How to cook like a Fresher

Sianna King 19 October 2021
Photo supplied by author

Dear Cambridge Freshers 2021,

Bin that Student Cookbook for Dummies your mum insisted you bought when you first got your offer. Ditch those shiny new saucepans you optimistically picked up at IKEA over the summer. And, honestly, give up on your dreams of learning how to cook properly in your first year of uni. Trust me: you won’t need any of it.

Thanks to Cambridge’s penchant for bullying students by pretending that a gyp is a suitable stand-in for a real kitchen, it’s very likely that you won’t even have a hob, let alone an oven, and all of those pots and pans you dragged a hundred miles across the country will be entirely useless until at least your second year. Instead, you’ll be stuck making do with nothing but a microwave, toaster, broken rice cooker, a kettle, and seemingly no choice but to bankrupt yourself by grabbing a takeout or eating in Hall every day.

But all hope is not lost: over the course of my first year, I discovered that a microwave is good for a lot more than just heating up Tilda Instant Rice and my morning coffee, and I’m here to share with you all my best tips for basic microwave cheffing in your first term of uni.

TIP NO. 1: Yes, you can cook eggs in a microwave. Sure, I’m vegan, so it’s pretty irrelevant to me, but I’m sure lots of you enjoy eggs in the morning, so listen closely. Grab yourself a microwaveable bowl or a specialised microwave egg cooker (Sistema sells one for a fiver or so), add a little oil, beat the egg, add salt and pepper to taste, then microwave for a minute. Put the (somewhat) scrambled finished egg in a seeded bagel with sliced tomato and avocado for the ultimate morning sandwich.

TIP NO. 2: Potatoes are God’s gift to mankind. And, yes, you can cook them in a microwave. Start very basic with jacket potatoes (pierce multiple times with a fork, add a little olive oil, then microwave for five to ten minutes – grab yourself some beans or cheese to go with it, and you’re good to go), then maybe level up by trying out chips (same process: grab a plate, chop the potatoes, cover in oil, pepper, and herbs, and see what happens – salt to finish). Sweet potatoes work equally well, too.

My own Easter term staple was potato salad – chop and cook the potatoes in a bowl of boiling water until soft, drain and mix with mayo (or vegan mayo) and chilli flakes, then garnish with basil and capers if you’re feeling particularly luxurious. The nutritional value might well be minimal but it will go with anything and everything you want. Delicious.

TIP NO. 3: Upgrade time. It turns out that you can cook entire meals in a microwave, you’ll just have to be creative. Try a Veggie Chilli – fry some onions, garlic and spices in a glass bowl with olive oil, mix in canned chopped tomatoes and sweetcorn, add a can of black beans and red kidney beans, mix in chilli flakes to taste, microwave up some rice to accompany it, and you’re good to go. You’ll have your flatmates gazing on in awe and declaring you the next Jamie Oliver, I promise. If you’re feeling exotic, maybe even turn it into a burrito – grab some chipotle mayo and guac to complete the dish.

TIP NO. 4: Never forget that you can cook pasta and vegetables in the microwave. It’s a little outrageous that I didn’t fully realise this until Easter term last year (or perhaps it’s a testimony to my complete lack of brain cells, I’m not entirely sure), but you can learn from my mistakes. Get a heat-proof bowl (and a tea towel, because after ten minutes in the microwave, you won’t want to be touching that bowl with your bare hands) and boil up some water, then just throw in whatever you want to cook. In fact, the classic pasta with tomato sauce has never been so easy. You might want to keep a clean, unused bowl on the side to transfer the cooked pasta into though, or there’s a slight chance that you’ll end up in Addenbrookes with third degree burns. It turns out that microwaves are pretty good at making things hot.

TIP NO. 5: Here’s my last piece of advice for now – the microwave might well be good for making breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but that certainly doesn’t mean that dessert is off the table. To make a vegan chocolate mug cake in your microwave, just combine 2 tbsp of flour, sugar, and cocoa powder with a sprinkling of baking powder, add 3 tbsp of soya milk and 1 tbsp of vegan butter, and microwave for up to one minute. Add chocolate chips and Oreos to serve. It’s the perfect week 5 treat, and if you’re kind enough to make enough for all of your housemates, they’ll definitely never forget it.

So, there you have it! A guide to the basics of microwave cooking. The main thing you should learn from this simple guide is that a lot more is possible than you might first realise – it’s useful to have a hob, but trust me, you will survive without it, and if you want to put in the effort, you can definitely do better than my pasta and jacket potatoes. But when you’re busy being a fresher, I think the basics are the best place to start.