by Jake Bekemeyer – Gleaners Nutrition Education Team
Vegetables are some of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen. They can be used as the centerpiece of a meal, side dish, and everything in between. What precedes this versatility in final dishes is the many ways in which they can be prepared. Let’s dive into the wonderful world of vegetables!
- Roasting: Starting with the personal favorite of yours truly, roasting is a great way to develop flavor in your vegetables through the Maillard reaction (this is the fancy term for browning food) while utilizing a relatively small amount of oil. For example, roasting cauliflower with a light coating of oil, chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder will create a lovely meat-free filling for tacos!
- Grilling: Grilling vegetables is another great way to develop flavors through the Maillard reaction. This option is my favorite for keeping the flavor of the vegetable mostly unchanged. For example, a dish of porkchops, rice, and asparagus would be great with the simple process of lightly coating the asparagus in oil, grilling for about 5 minutes, and then tossing in a light coating of salt, pepper, and lemon juice after pulling them off.
- Sauteing: Sauteing vegetables is a technique many people use on a fairly regular basis. Think making the base of a soup or pasta sauce. Medium high heat in an oiled pan. This technique is great for releasing flavors and quickly softening up vegetables, as they will often be chopped small. If you’re curious about just how much of a difference sauteing vegetables makes, make two soups, one where you sauté the base ingredients (likely onion, carrot, and celery), and one where you toss everything in from the beginning and boil it.
- Raw: This one is also incredibly popular. I’m going to focus on salads, but of course, vegetables can be eaten raw individually as well (like carrots dipped in hummus!). When eating raw vegetables, washing them thoroughly is very important, and if eating them in a salad, cutting them small and bite sized (graters and microplanes are great for doing this fast). For your greens and other vegetables with lots of water (think veggies that shrink significantly when cooked), soak them in ice water and run them though the salad spinner after to increase their crispiness.
- Broiling: With vegetables, broiling isn’t a method I’ve seen used particularly often. This technique is used more often on meats to get more of the Maillard reaction going without cooking through to the center. The extreme heat (often a flame or a heating element on the top of a home oven) directly above the vegetables would be a great way to get browning without cooking them too much. This is a great replacement for grilling in the cold seasons.