Friday, October 15, 2010

Making Peace with vegetables. Therapist Not Included.

Practical, yummy guidance to boost your veggie intake.

Chewy canned mushrooms. Mushy, salty asparagus. Bland, flavorless iceberg lettuce salad, topped with cellophane wrapped barely orange-colored tomatoes. Ok, these were crisp and crunchy, as least (the salad as well as the cellophane). These are the vegetables of my childhood. To this day, accidentally biting my cheek conjures up memories of the texture of those mushrooms. And imagine my surprise when I first saw asparagus growing, standing upright, unsupported and firm, with no resemblance to the canned version of my past!
I had blocked out all memory of those vegetable experiences like a traumatic upbringing, until I was reminded that others’ experiences of vegetables were similar. My aunt Nancy recalls that she was forced to sit at the table, sometimes for hours, until she finished every last pea on her plate. And my patient, Susan, recently related her memory of vegetables being boiled and bland and abominable.

So why would we make peace with this food group? It’s got to take more than the motivation to help our future health.  You know, to prevent cancer, or to help with wound healing or to help maintain healthy nerves or cell function. So abstract! So not-important-in-the-here-and-now to me, or you, I suspect. So knowledge of their health benefit won’t motivate us, but perhaps the evidence about weight management will? (see last post). Eating vegetables (and other high fiber foods) does help us manage our weight. And when you know what to do with them, they are so enjoyable and taste wonderful. Yes, I mean wonderful! Now that’s a reason to start to eat them.

But then there are all the obstacles. Perhaps you associate eating veggies like the three of us described above. And then there’s the need to have them available before they go bad. And the confidence to prepare them in a way that’s tasty. Unless the benefits outweight the negatives, veggies just won’t make it to your plate. So here are some suggestions.

Roast a bunch of root vegetables. 
I love this in the Fall and winter! Buy ready peeled and cut, or if time allows, do your own. Carrot, parsnip, turnip, butternut squash, sweet potato and beets work really well, but feel free to pick and choose. I make a big pan of these, and then they shrink up quite a bit, getting a bit crispy around the edges. Leftovers freeze really well and can be microwave reheated.

Here’s how I do it:      
Roasted Root Vegetables

Preheat oven to 400. Toss the veggies in a large pan, with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Keep them to a single layer or the texture will be mushy, and you know I don’t want that to happen! Add about ¼ cup of warm water containing about a tablespoon of sugar diluted. Add herbs if you like—thyme and rosemary work well. Cook for about 45 minutes or longer, mixing occasionally. Don’t cover unless you like soft and wet!

Take advantage of convenience
Precut and washed vegetables take no time at all to deal with. They are typically available at great prices from Wholesale clubs like BJs, Costco, etc. (sorry international readers—I don’t know of the equivalent stores out your way!) Here are some simple, healthy and tasty preps: 
• First sauté some garlic, onion or shallots, until translucent (they become like opaque glass).  Use a heavy skillet, or non-stick pan, with a drizzle of olive oil for additional flavor. Then add reduced sodium chicken stock. Freeze the leftover stock in ice cube trays or small zip lock bags to use for next time.
• Or, substitute balsamic vinegar for the chicken stock. This works really well with asparagus and green beans.
• Steam or sauté broccoli. Then add a few shakes of rice vinegar. A drop of sesame oil will also enhance the flavor.
Buy frozen
Plain frozen vegetables are so convenient. I get the large family size bags, snip the corner and throw them in the pan as mentioned above. This works well when I run out of the fresh stuff. They could also be microwaved.

Buy prewashed baby greens for a quick salad
But make it taste good! Add a drizzle of a flavorful oil (roasted walnut of extra virgin olive) and a mild vinegar, such as rice or balsamic. Fresh mint or basil is divine, but even dried herbs like oregano, garlic powder and tarragon taste great. Try a drizzle of real maple syrup or honey mixed in! Then add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Use canned pumpkin
A great addition to pancakes, and quick breads (an easy substitute for any part of the liquid/wet ingredients), and there are great recipes for pumpkin (or butternut squash) soups.

Add vegetables to soups and stews, even when they are not called for. I add lots of veggies to chili—carrots, peppers, onions, and to beef stew—green beans in addition to the carrots and potato called for.

Be inspired by farmers’ markets and local produce stands, where fresh vegetables look like art and are so inviting.
So make peace with your relationship with vegetables and leave your mushy, canned goods behind. It really is hard to ruin these preparations, so don’t let the lack of precise measurements in these suggestions scare you.
Have a good recipe or an easy veggie tip? I welcome your suggestions!


  1. Ha! To this day I can't even look at beetroot...too many memories of the horrible tinned stuff my mum would put with everything. But I do use frozen veges in curry (thai/indian) all the time (just so easy!)
    I've never tried the balsamic with asparagus though(sounds delish).

  2. Great suggestion! I often buy a ready made Indian simmer sauce and add a ton of veggies and some source of protein--tofu, chicken, etc. I tend to go for the ones that are tomato based and lower in saturated fat. Yum!