Preparing Vegetables for Health AND Flavor

20150403_112602When I first starting eating a whole food diet, I found it really difficult to figure out how to prepare different vegetables. After all, what’s more boring than eating steamed broccoli every night. For me, the most motivating factor for keeping vegetables in my diet is that I have found ways to cook them that are delicious. For basics, I found this website very useful for figuring out basic ways to prepare different kinds of vegetables, but knowing how to cook vegetables is not necessarily the same thing as knowing how to cook delicious, healthy vegetables.

Preparing Vegetables for Health

Vegetables are naturally healthy and nutrient-dense, but there are some ways of cooking vegetables that are more healthy than others. The Daniel Plan book doesn’t really go into this, but I’ve done some research on my own. Generally, the longer you cook your vegetables, the less nutrients that are retained. Most of the articles I’ve read have said that steaming or sauteing (with very little oil) are the healthiest ways to cook vegetables – these methods retain most nutrients and add the least fat. Boiling is generally considered the least healthy method with grilling and roasting in between. There are a few exceptions to this, however, such as onions which are still healthy after a longer cooking time.

Preparing Vegetables for Flavor

There are a few things you can do to get the best flavor out of vegetables:

1) Learn which vegetables you like

When I was growing up, the vegetable portion in our meals was generally either reheated frozen vegetables (peas, lima beans, carrots, corn, green beans) or an iceberg lettuce salad. I thought vegetables tasted flavorless. The past few years I’ve been discovering vegetables I had never tried before (kale, asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, etc) and I’ve found out that I love many of these vegetables. I’ve also discovered that although I hated peas as a child (I only had them from a can or frozen), now I love fresh peas. Try different types of vegetables and see which ones you like. Focus on the most healthy ones, listed in the Daniel Plan food chapter, and then branch out to some of the lesser known vegetables.

2) Learn the correct way to cook vegetables

Vegetables that are over or undercooked do not compare to correctly prepared vegetables! There is a chart here that describes the appropriate cooking times for different vegetables. Also, traditional methods of cooking such as making a mirepoix can be really great for adding flavor to your diet. A mirepoix is a mixture of onions, carrots, and celery that combined create amazing flavor and are a traditional way to start a soup or stew – more information about how to make a mirepoix here.

3) Buy your vegetables fresh

Fresh vegetables do not compare with frozen or canned vegetables. Fresh frozen vegetables (i.e. vegetables you buy yourself and freeze yourself and eat within 6 months) also taste better to me than the frozen vegetables you can buy at the store. I do buy frozen vegetables in the winter on occasion, but I try to keep it to a minimum.

Farmers markets and CSAs are your friends here and can help keep the cost of fresh vegetables down. A CSA is a farm share program. Members pay for a share in the farm’s vegetables for a year and then each week throughout the growing season a box of vegetables is provided for each member (either dropped off at a local point or picked up by members at the farm). These shares often include a large quantity of vegetables, so they are generally too much for an individual or even a couple (unless you do a lot of freezing or canning), so some places allow members to split shares between multiple households or provide the option to purchase a half share. If you are interested in this sort of program, here are some local programs I have had good experiences with:

4) Try Different Recipes

If all you ever do is steam or saute plain vegetables, you are missing out! If you are getting tired of basic cooked vegetables, give some recipes a try. Here are some of my favorite vegetable recipes:

Carrot Sesame Salad (adapted from this recipe)

  • 2 medium carrots
  • 3/4 tbsp lemon juice
  • A dash of low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
  • A sprinkle of sesame seeds (optional)
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Shred the carrots with a coarse grater. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Best if made ahead and allowed to marinate for a few hours or overnight. When packing for lunches you might want to drain off some of the extra liquid that will accumulate. Yields 1-2 servings.

Oven Roasted Cauliflower (adapted from this recipe)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • A pinch of salt (optional)
  • 1 jalapeno, finely diced (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. Mix all ingredients except for the cauliflower together in a bowl. Add the cauliflower and toss to coat. Place the cauliflower on a baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Yields 4 servings.

Grilled Vegetables

  • 4 portabello mushrooms
  • 1 eggplant
  • 4 yellow onions
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Slice the eggplant into rounds and the onion into rings. Mix oil, vinegar, and garlic together in a bowl. Add the vegetables and stir to coat. Let the mixture marinate for 4-8 hours (you can grill these right away but they will taste so much better if you let them marinate for a few hours!). Grill on a charcoal or propane grill for 15-20 minutes, flipping the vegetables halfway through cooking. Yields 4 servings.

Other Great Recipes (that are Daniel-Plan-friendly)

2 thoughts on “Preparing Vegetables for Health AND Flavor

  1. Thank you for this post. I am always looking for new ways to cook veggies for new flavor and tastes. Love that you included the recipes. Can’t wait to try a few. You rock Betty Jo!!


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