Cooking Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Vegetables
Working vegetables into your meals is easy — if you cook them right.
We all know that eating vegetables helps keep our bodies healthy, but some see eating cauliflower, broccoli, and other veggies as a chore. But maybe they just haven't explored them yet. If they're prepped and cooked well, vegetables can not only provide vitamins and nutrients but also pack a powerful punch of flavor. Here's how we put it all into practice to create delicious vegetable dishes.
Get the most nutritional bang for your buck by purchasing organically-raised vegetables free of chemicals and toxins. A good place to purchase seasonal, fresh vegetables is at a local farmers' market.
Store whole garlic, onions, winter squash, tomatoes, thick-skinned tubers, turnips, and root vegetables in a cool, dark, and dry spot. Once cut, they must go into the fridge. Leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard, and spinach will stay fresh longer if they are wrapped with a paper towel and refrigerated in a plastic bag. Most other vegetables are best stored in containers or plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper.
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Weekly veg prep can easily be handled in about 30 minutes. Once completed, you’ll be left with a fridge full of vegetables for salads, slaws, stir-fries, and side dishes. Vegetables like carrots, eggplant, zucchini, and butternut squash are heartier and therefore can last up to a week, while other more delicate vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes will last three to four days. Once chopped, store each vegetable separately in an airtight container. Refrain from washing them until just before cooking. Veggies can be prepped, cut, and refrigerated in a container or plastic bag several days prior to cooking.
Prepping mirepoix (a mix of chopped celery, carrots, and onions) for stocks, soups, sauces, and braised meats can make it easier and quicker to prepare meals and save on cleanup time. Foodista’s basic Mirepoix recipe is a good base for a simple mix of aromatic vegetables to use in a variety of recipes. Fresh mirepoix can be stored safely in containers up to four days; for longer storage life, it can be cooked and packed into ice-cube trays and frozen. Once the mirepoix cubes freeze, they can be released into block-sized bundles of flavor and popped into a zip-top bag to be used as needed. These frozen veggie cubes will keep for nine months to a year.
Be a Chop Champion
Cutting an onion correctly will keep pieces from scattering all over the cutting board and allow control over the dice size. To cut a perfect dice, slice the onion in half through the stem end to create a flat surface. Peel and lay the cut side down on the cutting board and make several downward cuts, slicing all the way up to (but not through) the root end. Then, curl your fingers to hold the onion at the root and make your horizontal cuts (parallel to your cutting board).
How to properly slice an onion for a dice
Finally, make crosswise cuts to dice it.
How to properly dice an onion
Once the onion is chopped, you can run the knife through the pieces for a smaller dice.
Roast for flavor
One of the easiest ways to cook vegetables is by roasting them, but our trick is to heat the pan before adding the vegetables. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then place your baking sheet in the oven. While the oven (and sheet pan) is warming up, pierce the skin of any whole vegetables and toss veggies with olive oil, herbs, and spices before transferring them to the hot pan. The natural sugars from the vegetables caramelize during roasting, producing intense savory and sweet flavors. Butternut squash, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are perfect for roasting and come out of the oven with a crispy brown exterior.
Nourished’s combination of honey and balsamic vinegar adds a sweet acidic hint to her beet, broccoli, mushroom, and sweet potato medley.
Steam Your Delicates
Steaming is a quick and convenient method for cooking vegetables so they retain their nutrients. Vitamins can be lost when vegetables cook for long periods of time in water. Instead, steaming uses the vapors from boiling water to cook the food, leaving veggies crisper and more flavorful than boiling them. To easily steam vegetables, cut dense veggies such as cauliflower into smaller pieces than less dense ones, like green beans. In a pot, heat one inch of water until it boils. Arrange veggies in a collapsible steamer or bamboo steamer and place into the pot, then reduce the heat. Root vegetables will take a few minutes longer to cook than leafy greens or asparagus. After removing the vegetables from the steamer, garnish to taste with olive oil or butter, or try Cooking on the Weekends' Citrus Steamed Asparagus and Crispy Asparagus Garnish for a tangy citrus twist.
Stir-Fry for Quick-Cooking Power
Stir-frying is a very fast method of cooking ingredients over high heat. To create the perfect stir-fry, have all your veggies cut and ready to go before heating your pan. You don't have to use a wok, but try to use a pan that has a lot of surface area so the veggies cook evenly. Once the pan is hot, add an oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut or vegetable oil, which can withstand high cooking temperatures. Add the thickest veggies first followed by the thinnest vegetables and stir very quickly. Once bright and crisp, the veggies are ready to serve. For a healthy main dish, try Simple Vegan Blog’s Brown Rice Stir Fry with Vegetables.
Another easy and quick method that can be used to cook a wide range of vegetables is to sauté them. Similar to stir-frying, sautéing veggies involves stirring them in a hot fat. When sautéing, the heat can be lower, but you'll use a little more butter or oil. To sauté, heat a sauté pan with oil, butter, or a combination of the two. When the oil starts to shimmer (or the butter starts to foam), add the vegetables and cook until tender — the time required will depend on the vegetables you're cooking. Recipe Girl’s Sautéed Vegetables with Herbs and Garlic is a good, simple, and quick recipe incorporating garlic, thyme and tarragon.
Whether you are roasting sweet potatoes or sautéing asparagus, these easy tips and recipes will help you get a delicious, healthy, and nourishing dish on the table in no time.