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Read All About It : From once-obscure Asian cuisines to classic French to the lastest grain craze, the variety of cookbooks available for gift giving swells as Christmas approaches. To help cull the best from the rest, The Times' Food Staff has reviewed the year's most intriguing cookbooks. : Microwave Gourmet Healthstyle Cookbook by Barbara Kafka, (Morrow: $22.95, 623 pages).

December 17, 1989|ROSE DOSTI

In her previous book, "Microwave Gourmet," Kafka wanted to teach people how to cook, she claims. This time around, she wants people to be healthy. Well, her book has a good start. You'll find 400 healthful recipes, many of them party foods and brown-bag lunches, take-out and restaurant foods containing more data than you really need on basic techniques, cooking times, oven wattage, metric measures and whatnot. There is even an explanation of nutrients and some slim diet menus for those who want to try a 1,100 to 1,400 calorie (males) diet based on recipes from the book.

Frankly I thought the nutrition stuff a waste of time. The real value of the book is not in the nutrition information which can be better and more extensively found in a good book on nutrition, but in the innovative way you can use the microwave oven while trying to keep fats, cholesterol, sodium and sugar down to a minimum. Even if you don't use the microwave oven for more than heating up a frozen diet meal, you'll find some enticing ways of boosting the microwave repertoire, especially if all you do is heat coffee.

You have soups made without flour, bakery products, such as steamed banana muffins made with vegetable oil. "If you find a way to make bread successfully in a microwave oven, let me know," said Kafka in an interview with The Times. She also does not have high hopes for finding a way to make successful souffles. "Some things simply don't work in a microwave oven," she said.

Instead of flour and sour cream for chicken paprikash, she uses buttermilk and orzo (rice-shaped noodles) for thickening. "It works splendidly," she said.

As a cook who says she "loves to discover new things," she has come upon a way of preparing risotto and polenta in a microwave. "Mind you, it won't take less time to get risotto tender, but it will surely eliminate standing over the stove and stirring," she said. Polenta, she promises, will work superbly at a fraction of the time it takes to cook it conventionally.

BARBARA KAFKA'S GREEN RISOTTO

1 cup arborio rice

4 cups chicken stock or unsalted or regular canned chicken stock

2 cups spinach leaves, packed

2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves

1/2 pound green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths, whites and 1/2 of greens

1 1/2 cups shelled peas, fresh or frozen, defrosted in sieve under warm running water

Place rice in 11x9x2-inch oval dish. Cook, uncovered at HIGH (100% power) for 2 minutes in 650- to 700-watt microwave oven. Stir in broth and cook, uncovered for 9 minutes. Stir well and cook, uncovered, for 9 minutes more, or until rice is al dente.

While rice is cooking, place spinach, parsley and green onions in food processor. Process until finely chopped. Reserve.

Stir chopped greens and peas into rice. Cook, uncovered, 3 minutes. Remove from oven. Cover with towel and let stand several minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

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