There was a time in my life when green vegetables conjured up images of a bit of soggy boiled cabbage on the side of the plate. No surprise then that such vegetables were never high on my list of favourite foods. But things have moved on and green vegetables now rank amongst my favourite foods. Why the change? Last week I wrote about how green vegetables such as kale are great sources of nutrients to boost the immune system. If that weren’t motivation enough, I now think they taste fantastic. However, for that fantastic taste, you have to prepare and cook them carefully, so I thought I would pass on some great ways to eat your greens...
A few years ago my family were able to visit a campsite in Italy. On my wife’s birthday we treated ourselves to pizza in one of the campsite restaurants and, feeling rather hungry, we ordered a vegetable side-dish (‘contorno’). Campsite food is generally not known for its quality but this was Italy and what arrived was wonderful, a selection of green vegetables, sliced and cooked to perfection dressed with olive oil and seasoning. The melt-in-the-mouth texture has transformed my ideas of what can be done with green vegetables and since then I like to keep an eye out for alternative ways of cooking them.
In order to keep the maximum vitamin content of vegetables it is important that they are cooked gently for just the right amount of time. In my opinion a steamer is invaluable here – the nutrients don’t leach away into the water and you can easily achieve that ‘soft but with a slight bite’ texture. Other ways of retaining the goodness include quickly stir-frying them and finding ways to include raw vegetables into dishes.
Kale is one of those vegetables that, if you grow it yourself, can be fantastic raw – just pick tender leaves fresh from the plant or add them to salads. In winter we tend to overlook salads but they are very nutritious and not difficult to put together from seasonal ingredients. Try thinly slicing some radicchio with handfuls of peppery rocket (arugula) and mizuna which grow well throughout the winter. Then generously dress with a mixture of olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar and you have a great-tasting crunchy salad bursting with vitamins.
Broccoli is one of the easiest vegetables for children to like – either the florets or the peeled main stalk cut into sticks. For a different taste, try steaming the broccoli in the usual way and then mix up a dipping sauce from toasted sesame seeds, lightly fried in olive oil with a little grated root ginger and crushed garlic. Then add a dash of sesame oil and some shoyu or soy sauce. This gives a lovely oriental flavour to the vegetable and a fun way to share vegetables if you put the dip into the centre of the table.
The same ingredients form the basis of many stir-fry dishes. Shredded cabbage, the wonderful variety of rainbow chard, thin carrot sticks and many others vegetables can all be added to a hot wok with sunflower and sesame seed oil. It is important to have pre-prepared and chopped all the ingredients so that you can keep them moving while adding seasoning, garlic, grated root ginger and, after a few minutes, the shoyu or soy sauce. Finish it off with toasted cashew nuts or a warmed peanut sauce and serve with rice for a quick nutritious meal.
Pasta is not normally associated with green vegetables but one of my favourite garden recipes combines the two wonderfully. You take two or three large handfuls of swiss chard, spinach or other greens and chop them finely. While cooking a pan of spaghetti, add three tablespoons of olive oil to a pan, followed by a crushed clove of garlic. Before this has time to brown, add the greens (chopped stalks first), stir to coat them with the oil and turn the heat down to medium. After a few minutes they should soften and you can add 150g (12oz) finely sliced mushrooms. Finally stir in a couple of tablespoons of ground almonds and season with salt and ground black pepper. By the time the spaghetti finishes cooking this sauce will also be ready. Drain the spaghetti, mix well and serve immediately for a quick filling lunch.
Gone are the days when over-cooked greens were the parts of the meal you had to force yourself to eat. With a little ingenuity and a few good quality oils and dressings green vegetables can take centre stage on the plate. I hope the above recipes have given you a few ideas to try and I would love to hear some of your favourite recipes as well. So, do add a comment below if you have a favourite way of preparing them. With freshly picked greens from your garden you can rival the flair of an Italian restaurant contorno dish with very little effort. Healthy, quick to prepare and delicious – that has to be a winning combination!