This is the second installment in my Learning Curves series. Check out the first post here:
Learning Curves: What I Did Wrong and What I Do Now (#2 – VEGETABLE FIASCO)
For years I had the crazy notion that vegetable-heavy dishes needed dairy in them or else they would be dull.
“Cross your fingers and cover it with cheese” was basically my veggie eating strategy. When I found out that my body is super sensitive to casein (one of the proteins in dairy) and starting weaning myself off of The Cheese and transitioning to a largely whole food vegan diet, at first I found it hard to eat a lot more vegetables.
It was not that I didn’t enjoy eating veggies – I have loved them ever since I was a kid!- I just had no real idea what to do with them in my own kitchen to make them exciting every day, without a river of cheese. Ah, the bad old days.
Have you ever gone to the supermarket and bought a whole bunch of fresh vegetables, only to end up having to make a dickhead of yourself by having to bin half of them a week later? Yeah. Me too. It is an embarrassingly wasteful and not at all uncommon state of affairs!
What the hell do I do with vegetables?!
My freshness-denying ritual used to go something like this: open refrigerator door, stare at abundance of incredible produce, throw my good intentions out the window and decide that I have no real idea how to make a mouthwatering, vege-based meal happen without toiling for hours, then bugger off to make something ‘easier’ (transl: something I already know how to do; like toast).
Sound familiar? Then this post is for you! Hopefully it will help ease any vegetable related cooking overwhelm. I’ve divided things into three parts: lunch, dinner and cooking methods.
KR Tip #1:When in doubt: Stir fry.
A whole lotta love
Fast forward a few years, to the present day, and I cannot believe how much amazing food I had been missing out on the whole time. Putting vegetables front and centre forces you to explore, to get creative, to learn a few new tricks. Before you know it you will be eating a more diverse and delicious range of meals, guaranteed.
Embracing vegetables with open arms has made me more excited about cooking than ever. I usually get more than the recommended* 5 servings each day without giving it much thought, which is a far cry from previously. Change happens! Juicing has been a revelation. Getting our hands on a juicer has meant that fast and easy bonus servings of veges, especially carrots and beetroot, are only ever a couple of minutes of chopping away. Once you are on the ball, between cooking and juicing, it is not hard to get 10 servings of vegetables each day if you want to. I can vouch for the fact that this will make you feel AWESOME. A juicer is definitely not essential, but it just makes getting a whole lot of fresh, raw nutrients a lot more convenient.
My main advice with vegetables is keep it simple. Sometimes a recipe might look as though there aren’t enough herbs, spices and other exciting things to make for a tasty result, but suspend your disbelief and you will likely be happily surprised. I was.
With a little groundwork, a whole new world of vege-packed yumminess will open right up.
One of the ways that I make sure that I am eating more than enough vegetables is consistently basing my lunch and dinner around several servings of vegetables. The next sections, Lunch and Dinner, are intended to give you an insight into how I am doin’ it at the moment. If you have an tips, tricks or favourite recipes for getting veggie energy pumping through your veins, do leave a comment or link and let us all know!
Lunch is usually a light meal for me. At home in the summer it is often almost effortless: thanks to our rad buttercrunch lettuce patches, I eat a green salad or two almost every day. Mixing through grated beetroot and carrot is my favourite way to amp up the vegetable content of summer salads; they lend a punchy taste and texture and bright bursts of colour. Also, adding grated raw veggies to salad greens is a really easy way to bring some bonus raw food energy into your life.
If you have ever had an inkling to grow your own veges but feel a bit clueless and clumsy when it comes to gardening, consider this a nudge in the ribs. Having your own little lettuce patch means no more half eaten, wilted bags of salad lurking in the back of your fridge (ugh). Scatter seeds in a planter or two in Spring, water them regularly (daily when it is sunny and warm), and by Summer you will be sorted for salads. It rules, it really does.
In colder months, roasted vegetable salads – yes, again with the salads! – are so satisfying, and very simple to prepare: the night before, lightly roast a couple of servings of your favourite vegetables. Potato, sweet potato, carrot, beetroot and pumpkin are all great choices. Let cool, then mix through a handful of roughly chopped fresh herbs (e.g mint, coriander, basil), drizzle with a favourite vinaigrette, add a sprinkle or three of toasted pine nuts and a few cracks of salt. Et Viola!
I would say soup is great for winter lunches, but let’s face it, soup for lunch is fucking boring. You know what’s not boring? EPIC LEFTOVERS. That’s right. Leftovers are king when it comes to low effort lunches, vegan or otherwise. I wish I could tell you that I am one of those people who has been able to leave the house in the morning with an amazing freshly prepared lunch in hand.
Another easy light lunch fix is the time honored tradition of avocado and sliced tomato on toast. It is a café classic for a reason ♥.
Dinner is where the bulk of my vegetable feasting happens. Just because I know how much you want to hear more about salad, I am going to gently recommend that you get acquainted with one of my all time favourites, the Midweek Meltdown Roasted Pumpkin Chickpea Salad. Cooled, lightly roasted vegetables – especially pumpkin and orange kumara (sweet potato) are a great addition to any salad: legume-based, rice-based, leaf-based. Experiment and discover your own fav combinations.
