When eating for health, you realise that vegetables form a huge part of a balanced diet, and there is simply no getting away from this.
Since most of us prefer our food to taste good, it’s often a complaint from people that vegetables are bland, and it can be a challenge to find interesting ways of eating and cooking them unless you have loads of time. What is even more of a challenge is making the most of the abundant, fresh and cheap seasonal veg without getting bored. We can relate!
Below is a list of ways to cook vegetables so that their nutrients AND flavour are retained. When attempting any of the methods try use less water and cooking time so as to avoid losing nutrients and that veggie glow. Be not afraid to use fats! Yes, some of the vitamins from veggies are fat soluble, easing their way from our intestines into the bloodstream. A little olive oil also gives flavour. Be generous with citrus juice as seasoning, too, as it is good for absorbing iron from some of the leafy greens.
Sometimes eating raw veggies is simply the best option – in its natural state with all nutrients intact. Salads are a perfect example and can be made much really interesting by experimenting with new additions and homemade salad dressing or dips. Try all sorts of raw veggies – broccoli, bean sprouts, red cabbage, corn, grated beetroot – to add some texture and variety. Note: It’s recommended that you eat raw veggies before a cooked meal.
This method helps to retain most of the nutrients when cooking vegetables. Bring a pot of water to the boil then place a bamboo steamer or colander with your veggies inside over the pot and close to steam. Make sure not to overcook them though – remove while still crisp and tender after about 3-5 minutes of steaming.
The easiest way to cook vegetables is to boil them. It’s also the easiest way to lose all your nutrients and end up with mushy vegetables. Here’s how to do it right: Bring water to the boil and then add your veggies, being careful to avoid overcooking. When you remove the veg they will continue to cook for a few more minutes, so rather switch off the stove a few minutes before they’re ready or run the veggies under cold water to stop them getting mushy.
Blanching is the immersing of veggies or fruits into boiling water for a brief period of about a couple minutes and then placing them immediately into cold water. This method is recommended when you want to preserve veggies, like freezing seasonal foods for later use or out-of-season consumption. It is the best method for retaining nutritional value over a period of time while maintaining the flavour, texture and colour. Remember to cook your veggies for a minute or two less and let them cool down before you eat.
If rich flavour is what you’re after in your veggies, then this should become a favourite. This fast way of cooking veg helps keep most of their nutrients intact. Heat your pan over medium to high heat, add your oil of choice and season it by adding onions, ground pepper, garlic or ginger and sauté until tender, then add your veggies and more seasoning like herbs. Keep stirring to avoid burning and cook until crisp and tender.
Not exactly the same as the above method, stir-frying uses high heat and is faster. Using a wok, place on high heat then add oil suitable for high-heat cooking (like coconut oil). Add your veggies, starting with the ones that take longer to cook, stirring and tossing regularly until they are crisp and tender, and then finish off with your stir-fry sauce of choice.
Another method that’s great for maintaining flavour, roasting is a favourite, especially in winter. It also frees up time to prepare other dishes while your veggies are in the oven. Pre-heat the oven, line your oven tray with either foil or a liner, coat your veggies with oil and put in to roast. Leave in the oven until they are tender inside and crisp or caramelised on the outside.
For vegetarian meals, this is one of the best methods. You can start by sautéing the vegetables as described above, then leave them to cook in liquid over time. Stewing is also good for flavour as the cooking is done over a long period of time on a low heat and in flavoured liquid like broth or wine, resulting in soft and tender veggies.
In South Africa we love our curries, although we suspect the majority likes meat in theirs… Do yourself a favour and experiment with veggie curries – they’re delish! Place a pot on medium to high temperature, heat your oil and sauté onion, ginger or any of your seasoning of choice until golden brown. Add in curry powder, stirring for a couple of minutes, then add tomato or a curry paste, your veggies, water, pepper and salt to taste or an organic veggie stock. Leave on the stove for about 20-30 minutes or until your veggies are soft.
Another country favourite, put your veggies on an oven grill or braai to cook, especially in summer. Coat your veggies lightly in oil and herbs – or leave them plain – then place them on a grill until they are tender. Usually when they get grill marks they are ready to be consumed.
We hope with a little extra time given to meal planning that you can start to enjoy your vegetables more. Challenge yourself to try out veggies that you’ve never eaten before or you thought you didn’t like, visit fresh produce markets and experiment in your kitchen. Try something new and let us know what you discover!