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The Green Life: How to Cook a Feast Without a Kitchen

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September 11, 2013

How to Cook a Feast Without a Kitchen

Plate of vegetables in microwaveNew freshmen and recent grads are learning one of life's hard lessons right about now: a full kitchen is a privilege, not a right. Cooking green and eating well in an efficiency studio is a challenge, and dining hall food can be questionable at best. Fortunately, being without a stove isn't a culinary death sentence. Many who have gone without kitchen have found you can eat pretty well with simply a microwave, hot plate, toaster oven, or slow cooker. So fear not: frozen taquitos are not the only cuisine in your future. Brave pioneers of microwave cooking have discovered you can nuke artichokes and even polenta with surprisingly tasty results. They've also found it a greener way to cook, as microwaves use less energy than stove tops to heat small servings.

To guide you on your voyage to preparing your own healthy, green, and convenient food, we've rounded up a few authors who specialize in convenience cooking to share their favorite recipes that can be made without a stove.

Cold cereal is the obvious no-bake breakfast of champions, but if you're craving something warm, try this hot plate recipe for Two Bean Confetti Hash from Melisser Elliott, author of The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life.

 "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but who has all morning to make a feast?" says Elliot. "This hash is easy, uses ingredients available at any grocery store, and is super stick-to-your-ribs hearty to get you through the morning. If you don't eat it all in one sitting, the leftovers reheat well in a skillet on low heat with the lid on. Start your morning right!"

Two Bean Confetti Hash
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion, diced
1 Carrot, cut in 1/4 inch pieces
1 lb. of Potatoes, cut in 1/4 inch pieces
3 to 4 cloves of Garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, green or red, diced
1 1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp tarragon
salt + pepper, to taste
15 oz can of Black Beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
a handful of Spinach (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet over a hot plate on medium heat. Add the onion, potatoes, and carrot. Cover and cook, stirring often, until the potatoes soften and the onions are translucent, 10 to 12 minutes. 

Add the garlic, bell pepper, thyme, tarragon, and a pinch of salt and pepper and stir. Cook until everything has softened and the potatoes are lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

 Mix in the beans and spinach (if using), and cook until heated through and the spinach is wilted, 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, taste for seasoning and serve with ketchup, Tabasco, or your favorite breakfast condiment.

And don't think that because you don't have a kitchen you can't impress a hot date with your culinary prowess. Lynn Alley, Sierra Club member and author of The Gourmet Toaster Oven and The Gourmet Slow Cooker, suggests investing in a slow cooker to prepare healthy dishes without an oven. She recommends her Slow Cooker Apricot Chicken for a romantic night in, or to win over roommates at a dorm potluck:

Slow Cooker Apricot Chicken
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom 
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated or minced
2 large tomatoes, diced or 1 14 ½ ounce can crush tomatoes
1 cup water or chicken stock
1 tablespoon salt
1 chicken, cut into serving pieces and skinned
2 cups dried apricots
1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoon water

Place the chicken in the slow cooker.

Mix the spices, vegetable oil, onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and water and (if possible) blend until coarse texture is achieved.

Pour the mixture over the chicken and allow to cook on LOW for 3-6 hours, until the chicken is tender.

Stir in the apricots and saffron water 30 minutes before the end of cooking. Transfer to platter and serve over rice.

Not Your Mother's Microwave Cookbook author Beth Hensperger remembers a time when renting a room or living in a dorm made eating well a serious challenge. "I remember when my niece went to college she rented a small room with no kitchen, and she had a funky little toaster oven and a hot plate ... but these days, with the small appliances, you can have a room without a kitchen that is totally tricked out." 

Hensperger suggest a simple microwave baked potato or eggs to those short on time or ingredients. For microwave chefs up to the challenge of a slightly more complicated recipe, Hensperger recommends her two-minute Cereal Bowl Vegetable Frittata. 

Cereal Bowl Vegetable Frittata
2 teaspoons olive oil or unsalted butter
½ cup fresh baby spinach or arugula leaves, stemmed and chopped
½ small plum tomato, seeded and diced
2-3 tablespoons shredded or thin strips firm cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella, provolone
Salt to taste (optional)
2 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons water, milk, or soy milk

Rub the inside of the cereal bowl all over with the olive oil. Place the spinach, tomato, and cheese in the bowl, season with salt if you like, and then toss to combine.

In a small bowl, use a fork to lightly beat the eggs and water together. Pour the eggs over the tomato and cheese. Do not stir.

Microwave cook on HIGH uncovered, for 2 minutes. At the signal, let rest for 15 to 20 seconds in the oven. Be careful not to overcook. The frittata will be puffed and then will drop as it cools. Serve immediately. 


--Recipes reprinted with permission from Melisser Elliott, Lynn Alley, and Beth Hensperger

--Image via iStockphoto


Headshot_Julie_Blog Julie Eng is an editorial intern at Sierra. She studied literature and anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and wrote for several publications before joining the Sierra team


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