How To Cook Vegetables In The Microwave

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A perception exists that microwave cookery leads to limp, mushy, and overcooked food. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! If you’re knowledgeable about cooking times and cooking techniques, your microwave can be an excellent tool for achieving delicious, perfectly cooked food in less time than traditional cooking methods. 

Microwave ovens cook food by penetrating it with microwaves, which then cause moisture molecules to vibrate and heat up. The more water that’s in the food, the faster it cooks. And because most vegetables are more than 90% water, they cook quickly. This makes vegetables an ideal food to cook in your microwave!

Advantages of microwave cooking

Cooking vegetables in the microwave has many advantages over traditional methods, such as the oven or stovetop. 

  • It takes less time
  • It creates less mess
  • It helps vegetables retain their nutrients thanks to a quicker cooking time
  • It’s easy to learn for beginner cooks

How to cook vegetables in the microwave

Below, we outline a general method for cooking all vegetables in the microwave. Further on in the guide, you can also find specific instructions for individual vegetables. 

  • Begin by choosing a shallow microwave-safe dish large enough to hold all of the vegetables in a single layer. 
  • Cut the vegetables into pieces that are roughly the same size to ensure even cooking. 
  • When cooking different sized vegetables together, arrange them so that the largest vegetables are around the outside of the dish and the smallest are in the center. 
  • Follow the same principle for unevenly shaped vegetables, keeping the largest part of the vegetable facing out and the smallest part pointing towards the center of the dish.
  • Sprinkle two tablespoons of water over the vegetables in the dish for tender, new season vegetables. 
  • Use up to a third of a cup of water for older or denser vegetables with lower water content, such as carrots or parsnips. In the microwave, this water converts to steam, allowing the vegetables to cook evenly.
  • Wrap the dish in plastic wrap or put on the lid. Microwave for one to three minutes, depending on the type of vegetables, or until tender. 
  • Turn the vegetables over halfway through the cooking time to ensure even cooking. When finished, carefully remove the lid or plastic wrap to allow the hot steam to escape safely.

Which vegetables are best to microwave?

Corn on the cob 

Microwave for four minutes on high without removing the husk. Once it’s cooled enough to handle, the husk and cornsilk peels off easily, leaving you with perfectly cooked corn on the cob. 

Broccoli and cauliflower

Place the florets in a single layer in a microwave-safe dish, with the thickest part of the florets facing the outside of the dish. Cook for two and a half minutes, covered.

Green beans

Place the beans in a dish that can hold them two to three deep. Cover and cook for two and a half minutes after adding two tablespoons of water.

Carrots

Chop and place your carrots in a microwave-safe dish with a couple of tablespoons of water. Microwave on high for three minutes, covered with a microwave-safe lid. Check for completion. Continue cooking in 30-second intervals if the carrots are still crunchy. Then, once tender, drain.

Spinach

Rinse the leaves in a colander and place them in a zip-lock bag while they’re still wet. Cook for one and a half minutes after sealing the bag.

Asparagus

To prepare asparagus, place the spears in a zip-lock bag with a teaspoon of water. Cook for one and a half minutes after sealing the bag.

Cooking frozen vegetables in the microwave

So far, all of our instructions have been for microwaving fresh vegetables. But what about frozen vegetables? They can also be easily and quickly cooked to perfection in the microwave. You just have to adjust the cooking times slightly. Place the frozen vegetables in a microwave safe container with a lid, then sprinkle over some water—just a couple of teaspoons as otherwise your vegetables could come out soggy. 

Place in the microwave on high and cook for 3 minutes, and then test the doneness. Microwave in further 30-second increments until the vegetables are tender, and then drain and serve. 

Tips for microwaving vegetables

  • Remember, cooking times are only a guide; the time will vary if you’re microwaving a particularly small or large portion of vegetables. If you’re unsure of the cooking time, try microwaving in 30-second increments and testing. 
  • In general, dense vegetables such as carrots take longer to cook compared to lighter vegetables like spinach. 
  • When chopping your vegetables before microwaving, make sure the pieces are all similar sizes. This will mean more even cooking. 
  • If you’re cooking whole unpeeled vegetables such as potatoes or sweet potatoes, make sure you pierce the skin before microwaving so that steam can escape. Otherwise they can explode during the cooking process. 
  • Always salt your vegetables after cooking, not before. Salting before cooking can lead to too much moisture being drawn out of the vegetables, leaving them limp and dry. 
  • Remember that microwaved food continues cooking for a couple of minutes after it’s removed from the microwave, so bear this in mind when testing for doneness. You ideally want your vegetables to be just a touch undercooked when removing them from the microwave.
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