While numerous studies have proven that a plant-based diet is not only better for the world around us and within us, for many folks eating vegetables is like exercising. You know you need to do it, but it can feel more like an obligation than a blessing, particularly if you’re new to cooking with vegetables.
Though I eat seafood on occasion now, when I became a strict vegetarian in 1997, I did it for political and ethical reasons rather than for the health and culinary possibilities. As you’ve read in previous posts, I grew up on pork chops, pot roast, and BBQ ribs. We ate plenty of vegetables back home, but they were usually steamed or sauteed, gaining their flavor from the meat featured on the plate.
Throughout college I ate primarily from the school cafeteria, and though I went to a fancy liberal arts college with lots of other vegetarians, most of the vegan and vegetarian meals served were American-style bland. The world of incredible vegetable dishes didn’t arrive in my life until I moved to China to teach. Certainly meat matters a great deal in the People’s Republic (I often told cooks there I was Buddhist, so I wouldn’t get the stink eye for requesting meals without meat), but I was able to learn how to prepare my vegetarian meals through sauce preparations based on a few ubiquitous Chinese recipe ingredients. I haven’t looked back since. Salty, sour, sweet, and spicy. If you can balance those flavors in your recipes, your taste buds will savor each bite of meat-free food you take.
Still, it’s not enough just to enjoy the flavor of food. As I ease into my 30s, I’ve turned to considering my health when I eat, too, and one area of vegetable preparation I’ve ignored concerns maintaining and metabolizing all the vitamins and minerals from cooked vegetables. The way you prep your vegetables before you cook them can help or hinder your ability to nab the good from them.
After combing through various health- and cooking-related websites, here are a few tips on how to prep and cook your vegetables for maximum vitamin retention:
1. Cut vegetables in larger chunks. The more intact your vegetable, the less vitamins will be able to leach from the food.
2. Roast those chunky vegetable pieces. You’ll get the smoky flavors from the baking process while sealing in the vegetable nutrients. Don’t forget to toss with oil and your favor herbs and spices before you roast them.
3. Lightly steam your veggies. They’ll soften from the steam, but because the vegetable isn’t in direct contact with water, more of the good stuff stays in the vegetable.
I’ll admit this is a hard cooking method for me to adhere to since it reminds me of the vegetable as exercise sentiment I expressed above. I love oil and spice in my dishes. If you’re like me in this regard, one way to implement this cooking suggestion is to create kick-butt dressings and sauces you can toss with your steamed vegetables to kick up the flavor, or you can aim for my favorite vegetable cooking method, perfected in China…
4. The fast and furious stir fry. This cooking method includes oil, your flavors of choice, ample stirring, and high heat for a very short period of time. Your vegetables get cooked but stay firm, and the brief cooking time lowers the time the vegetable is in contact with heat, so less of those good-for-you vitamins and minerals slip away.
Do you have a favorite way to prep or cook your vegetables that maximizes their health benefit to you without sacrificing flavor?