There are several ways to prepare vegetables, each with their own variations in flavors. Try one of these methods to enance the natural flavor and elimate the need for butter or sauce.
Even veggies can have a sweeter taste when prepared using this unique method. Roasting helps sweeten the vegetables by caramelizing their natural sugars. To do this, heat them at a very high temperature in the oven on a roasting pan.
Heat and surface area are the most important things to remember when roasting vegetables. The more surface area of the vegetable directly touching the roasting pan or hot air of the oven, the more caramelization you're going to get. In order to achieve this, cut vegetables into small pieces. An elongated shape, such as a domino, will have more surface area than a cube. Don't pile your vegetables on top of one another.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature can be adjusted hotter or cooler, depending on what ratio of browning-to-tenderness you want.
- Cut your vegetables into even, bite-size pieces.
- In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with salt, pepper and olive oil. Add enough olive oil to coat every piece. The oil will conduct heat, giving you an even browning rather than little dry bits.
- Spread the vegetables out on a baking sheet, making sure they are all in one layer. Put in the upper third of the oven and roast, stirring and checking for tenderness about every 10 minutes.
Special chef's note: If the vegetables are tender but not brown enough, continue cooking under the broiler until browned. If they are as brown as you want them, but not yet tender, turn the heat down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and sprinkle a few tablespoons of water over the vegetables to cool the pan and create a little steam.
Boiling is a quick, easy way to cook vegetables, but if you don't do it right, you can end up with flavorless, mushy veggies instead of brightly colored, tasty ones. The key is to cook vegetables in the shortest time so they retain as much flavor, color and nutrients (meaning vitamins and minerals) as possible.
- Wash the vegetables by gently scrubbing them under lukewarm water.
- Cut the vegetables into pieces: The smaller the pieces, the faster they will cook. That means less nutrient loss. The pieces should all be cut about the same size so they cook evenly.
- Bring the water to a boil and add a bit of salt and the chopped vegetables. Adding the vegetables will bring the temperature of the water down, so make sure to leave the heat turned up so the water comes to a boil again.
Special chef's note: Green vegetables are best cooked until just tender in order for them to retain their bright green color. Chlorophyll is what gives green vegetables their vibrant color, and the longer they are cooked, the more chlorophyll is destroyed, leaving vegetables looking gray.
Steaming is a great way to cook veggies so they retain their nutrients without added fat or sodium. Large chunks of veggies are tough to steam quickly, so cut vegetables into smaller pieces for faster cooking.
- After washing and chopping the vegetables, fill a pot with about a quarter inch of water and place a steamer basket in the pot.
- Place the vegetables in a steamer basket and turn the heat on high to bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, the heat can be turned down, but still maintain a boil.
- Cover the pot and cook the vegetables until tender. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the vegetables, usually 5-12 minutes.
- If you are not serving the vegetables immediately after steaming, have a bowl of ice water ready to "shock" your veggies. This will stop the cooking process so your veggies retain their color and texture.
Special chef's note: You can also steam in the microwave. Just place evenly cut veggies in a microwave-safe bowl, add a little water and top with microwave-safe plastic wrap. Pull back one corner of the wrap so some steam can escape.
This is a great technique that works well with all sorts of vegetables, especially those that don't have a lot of moisture content, such as carrots, parsnips, turnips and other root vegetables.
- To prepare the vegetables, cut them into bite-size pieces. If you are using broccoli, separate the stems from the florets. Since broccoli stems take longer to cook than the florets, they will need to be started first and the florets added later in the cooking process.
- Start off by heating a small amount of oil or butter over medium-high heat. You may, at the end of cooking, want to reduce the cooking liquid down to a glaze. In that case, use butter - it will work better. Add your vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally until brown. Firmer, thicker vegetables will take longer to brown than thinner, more delicate ones.
- Once vegetables are brown, add the cooking liquid, just enough to cover the food halfway. Start with 1/4 cup and build from there. For the liquid, chicken or vegetable broth is a flavorful choice. Season with salt, pepper and whatever herbs or spices you like.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and let the vegetables finish cooking until tender.
Special chef's note: Remove the vegetables from the pan and raise the heat to high. Let the remaining liquid boil away until you have a thick sauce or glaze. You can add a touch of sugar to make a slightly sweet glaze or add a small amount of butter for a rich, savory sauce to pour over your vegetables.