Fresh vegetables may not be in season, but that's not an excuse to skip them at mealtime

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross
lienhart@purdue.edu

It’s always the right time to start eating more vegetables.

By now many of us are slacking on our healthy eating plan for the New Year. Somehow, we — and that includes myself — need to get excited about preparing, eating and enjoying vegetables. For some time, the food science world has encouraged us to eat at least five or more servings a day of vegetables and fruits. Most of us do a better job of eating our fruits than our vegetables. Many fruits are a natural convenience food, they are easy to take along, they are sweet and they taste good.

There are many ways that you can eat vegetables: baked, boiled, broiled, grilled, fried, microwaved, pickled, raw, steamed, fresh and stir-fried. Many vegetables are most colorful when they are eaten raw. When you do cook vegetables, try to use as little water as possible.

Fresh vegetables are versatile, and they should be the main attraction in many meals. Vegetables may begin a meal as the appetizer, may serve as the main part of a salad and may also provide the leading role as an entree. If you think about it, eating raw many vegetables and fruits can serve as the ideal fast food.

When preparing fresh vegetables, rinse with water just before you are ready to prepare them. Keep the trimming of leaves, stalks and other parts to a minimum. Try to use the outer leaves of lettuce, cabbage and other leafy vegetables as they contain vitamins and minerals. When peeling fresh produce keep the peel as thin as possible, a nice sharp paring knife is most helpful.

To keep the most nutrients when cooking vegetables, plan to use the three “R”s: reduce, reduce, reduce. These “R”s are the conservation of the nutrients when cooking fresh vegetables. First, reduce the amount of water used; second, reduce the cooking time; and third, reduce the amount of exposed surface by limiting cutting, paring and shredding.

Some of my favorite ways of cooking vegetables are grilling, roasting, stir-frying and microwaving. Grilling and broiling are so easy. Slices of fresh eggplant or summer squash are delicious when they are brushed with Italian dressing, placed on a hot grill — or under the broiler for a few minutes — turned and cooked for a few more minutes.

Another great way to prepare vegetables is in the microwave. I suggest you check your owner’s manual for specific details. Here are some general tips. Prepare vegetables as you would for conventional cooking, but don’t salt until just before serving. Salt toughens vegetables if added before they are cooked. Cover vegetables with a glass lid. They will cook quicker and more evenly. Before cooking whole vegetables in their skin, pierce them several times so the steam can escape. Vegetables continue to cook after they are removed from the oven, so make allowances in the cooking time if your serving time will be delayed.

Stir-frying is another great way to cook vegetables. Heat about one or two tablespoons of cooking oil in a heavy skillet and add all kinds of vegetables. Stir over medium heat and add your favorite seasoning or sauce. This is another great place for some Italian salad dressing.

Roasting vegetables has become popular because they taste good and are easy to do. Here is a wonderful roasted vegetable recipe to try.

ROASTED VEGETABLE MEDLEY

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium red onion, cut into eighths
  • 1 small yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 large or 2 small red, orange, yellow or green sweet bell peppers cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. In an 8-inch or 9-inch baking pan, combine onions, summer squash, zucchini, sweet peppers and garlic.
  3. In a shaker, combine parsley, vinegar, oil, oregano, salt and pepper; cover and shake well.
  4. Drizzle seasoning, oil and vinegar over vegetables and toss vegetables to coat.
  5. Roast vegetables for 18-25 minutes, or until vegetables are crisp tender, stirring twice.
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