Roast vegetables also make mouthwatering vegetable bakes; my recipe for this Deluxe Roasted Vegetable Rice Bake with Rich Tomato-Onion Sauce is easier than it might seem at first glance, especially if you have sauce pre-prepped.
Stuffing vegetables with other vegetables is a tasty tradition that you should definitely get on board with. A hollowed out/halved vegetable + rice or legumes + diced vegetables + yummy sauce + herbs & spices = easy meals, happy bellies.
Another great thing about stuffed vegetables is that you can prepare them a day or two in advance of eating them. It is a sweet way to use up any leftover curries or stews that you have in the fridge. Check out my Quinoa Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, Lentil Stuffed Roasted Red Capsicums, or decadent Gentleman’s Vegan Backed Capsicums.
Here are five more recipes from the KR archives that showcase the supreme radness of vegetables:
♥ Shish Kebabs feat. Tangerine Baked Tofu with Roasted Capsicum & Pineapple Salsa
♥ Roasted Pumpkin & Balsamic Caramelised Onion Pizza
♥ Asparagus, Snow Pea and Green Bean Three Way
♥ Mini Tortilla Rolls with Roasted Red Capsicum Garlic Sauce
♥ The Whatever Vegan Pita with Tropical Citrus Tofu
KR Tip #2: Sometimes a final lil crack of sea salt is just what is needed to take things from really good to fucking great. My philosophy: eating highly processed foods extremely rarely means that I can get away with a little extra salt here and there.
via Taste.com.au – Cauliflower Steaks with Olive and Herb Salsa
Five 1/2 Simple Vegetable Cooking Methods
A few vegetables – other than the ubiquitous potato – that become exponentially more delicious when coated in a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and roasted until tender:
beetroot (something magic happens to the flavour of beetroot when it is roasted), asparagus (make more than you think you need, those mofos are moreish) and cauliflower (slice a half head widthwise, season a little, roast until tops begins to brown, flip and repeat). Roasted carrot is yuuuumy too, as are roasted green beans. And don’t forget zucchini.
Quick, easy and awesome. Pan-frying vegetables in a little oil until just tender is the beginning of many a tasty dish. There are myriad options for pan-fried vegetable dishes. I find it to be the most versatile method for vegetables. So many veggies lend themselves well to being thrown into a frying pan with a little oil and some herbs and spices. The amount of one-pan meals you can make is mind-boggling. Instead of struggling with where to start, you will feel spoiled for choice!
Baking a meal makes your oven do most of the work. This method is full of amazing vege-heavy possibilities. Rice bakes, pasta bakes, lasagna, cannelloni, casseroles. Stick ’em in the oven, walk away and come back later on to a mouthwatering cooked dish. Round out the meal with a light salad or a little steamed or lightly boiled broccoli on the side, and you are ready to eat. As I mentioned above, leftovers of baked dishes are often great for lunches.
Boiling begets mashing and mashed root vegetables are freaking awesome. Potato, kumara (that’s sweet potato to everyone outside of NZ ♥), pumpkin and parsnip, mashed with a few nubs of butter and a little creamy soy milk until smooth, are so good. Mashed potatoes et. al tend to get a pretty good wrap, but otherwise the words “boiled vegetables” can strike fear into the hearts of food lovers. The important thing to remember when boiling veges is to use as little water as you can get away with; that way less nutrients will get lost in the fray. Lightly boiled broccoli and green peas, drizzled with a favourite dressing, takes 3 minutes to make and very tasty.
KR Tip #3: Vigilence is key. Overcooking is the enemy of delicious food. Unless you are deliberately in the sauce zone, you want your veges tender. Sometimes the line between tender and mush is quite fine, so keep an eye on what’s cooking. Hitting that sweet spot makes for maximum flavour and preserves all of those nutrients that your body and mind love.
Regularly eating fresh, uncooked vegetables is one fantastic, instantly-effective thing you can do for your health. I need to do this more often! Last summer was the first time we ever planted and harvested vegetables in our garden and it was so wonderful having fresh lettuce, in particular, on hand. We ate salads every night for a couple of months, picking leaves from the buttercrunch patch around our lil feijoa tree. Another way to benefit from the vitamins and minerals in vegetables is to juice them; in some cases, nutrients are much better absorbed when ingested in their raw state.
Okay, so ‘sauce’ is not actually a cooking method. BUT making sauce it is a great way to get, for example, tomatoes – try my Chunky Pasta Sauce; it is a tasty, all purpose, rich red sauce that tastes a million times better than a store bought version and, providing you already have olive oil on hand, it is much less expensive too – pumpkin and extra immunity-boosting garlic and fresh herbs into your self. The wild card of vegetable sauces is definitely cauliflower. Cauliflower based sauce: it’s an actual thing. And really, really good. Use fresh cauli, not frozen, for the tastiest results.
* recommended by the NZ Ministry of Health