People think only kids hate veg but many adults do too. You know you should eat them but you just don’t like ‘em and don’t know how to make them taste good. So, we are going to help you with basic veg cooking instructions and some pro tips that may change your relationship with the dreaded veg.
Many of us have childhood memories of being forced to sit at the table until we finish our food, and pushing our veg around the plate until it was ice cold and even more inedible than before. Unfortunately, many people develop a negative relationship with veg from young.
Some of the problem lies in the fact that kids can be fussy, but a lot of the time it’s because people don’t know the nuances of cooking veg. Greens, for example, go bitter when you overcook them. Squashes can go stringy and root veg can be undercooked. People also seem to have a weird fear around seasoning, which leaves veggies bland and (once over- or undercooked) they really are hard to swallow.
In this blog, we’ll go through basic techniques to cook each veg group and then ways to use them in a yummy, unobtrusive way. If you already know how to cook veg perfectly but are looking for that cheffy edge, we have some tricks for you too.
So first let’s talk types of veg. There are many categories of veg and some overlap. We’ve narrowed it down to eight to keep things simple.
- Leafy greens – spinach and kale*
- Cruciferous – cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and broccoli
- Marrow (Cucurbits) – pumpkin, butternut and zucchini
- Root – potato, sweet potato, beetroot and carrot
- Edible stalk – celery and asparagus
- Allium – onion, garlic and shallot
- Other green veg – peas and green beans
- Aubergine – the dark horse – a nightshade but a standalone in this blog
* Kale can be considered cruciferous, but from a cooking perspective, we’ll treat it as a leafy green.
Here's a cheat sheet of basic cooking instructions for popular veg
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WANT TO INCORPORATE THEM INTO YOUR DAILY DIET IN INTERESTING AND TASTY WAYS.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get down to the creative stuff for those of you who want to incorporate them into your daily diet in interesting and tasty ways.
Innovative ways to use leafy greens – spinach and kale
Blend a handful of spinach (ideally baby spinach as it is less ‘grassy’) into any smoothie you make. It may change the colour but it won’t make much of a flavour difference to the smoothie.
- Steam or blanch & refresh (*see below for how to do this) spinach/kale or any leafy green, chop it and layer it into a lasagne or stir it into a bolognaise sauce (you won’t even know it’s there but the nutrients will be).
- If you chop leafy greens finely, you will take away the big leafiness of them and they then can be added into an omelette/stir-fry/curry/stew and you won’t be eating big chunks of leaves.
- Steam or blanch & refresh leafy greens, and then blend them until SMOOTH with a good quality olive oil, salt and pepper. You will get a stunning green sauce to add to pasta dishes or mash or to serve on the side with your favourite warm grain dish.
Innovative ways to use cruciferous veg – cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and broccoli
CABBAGE: Add cabbage into a veg soup that will be pureed to incorporate it into your diet without ‘knowing' it’s there.
- Boil cauliflower until soft and then blend with the boiling water to make a nutritious soup puree.
- Steam cauliflower until soft (steaming helps maintain the nutrients) and puree with other veg to make a style of mash.
- Blitz up broccoli and add it to bolognaise mince, stir-fries or soups and you won’t taste the ‘tree’ texture.
- These are tricky little guys as they have SUCH a bad rep. As soon as they are overcooked, they become very bitter.
- Steam them lightly, then fry them with garlic in a nice olive oil, mix in some caramelised onions and add balsamic vinegar, smoked paprika and maple syrup to give them a delicious sweetness. Serve with creamy mash.
Innovative ways to use marrows – pumpkin, butternut and zucchini
PUMPKIN/BUTTERNUT: Boil or steam them to make a puree to add to smoothies (with banana and your other fruits you won’t taste the veg in there) Caramelise some onions, add garlic and butternut/pumpkin blocks. Cover with water to stock and simmer. Once soft, blend this to make an easy tasty soup. Top with crunchy nuts or croutons/pesto/or leave as is.
ZUCCHINI (COURGETTES/BABY MARROWS):
- These can be quite bitter if overcooked but can be great served as a baba ghanoush-style dip (smoked and pureed).
- You can drizzle pickle juice on grilled courgettes or toss them with red wine vinegar, olive oil and basil.
- You can use them in a vegetable stew – cut them into small blocks or grate them and add them right at the end. They will still give the stew texture but not enough to notice them.
Innovative ways to use roots – potato, sweet potato, beetroot, carrot
These are probably the easiest veg to not mess up. They are sweet, so they gain a point there, and if they are overcooked, they can be mashed up.
- Use for smoothies as with butternut or use the puree as a replacement for white sauce in a lasagne.
- Cut into small pieces and cook in the base of soup, stew, curry or pasta sauce.
- Steam the carrots and add a drizzle of raw honey at the end for extra sweetness.
