts through each onion, cutting almost through to bottoms. At right angles to cuts, make 5 to 6 more vertical cuts. (At this point, top of onion should look as though it's been cut into squares.)

Arrange onions in reserved bacon dish and baste each with reserved bacon fat and 1 tablespoon bourbon. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over top. Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH 7 to 10 minutes, depending on size of onions, until softened and onions begin to open into flower shape. Let stand several minutes, then carefully use wide spatula to transfer to serving plate. Baste with pan juices and sprinkle each flower with crumbled bacon. Makes 4 servings.

Note: You can also make attractive onion flowers by cutting whole onions into wedges (like a pie.) Experiment with both shapes to see which you like the best.

GREEN BEANS WITH WALNUT SAUCE

1 pound green beans, strings removed and cut into 1-inch pieces, or 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen green beans

Water

1/2 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons minced green onions

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon catsup

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Place beans in 1 1/2-quart microwave-safe casserole. For fresh beans, add 1/2 cup water, cover and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 9 to 13 minutes, stirring every 4 minutes, until beans lose raw taste. For frozen beans, add 2 tablespoons water and microwave on HIGH 6 to 10 minutes, breaking up after 2 minutes, until tender and bright green. Remove and let stand, covered.

Meanwhile, in 2- to 4-cup microwave-safe casserole or bowl, place chicken broth, green onions, garlic, catsup, salt and vinegar. Microwave on HIGH 1 to 3 minutes just until steaming hot. Stir in walnuts. Add sauce to beans and toss to combine. Makes about 4 servings.

CAULIFLOWER WITH PIMIENTO-COTTAGE CHEESE SAUCE

1 (1 1/2-pound) head cauliflower

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup milk

1 cup small-curd cottage cheese

1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 (2-ounce) jar chopped pimiento, undrained

1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Trim green leaves from cauliflower and remove core, leaving head intact. Place cauliflower in 1 1/2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Add water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 7 to 11 minutes, rotating half turn after 4 minutes, until cauliflower is tender. Set aside, covered.

Meanwhile, in 1-quart microwave-safe mixing bowl or casserole, place butter and flour. Microwave on HIGH about 2 minutes, whisking after 1 minute, until butter and flour are well combined. Add milk and microwave 2 to 5 minutes longer, whisking every minute, until sauce is boiling, thickened and smooth.

Stir in cottage cheese, Cheddar cheese, pimiento, dill weed, salt and pepper. Microwave sauce on HIGH 2 to 4 additional minutes just until cheeses are partially melted and sauce is hot and well combined. Transfer cauliflower to serving plate, then spoon some sauce over top. Cut cauliflower in wedges to serve and pass additional sauce at table. Makes about 6 servings.

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