Many people say they don’t like vegetables. But often, the problem isn’t the vegetables themselves, it’s the way they are prepared. Overcooked, undercooked, and improperly cooked vegetables will turn off even me-and I’m a devoted vegetable eater and former vegetarian.
There are a lot of reasons to try to eat more vegetables and less meat: weight loss, good health, vitamins, and reducing your impact on the environment.
If you’re trying to eat more vegetables, it’s important to know how to cook them so that they’re appealing. Knowing how to apply these basic techniques will get you liking vegetables in no time.
Try with: onions, mushrooms, zucchini, green peppers, carrots, plantains, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, Brussels sprouts, corn kernels off the cob
When you sauté food, you are cooking it in a small amount of oil, usually about 2 tablespoons for a four-serving recipe. The goal is to give the food a nice browned crust and (often) cook it through without burning it. If you are sautéing onions, they will soften and you will caramelize the natural sugars in them.
Cut the food into small pieces or make sure it is thinly sliced if sautéing is not followed by another cooking method. When in doubt, use medium heat and a cast-iron pan. Heat the oil in the pan, but don’t let it smoke, and then add the food. Sauteed food often loses some of its volume, because water is lost in cooking. Thus, a big pile of greens will cook way, way down.
For an easy side dish, heat a little bit of olive oil and sauté spinach, or another green, with a little bit of garlic. Shredded zucchini or shredded carrots (not both together), sautéed in a little olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, is also good.
Try with: broccoli florets, cauliflower, shredded cabbage, carrots cut into matchsticks, mushrooms, bok choy, baby corn
Stir frying is similar to sautéing, but the pan is hotter and you cook the food more quickly. To stir fry, always cut the vegetables you’ll be cooking before you turn on the stove, and cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces that will cook quickly. If the recipe calls for a sauce, make that before you turn on the stove. Use a large frying pan or a wok, if you have one.
Turn your burner on as hot as it will go and heat your pan. Use an oil that can tolerate high temperatures, such as peanut or grapeseed oil. Add about 2 tablespoons of oil to your pain (or whatever the recipe specifies). Add your ingredients in the order the recipe specifies. Usually vegetables that take longest to cook are added first, followed by those that take less time, followed by any sauce and those that require little time.
Stir frying cooks vegetables quickly. Be prepared to work fast. Try broccoli stir-fried in a little peanut oil, and topped with finely chopped peanuts. Add a splash of soy sauce or hot chili oil if you want more flavor.
Try with: potatoes, sliced carrots, broccoli, green beans, cabbage, turnips, corn on the cob
Boiling seems like one of the easiest ways to cook vegetables, but it can be tricky to do it in a way that makes food still taste good. Overcooked boiled vegetables are why so many people say they don’t like vegetables.
When you are boiling vegetables, you are cooking them in a generous amount of water, or another liquid. Usually, I place the vegetables and enough water to cover them in a pot and turn heat up as high as possible until the water begins to bubble vigorously. It’s usually then necessary to turn the heat down to keep the pot from overflowing and making a mess of the stove. Most of the time, I use medium (moderate) heat to maintain the boil.
The larger the vegetable pieces, the longer you will need to boil it to cook them. I save time but cutting large foods, such as potatoes, into smaller pieces if I’m in a hurry to get dinner on the table.
Boiling has gotten a bad reputation, because foods like vegetables will lose some nutrients to the cooking water. Overcooked boiled vegetables can also become slimy or mushy. So I always watch the pot carefully to make sure I don’t overcook my vegetables. I turn the heat off and drain the vegetables as soon as they turn a bright color that indicates they are cooked.
Many people like their boiled vegetables topped with a little bit of butter.
Try with: green beans, peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini
Steaming is often thought of as an alternative to boiling, but I find steaming works best for vegetables that taste good when slightly crunch. Usually, vegetables are steamed by placing them in a lidded pot with a small amount of water, which is brought to a boil, or by placing them in a lidded basket kept above a pot of boiling water.
Because less water is used, fewer nutrients are lost to the cooking water. You can still overcook vegetables by steaming them, so remove them from the heat when they turn a bright color.
Like boiled vegetables, steamed vegetables taste good topped with a little fat.
Try with: dried beans (lentils), carrots, tomato sauces, potatoes, turnips
Simmering is also closely related to boiling, but much less heat is used. The liquid in which the food is cooked is kept gently bubbling. Foods can also be simmered for a very long time. Often, several vegetables are cooked together in liquid to make a soup or stew. Often cooks will sauté vegetables before simmering them. Avoid simmering cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower; they can give the broth or mixture an odd flavor.
In braising, simmering is combined with sauteeing. The food is first sauteed and then simmered for a long time over low heat.