Monday, July 9, 2012

Vegetables don't have to be boring

I've never disliked vegetables, I've just always thought they were kind of boring.  Probably because the vegetables on my dinner table growing up were often poured out of a bag from the freezer and boiled in flavorless water.  Salad was usually iceberg lettuce salad mix with some limp grated carrots and shreds of red cabbage.  You know what I'm talking about.  This is what most people eat.  We have it in our heads that it's too much work to prepare vegetables/salad from scratch.  This is a big lie.  Not only do these "convenient" veggies have little to no taste, they also have little nutritional value.  There is a whole world of incredibly flavorful, nutritious vegetables out there that we are too afraid to try because of our preconceived notions of what vegetables are. 
Here are my tips to making vegetables more interesting and healthy:

1.  Color = Vitamins & Flavor:
Pick out veggies with vibrant colors.  When compared to iceberg lettuce , romaine lettuce (it's deep green cousin) has more calcium, fiber, potassium, vitamin C (almost 8X), folate (4X), Vitamin K (3.5X), and beta carotene (10X) per serving.   Romaine lettuce is also rich in Omega-3's, one head contains 44% of your RDA.  Kale and spinach are even better choices.  Red bell peppers are better than green.  Not only do they taste better, but they have 9x the Vitamin A, over twice the Vitamin C, and 2.5x the beta carotene. Sweet potatoes are a better choice than white potatoes.  They do not have less calories, but they have triple the Vitamin C of a white potato, more fiber, and over 300% the RDA of Vitamin A.

2.  Don't boil them
Not only does boiling vegetables make them mushy and tasteless, it also depletes them of their nutrients.  Boiling allows water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and folate (a B vitamin) to leach out into the water.  It also greatly reduces the quantity of important antioxidants such as flavonoids and glucosinolates.  Steaming is a good alternative to boiling, but it doesn't help the flavor much.  I will steam carrots and brussel sprouts for about 5 mins before adding to the sautee pan to shorten my cooking time.  Zucchini, mushrooms, and asparagus are great on the grill.  I prefer to roast squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower.  I also like to saute brussel sprouts, broccolette and greens like kale and swiss chard.

3. Try something new
If things are getting boring, switch it up.  I like to look for things I have never tried before.  You just might find something new.  That is how I discovered broccolette.  You may find that you don't like it, and that is ok.  You will never know until you try.  You should also try something new with a vegetable you already eat.  For example, if you usually steam brocolli/cauliflower, try roasting it.  It brings out a whole new flavor.

4. Buy fresh, local organic, and in-season when possible
The longer it takes to get from the vine to your plate, the more nutrients will be lost.  Fruits and vegetables that travel long distances don't taste as well either because they are harvested long before they are ripe.  If you by local and organic produce, you have a much better chance at finding vipe-ripened, fresh fruits and veggies that taste much better and have more nutritional value.  You will also be helping out farmers in your community.

I hope these tips help inject a little life into your veggie recipes.  I will leave you with two simple standby recipes that I use that can be modified in many ways:

Grilled Lemon Herb Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus (trimmed)
1 TBSP fresh thyme (or substitute 1 tsp dried)
1 TBSP fresh rosemary (or substitute 1 tsp dried)
zest about 1/2 of a lemon
1-2 TBSP lemon juice
1-2 TBSP olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in a large ziploc bag and shake.  Grill or roast at 400 degrees F until al dente (about 7-10 mins).  This works really well on sliced zucchini or yellow squash too.

Spicy Sauteed Kale
1 Bunch of Kale, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 TBSP olive oil
1-2 tsp Sambol Oelek (Indonesian chili paste)
1-2 TBSP apple cider or red wine vinegar
Saute garlic and sambol oelek in olive oil for a couple minutes.  Add Kale in batches and cook on medium heat until wilted (about 5-7 mins).  Add vinegar and cook for an additional minute or so.  This works really well on other leafy greens like swiss chard and could also be used on brussel sprouts (I halve and steam them about 5 mins first), brocollini, brocolli, or brocolli rabe.  The vinegar really cuts the sulfur taste out (especially in the brussel sprouts) and the sambol oelek gives it some nice heat.


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