It surprises me how much of a fan I am of vegetables now compared to how I used to be. Back in my childhood I remember clearly saying I didn’t want to eat all the vegetables on my plate and being a bit fussy about which ones I would eat and which ones I would not. Yet, reflecting back on it now I think it has a lot to do with limited variety. Since my childhood, healthy eating and living has had a big boost in the country with great efforts taken by the government, the school curriculum, and the NHS to promote healthier lifestyles. With this has also come an increase in year-round availability of foods from all around the world as well as seasonal produce from the UK being present in more shops. Health food shops are also being used by probably the greatest demographic that they ever have been.
My point is, that with all of this, there is a much greater variety of vegetables to choose from and prices have been lowered as supermarkets compete to be seen to be promoting healthy eating. Consuming vegetables is arguably a vital component of eating healthily. They are great as they contain many nutrients and compared to fruit, also key, have much lower sugar content. In this post, I’m going to discuss my current top 5 vegetables – why I like them and how I cook them.
This is a leafy green that is currently ‘in vogue’ but it is actually one I have eaten for years as it is something that can easily be grown in the UK and is also often good value because the hard stalks can put some people off eating it and thus the price is lower. There is both curly kale and smooth kale, it is curly kale with which I am more familiar and is the more popular of the two varieties. Recently, in an effort to get around this problem, there has been the emergence of baby kale which has smaller leaves and no hard stalks to remove as well as being more tender in texture. Whichever one you go for, I am quite happy with the standard kale, it is a remarkable green in that it provides so much positive nutritional value. Super high in vitamin K, it is a great source of vitamins A and C also, and a surprisingly great source of calcium as well as fibre. Additionally, a standard portion of kale (80g) is very low calorie.
Kale can be eaten either raw or cooked. It is more traditional to cook it, although with the rise of green juices and smoothies, it is quite common now to use kale as the ‘green base’ of a green drink and thus consume it raw. Kale can be steamed or boiled to cook it. I sometimes have a half n’ half way of cooking it, by placing it in boiling water and leaving it to sit for a few minutes. This breaks down the fibres a bit and makes it less tender but also prevents it from the possibility of it being overcooked. To complete this blanching method, place it in a sieve to drain the water, and run cold water over it to prevent it from continuing to cook. Alternatively, just drain it and allow it to keep its heat and serve immediately.C
Suggestions of how to use kale:
- As an addition to a stir-fry
- An omelette filling
- As a side vegetable
- In soup
- In a green juice or smoothie
Broccoli is that odd ‘tree-looking’ green vegetable. There are also less tree-like tender stem and purple sprouting varieties. The traditional large broccoli florets are well suited to being used in soups while the smaller varieties can be more convenient for cooking and serving as is. When buying green broccoli make sure the florets are all green and not beginning to go yellow as that indicates they are past their best. As for nutritional value, similar to kale, they have high vitamin K and E content. They are also a source of calcium and a source of thiamin among others.
Broccoli is best steamed or boiled. Both the stalk and top is edible. It should be bright green with a bit of bite when cooked. If it is very dark or mushy, it is over-cooked resulting in much of the goodness being lost in the water in which it was cooked. (This is, however, ok if you are intending making soup as you’ll be using both the vegetable and the water it is cooked in as stock.
Suggestions on how to use broccoli:
- Steamed as a side served with salmon and asparagus
- Used to make a delicious broccoli soup (add some stilton / soft goat’s cheese for the best result)
- Tender-stem broccoli is good in stir-fries
Spinach is great. I grew up only having cooked spinach as my father grew it in our back garden yet I now much prefer it raw as it’s a great go-to vegetable to serve with a dish or as the basis for a healthy salad. If ever beginning adding green smoothies to your diet spinach the ideal ‘green’ element to start with as it is much more tender and milder than other greens, notably kale. Cooked, spinach is also a nice addition to homemade tomato-based pasta sauces and the Italian al forno pasta dish cannelloni. As a general rule, baby leaf spinach is nicest to eat raw whereas standard, larger leaf, spinach is better cooked. As with kale and broccoli, spinach is packed with goodness. It is a great source of iron, particularly useful for those who maintain a vegetarian diet, and a number of other nutrients.
To cook spinach you can either steam or blanch it. Alternatively, it can be added, near the end of cooking, to a stir-fry or a pasta sauce where it will wilt down until nice and soft. If using spinach raw it can be left as is or blended in a blender with other ingredients to make a smoothie.
TIP: If you buy a large bag of spinach it is a good idea to freeze some of it, as spinach is better the fresher it is.
Suggestions of how to use it:
- As a bed on which to serve cod or chicken breast
- In Eggs Florentine
- In dishes such as cannelloni
- As an addition to a fish pie
4. Sweet PotatoFinally, something that’s not green you may be thinking! Sweet potatoes are wonderfully versatile. They can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes and can be cooked in virtually every way you can think of. They are a powerhouse of goodness and completely different in taste and texture to anything else.
Sweet potato has to be cooked. It can be cut and baked to make wedges, boiled and mashed, fried, or boiled, mashed and baked in brownies or cake.
Suggestions of how to use it:
- It can be used to make healthy ‘baked fries’
- In sweet potato soup (add some chorizo for some smoky Spanish heat)
- Cut into wedges, seasoned with herbs, brushed with oil and baked
- Mashed as a side dish
- Bake and fill it, jacket potato style
- As an ingredient in clean brownies or cakes
- mashed with maple syrup, nutmeg, and cinnamon
Onions are a fantastic addition to an array of dishes. They add wonderful flavour as well as helping to bring out the flavour of other ingredients in a recipe. Onions can be either red or white. If eaten raw white onions are much milder and with less of an intense kick than raw onions. Red onions add a lovely purple-red hue to dishes when added and finely chopped red onions make a great garnish. Onions go great with all meats and complement the taste of the meat. They are good as the base of a sauce, soup, and also as a base of gravy. Equally, they can be a nice side on their own, especially if seasoned and roasted with other root vegetables. As for why onions are good for you, history shows their benefits have been known for hundreds of years. They, among other things, are an antioxidant, help reduce inflammation, and are high in vitamin C.
Both types can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, sauteed, roasted, boiled, and battered and deep fried in onion rings (but the latter is certainly not a ‘healthy living’ option!). I have to admit, I have enjoyed them the few times I’ve had them though… I live in Scotland, home of deep fried everything so what can I say!
- Homemade salsa
- Finely chopped as a garnish
- In a light, homemade coleslaw
- Finely sliced rings in salad (I often use red onion but white if I want a milder taste – depends what mood I’m in and what dressing I’m making) – find some of my salad ideas here
- In soups or French onion soup
- Sauteed with mushrooms and served with grilled tomato as a side for a juicy steak
- As a base for pasta sauce, sauteed with crushed garlic
- Boiled in white sauce (I think this might be a Scottish side but I really like it, it goes great with chicken!)
- Roasted with other vegetables and served as a side (just drizzle with olive oil, season with freshly ground black pepper, add some dried chilli flakes if you like things hot, and roast in a hot oven until suitably done)
So, that’s my 5 top veg. of the moment, hope it has been of interest to you and encouraged you to go eat some veg!