- Grate finely and add to an omelette or stir-fry.
- Blend into a smoothie.
- Blend into a smoothie with banana and berries for a beautifully coloured healthy hidden veg.
- Blend into a pancake batter to make a bright mix that will hide this often hated or misunderstood veg.
- Roast or boil and blend into a vibrant hummus.
- If you love risotto, use grated beetroot in the rice to add stunning colour to a hearty, warming dish.
Innovative ways to use edible plant stems - celery and asparagus
Cut into small pieces and cook in the base of soup, stew, curry or pasta sauce. You can use the leaves and the stalks.
- Use sparingly in a smoothie for the health benefit – not too much or it will be overpowering.
- This is a veg you either love or hate and we reckon messing with it as a veg is a waste of money. It is a standout vegetable that likes little cooking and goes bitter if overcooked.
- It’s good in a quiche, a stir-fry or a pasta dish, but otherwise on toast with hummus or an egg.
- Steam, grill, BBQ or char and serve on a plate with some fresh bread, good extra virgin olive oil, sea-salt and black pepper
This can be roasted in its skin to keep it soft and give you a milder flavour. Once it’s roasted, squeeze out the pulpy garlicky goodness and use on toast with roasted tomatoes, eat alongside your favourite meat/veg or use in place of raw garlic in dishes like hummus for a milder garlic-ness.
Roast these in foil with brown sugar and balsamic vinegar and a bit of water and they are to die for (serve with a good piece of beef and/or alongside some roasted aubergine or green veg).
Innovative ways to use green veg – peas, green beans
Blanch and refresh greens – this keeps the colour and crunch. You can then reheat and sprinkle with good extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve with feta or tofu, goat’s cheese or vegan cheese.
- Add mint to peas for a fresh mouthful.
- Mashing them softens the pea-ness of peas.
- Blending them and adding them to mash, pasta or an omelette is a good way to ‘hide’ them.
- Blend or mush and then mix with sweet potato mash to make a rosti. Note: rosti needs to be very dry to go crispy.
- Steam or blanch & refresh and mix with almonds and your favourite cheese, olive oil and salt and pepper for a great combination.
Aubergine - the dark horse.
Aubergine is a nightshade so can't really be grouped with the others. It is often under-seasoned, undercooked and misunderstood, but very similar to tofu in that it is a sponge for flavour.
- Cook the whole veg in the oven and then take out, peel the skin off and mash into a dip (baba ghanoush).
- Blitz it so it’s creamy to go into a pasta sauce.
- Fry or roast small squares of aubergine in the oven until lightly golden-brown and stir into fried rice or a bolognaise.
- Cut into squares and add into a curry. They will suck up the spices. Cook until soft to make a great addition to extra hidden veg.
PRO NOTE: GROCERY STORE VEG PACKS
These are not made for people to love veg because they are often from different veg families and cut in different sizes so they cook at different rates. They are misleading because if you cook them all together, some of it will taste great while the greens will prob be bitter as sin. And when it’s a soup mix and there is green veg in with potato, it really doesn’t serve to make people love the greens as they will absolutely become overcooked. It’s best to separate the veg and cook for different times.
COOKING IDEA: Roast them in a veg bake.
- Put the root veg, alliums and marrows in first – onions, beetroot, carrots, butternut, pumpkin, sweet potato, potato, aubergine.
- Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and, as per previous blog, add in a sprig of hard herbs, such as rosemary or thyme.
- When there are 10-15 min left, throw in the green veg – courgette, beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, snap peas.
*BLANCH & REFRESH:
This is a technique to keep veg crisp and bright.
- Blanch/boil/steam the veg lightly.
- Then, to stop them from cooking all the way through, they need to be ‘refreshed’ by plunging them into a bowl of very cold water (can be water & ice). This stops the residual heat from overcooking the veg and making it mushy. It also prevents green veg from going khaki-coloured and getting bitter and soft.
If you don’t refresh your veg after blanching, they will collapse and begin to release liquid, which changes the texture and therefore the mouthfeel and can be hugely off-putting. (Ever heard someone complain about the texture of veg? That’s where this will save you.)
To see a video by a famous chef on how to do this, click here.
If, after all of the above, you still just don’t like veg, your easiest way to get your nutrients is to grate or blitz your veg into a fine pulp and add them to the bases of dishes like cottage pie, lasagne, soup, potato bake, or mix with eggs to make fritters. That way, you don’t taste them or even know they’re there, but your cells will be singing from the vitamins and minerals you’re pumping into them.
If you’re too pooped to take on the veg, we have prepared delicious, nutritious, plant-based meals and dessert for you. If you are in the looking for vegan food in Port Elizabeth/Gqeberha area, pop into our store at 25 Westbourne Road, order online or check your local Spar in the Eastern Cape.