So many of us are still scarred by our culinary histories. We were exposed to some pretty disturbing things as children: boiled brussels sprouts, stinky steamed cabbage, mushy canned peas, drab flavorless green beans from a can, overcooked broccoli. No wonder kids didn’t want to eat their vegetables. But things have changed! Food culture has made plant matter exciting. Some of the world’s most talented chefs are reinventing the way we look at the humble vegetable. There’s never been a better time to be a vegetarian.
I’ve discovered a few easy ways to get maximum deliciousness and eatability out of vegetables. Rather, they are basic techniques that it took me way too long to adopt, and people have been using them for years. Obviously there are volumes written about preparing vegetables, so this is just a drop in the bucket. These are a good place to start, if you’re looking for inspiration. No special tools or equipment required.
A Few Things to Remember
- Buy your vegetables fresh and in season. The more time your food spends traveling to you, the less flavor it has upon arrival.
- Store them properly. Flavor and nutrients can be lost due to improper storage, not to mention spoilage.
- Avoid overcooking at all costs. For me this means setting a timer, because I cannot rely on my memory.
- Don’t skip the seasoning.
Boiling Salted Water + Ice Bath
Cooking show hosts often emphasize the importance of salting pasta water, but rarely have I heard someone mention salting water for boiling vegetables. Maybe it’s taken for granted that home cooks already know to do this. Well I didn’t, and I’m betting some of you hadn’t given it much thought either. (If not just pretend to agree for my sake.)
Bring water to boil in a sauce pan and add a tablespoon of salt for a medium sized pot and a couple tablespoons for a large pot. Use sea salt or kosher salt and avoid anything iodized. Then add your washed produce: green beans, peas, broccoli, etc. Cooking time will vary depending on the item, and the size of the pieces you’re using. The green beans I did here took about four minutes to get tender. The important thing is not to overcook them. Take them out while they’re still al dente.
Now plunge them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. After a few minutes in the ice water they’ll be ready for whatever application you have in mind. I like to take pre-cooked green beans and quickly sauté them in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Of course you can serve the vegetables straight out of the boiling water, just keep in mind that they will continue to cook after you pour off the boiling water, so stop the process while they still have plenty of crunch.
High heat is your friend. Slice up some of your favorite vegetables, toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them at 425 or 450 until their edges are browned and their insides are sweet. Root vegetables really come alive when roasted, but my all time favorite is cauliflower. Roasted cauliflower takes on a toasty richness that is so radically different from raw cauliflower that it doesn’t seem like the same vegetable. Also, slicing carrots lengthwise seems to increase their sweetness. Who knew?
Keep in mind that caramelization requires room for the vegetables to spread out. If you don’t already have one, get a half sheet pan. It’s large enough for your veggies to stretch their legs, and the low sides allow air to circulate around them.
Add just the right amount of acid to practically any food and it’s instantly addictive. To me, anyway.
It could be as simple as a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice. Or you can go a few extra steps and make a full-on vinaigrette. Pretty much any food item can be tossed with vinaigrette and called a salad. Like this spicy and tart cucumber salad.
Add Extra Crunch
This is so simple it seems like cheating. But I like sprinkling toasted bread crumbs or nuts over vegetables. Sometimes a little texture variation is all you need to take a dish over the top. I’m sure there are tons of other crunchy things you could crumble over top of your vegetables, you just have to make sure you don’t completely obliterate the healthfulness of the vegetable. A little bacon or pancetta goes a long way.
Recipe Round Up
The real fun to be had here is combining all of these simple methods. The possibilities are endless!
Roasted + Acid =
- Balsamic Roasted Vegetables
- Roasted Vegetables with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
- Grilled Vegetables with Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette
- Morrocan Tomato and Roasted Pepper Salad
Boiled & Salted + Acid =
Boiled & Salted + Acid + Crunch =
Roasted + Crunch =
Roasted + Crunch + Acid =
What are your methods for making vegetables delicious?
Thanks for reading!