I think there’s still a perception that vegetables are boring, a necessary evil on the side of your meat and spuds. I’m firmly on the other side of the fence – your veggies should be every bit as delicious as everything else on your plate. Here are some of my top tips for helping them shine.
Honestly, boiling isn’t the way to go. Think about it – whenever anyone says they hated vegetables as a child, it’s almost always the case that those vegetables were boiled into oblivion. Not only does this suck out flavour, but you’re losing valuable nutrients into the water, too. Unless it’s for a soup or stew in which the water will be incorporated, I’d argue that cooking vegetables in water is an inferior choice. The exception to this is blanching them quickly in boiling water, in which case “shocking” them instantly in an ice bath is a must in order to retain texture.
Roasting is always a good idea. Not only is it incredibly easy, but it’s almost completely hands-off, allowing you to concentrate on the rest of your meal. Meanwhile, the high heat lets the edges of the vegetables caramelise and become a little bit sticky while taking on extra flavour. Check out this easy guide on how to roast vegetables.
Aside from roasting, you can pan-fry, grill, barbecue, steam or deep-fry vegetables. Decide this based on what you want from the final result in terms of texture and colour, as well as what’s convenient for you at that particular moment.
Think outside the box. Rather than thinking of vegetables as a boring third component of your plate, incorporate them into the other elements – these courgette and corn fritters, for example, work as a carbohydrate option, while this pasta dish uses kale to provide the sauce.
Getting it right
Season well. Salt, in particular, will help to bring out the flavours of the veggies, but I also consider black pepper a must. After that, experiment with different herbs and spices to really make your vegetables shine.
Don’t forget the fat. Fat is essential for most cooking methods, adding flavour and helping food cook properly. Work with classic olive or rapeseed oil; opt for more unusual heart-healthy oils like avocado or walnut; add Asian flavours with toasted sesame or peanut oil; guarantee deliciousness by using Irish butter; or go all out with bacon fat or beef dripping. In this easy side dish, lettuce and peas reach new levels of deliciousness when combined with just a touch of cream, butter and Parmesan.
Don’t crowd the pan. Piling in too many vegetables at once means they’ll steam rather than browning properly. Only add as many veggies as you can fit in a single layer with a little space around each one. If you have more than that to cook, do it in several batches or use the largest pan or wok you have.
Use the whole vegetable. Every part is edible! Use carrot tops to make a delicious pesto to serve over your carrots; roast broccoli stems along with the florets (they’re every bit as good for you and tasty); eat beetroot leaves in your salad; or simply pickle a mixture of your odds and ends. If all else fails, save veggie scraps in a big in your freezer. When the bag gets full, make stock!
Balance it out. Adding a hit of acid (lemon juice, vinegar, tomato purée, wine), sweetness (honey, sugar, agave) and/or umami (Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, seaweed) or some heat (chillies, ginger, hot sauce) is often what will really bring out the best in your veg. It’s all about achieving a balance. Check out these smashed Asian cucumbers with plenty of heat to stand against their natural coolness, as well as layers of sweet, salty and a hit of sour fish sauce.
Don’t overcook them.A little bit of bite to your veg is nice – unless you’re planning on mashing them, of course!
At the finish line
Go for garnish. A little finishing touch can make a good vegetable dish great, adding a contrast of texture and an extra layer of flavour. Think fresh herbs, crispy fried bacon, toasted chopped nuts, fried onions, grated Parmesan, fresh pesto, pomegranate seeds, lightly toasted breadcrumbs, sesame seeds, chopped spring onions, grated lemon zest, a dollop of natural yoghurt or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Look at these beautiful roasted carrots tossed in herby gremolata – just gorgeous.
Follow these steps and you’ll never again need to be told to finish your veggies.
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