I never realized just how much I relied on my microwave until I didn't have one. When I moved into my first adult apartment and discovered it wasn't equipped with one, I was panicked. Suddenly, tasks that had been so simple became annoyingly complicated: I had to dirty a whole pot if I wanted to melt butter, fill up a kettle to boil water, or actually wait for my ice cream to soften (the horror!). Having to do all these extra steps made it harder to focus on the things that actually needed my attention, and my food suffered as a result. After months of trying to make it work, I couldn't take it anymore. I finally invested in my own microwave, and I've appreciated it so much more ever since.
Recently, I've even noticed that chefs sing the praises of microwaves, because the appliance is really that useful. "[Microwaves are] convenient for multitasking, especially if you already have a few items cooking on the stove or are simply busy with other tasks so that if you get tied up, you don’t have to worry about burning anything," Kathy Fang, two-time Chopped champion and owner of Fang in San Francisco, tells SELF. "It’s also a much faster method of cooking, ideal for beginners as it cuts down cooking time and prepping steps."
Here, Fang and other food experts explain all their favorite things to do with a microwave that minimize prep, cooking, and cleanup time—plus, some quick and easy dishes you can make with the handy appliance.
1. Dry herbs.
Because microwaves work by targeting and heating up water, Abbey Sharp, R.D., blogger and author of the Mindful Glow Cookbook, says that they can also be a great tool for drying herbs. However, she says it's better to stick with heartier herbs like rosemary or thyme, because more delicate herbs like mint or basil can't stand up to the strength of a microwave. To do it yourself, put the herbs between two paper towels and microwave them on high for 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Peel garlic faster.
Sick of having dry and smelly garlic hands from all the peeling you've been doing? Let your microwave do the work instead. "Simply put a whole head of garlic into the microwave for about 15 to 20 seconds on high and the cloves easily come out of their skin," Sharp says.
3. Steam fish.
According to Fang, her grandfather would often steam fish in the microwave to guarantee it wouldn't overcook—and the method consistently turns out perfectly cooked results. To do it yourself, simply set your fish of choice in a shallow bowl. Top it with a bit of butter or olive oil, salt, pepper and any other spices you want to use, then fill the bowl with several inches of water, cover it tightly with microwave-safe plastic wrap, and use a fork to poke a few holes to allow for ventilation. Then, cook on high for 6 to 7 minutes.
4. Ripen a banana.
When Buddy Valastro, owner of Buddy V’s Ristorante, can't wait for a bunch of bananas to ripen enough to bake with them, he uses his microwave to speed up the process. To do it yourself, use a fork to poke holes all over the banana (this will keep it from exploding). Then, pop it in the microwave for a minute or two.
5. Melt butter or chocolate.
"Softening butter and melting chocolate are two of the things that I use my microwave for the most," Mike DeCamp, executive chef and owner at the newly opened P.S. Steak in Minneapolis, tells SELF. And there's really no reason to dirty any extraneous tools for these simple tasks, Daniela Moreira, executive chef and co-owner of Call Your Mother in Washington, D.C., explains. "For melting chocolate, everybody uses the bain-marie technique, where you have to be paying attention and it takes forever," she explains. "Put it in the microwave and forget about it." To avoid burning your chocolate, cook it in 30-second increments, stirring in between each time. This will help evenly disperse the heat and prevent burning.
6. Cook grains.
"I love microwaving grains like rice and quinoa," Priya Krishna, author of the recently released cookbook, Indian-ish, tells SELF. "It's so easy and you don't have to use a pot. I will microwave my grains in a glass bowl that I also use as a storage bowl, so I don't have to transfer anything," she explains. To do it yourself, combine the grains with water (according to the instructions) in a large microwave-safe glass bowl, cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, checking on it every five minutes.
7. Make a quick egg dish.
A brief Google search will turn up a lot of microwave egg dishes, but Fang's favorite one to make is a Japanese egg custard dish called Chawanmushi. "It's not only healthy, but also very easy to make," she explains. To make it, she says you'll need two eggs, chives, salt, water, sesame oil, and tamari (if you can't find tamari, soy sauce will also get the job done). Whisk the eggs with 2-1/2 cups water and a pinch of salt, pour them into a small, microwave-safe bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and poke a few holes for ventilation. Cook the whole thing on high for 3 minutes, and then top it with the chives, sesame oil, and tamari, and dig in.
8. Juice a lemon more easily.
If you are having a hard time squeezing all the juice out of your lemon, try popping it in the microwave for a a bit. Sharp says it will release the juices more easily and lessen your workload. "Just pop a whole lemon into the microwave for 15 seconds to soften it up, give it a quick roll, and then juice," she says.
9. Cook bacon.
Fang says that the microwave is also a great tool for cooking bacon, without having to worry about getting grease splatters everywhere. To do it, line a microwave-safe plate with a paper towel, top it with bacon, and cover with another paper towel (this will keep the bacon fat from getting the whole microwave dirty). Then, microwave it for 6 to 7 minutes, let cool, and dig in.
10. Whip up a quick dessert.
"My favorite thing to do [with a microwave] is make cake in a coffee mug," says DeCamp. "You can have a simple, easy, and delicious dessert whenever you want without heating up the oven." You can find a few microwave mug recipes to get you started here.
11. Bake a potato.
Krishna swears by baking potatoes in the microwave. All you need to do is put a bit of water and the potato in a bowl, and then microwave for five minutes on each side—no need to rub it in olive oil, and definitely no need to turn your oven on.
12. Make a quick quesadilla.
When Fang needs something quick to eat, she loves to microwave quesadillas. She says that all you have to do is "zap the tortilla with turkey and cheese and fold over for a quick meal." Of course, feel free to use whatever kinds of fillings you prefer.
Originally Appeared on Self