Cooking Vegetables Easily
I am amazed when I walk through the grocery store and see the array of vegetables, fresh and frozen. We live in a country with an incredible abundance of produce. Yet we tend to leave vegetables off our plates and let them linger in the refrigerator until they get dark and mushy or in the freezer until they grow ice crystals. Too much trouble to fix, we say.
Not really. Vegetables are easy to cook, provide essential nutrients, and also add beneficial fiber and liquid to our diets. They needn’t be fancied up. Prepared simply, vegetables are pretty good on their own. Here are some things to keep in mind:
You don’t have to cook vegetables (or many other things, for that matter) the way the chefs on television do. In addition to generous budgets, they have staffs who help them prepare and clean up. You probably don’t. Find ways to cook vegetables that are easy and work for you. For me, it’s the microwave. Remember, microwave ovens use electromagnetic waves to penetrate food (ovens use direct heat). When the food is mostly water, as with many vegetables, the microwave will steam the food from the inside out. The “inside out” process keeps the vegetables crisp-tender as long as you don’t nuke them too long. I can zap a vegetable or two while I cook my main dish on the stove or in the oven and prepare a salad. For example, with my microwave, I need 7 minutes to zap 16 ounces of green beans and about 4 minutes to cook 2 medium-sized red potatoes. I add some bacon crumbles, a dab of Smart Balance and a grind or two of pepper to the green beans. I split the potatoes and plop dabs of low fat sour cream on top and add a shake of dried chives. Done. Finished. Eat. Good.
Fresh vegetables need to be cooked soon after buying them so that they don’t spoil or lose nutritional value. You can steam them on the stove or in the microwave, roast them, or stir fry or sauté them, depending on the type of vegetable and your preferences. Just don’t overcook them. Few people like gray, mushy vegetables. If you don’t know how long to cook your vegetables, check out guides online (ehow.com has lots of information). Generally, most packages of frozen vegetables cook in 5 to 8 minutes in the microwave (for 4 servings). You’ll generally need 15-30 minutes to roast fresh vegetables in the oven at 450 degrees—but it depends on the vegetable and whether the vegetable is whole (i.e. a whole cauliflower) or cut in large or small pieces (a cauliflower cut into 1-2 inch florets). Again, check on line for more information.
When fresh is expensive, as is usually the case in winter, buy frozen vegetables. They generally are far less pricey and are easier to prepare because they are already washed and chopped. The frozen vegetables also are just as good if not better nutritionally than some fresh vegetables because the frozen variety is processed soon after picking. Nonetheless, don’t buy fancy “microwave in the package” vegetables. The “microwave in the package” versions contain fewer vegetables than other packages and also sometimes contain salt and other bad things (i.e. trans fatty stuff). Cooking vegetables in a microwave-safe container is simple and doesn’t require much cleanup. Just dump the vegetables in the container and then follow the directions on the packages for cooking. Before you start them cooking in the microwave, you may want to add a bit of butter, Smart Balance, or olive oil to your vegetables. You also can add some herbs, maybe lemon juice, and, if you’re not on a low salt diet, a dash of salt. The vegetables will taste good and round out your meal, making less meat and starches necessary to fill you up (and out).
When you have excess vegetables in your refrigerator consider using them in salads, pastas, omelets, casseroles, rice dishes, and even in breads (i.e, squash or zucchini bread). A “clean out the refrigerator” soup also can be healthy, filling, tasty, and reduce food waste.