The Expert’s Guide on How to Cook Mouth-Watering Vegetables

veggies

Overcooked, stinky Brussels sprouts seems to be the culprit of every veggie-fearing adult I know. If you were a victim of being served overcooked, boiled-to death, sulfuric, canned, bland, or soggy vegetables as a child, you never stood a chance. It’s not your fault that you have no idea what vegetables are capable of. Vegetables are actually tasty—really tasty.

Real Food Tastes Great

Most folks, even if they weren’t tortured by mushy broccoli, can find themselves in a rut with veggie preparation. Steamed green beans day in and day out is less than inspirational.

Vegetables are nutrient dense and a vital part of a healthy diet. The more vegetables you eat, the better you look and feel. The trick is to learn to love them. There are so many varieties, textures, flavors, and preparations—there is something for everyone’s tastes, even if you don’t know it yet.

While there are tricks for sneaking veggies into your meals when you’re convinced that you hate them, like hiding them in smoothies, how many pureed beverages can one take before insanity sets in?

Choosing produce seasonally and preparing it properly will highlight natural flavors and make your vegetable dishes delectable, desirable, even craveable. The goal is to actually enjoy eating your veggies so you don’t even want to mask them behind that protein powder!

10 Ways to Cook Mouthwatering Vegetables

Vegetables can taste great without hours of cooking or prep work. Here are 10 simple ways to get the most out of your produce, and some of them don’t even require cooking.

1. Blanching

blanching

When you do cook your vegetables, it should be done gently. Boiling tends to get out of hand and quickly turns your vegetable into flavorless, dull mush. Instead, give blanching a try!

  • Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt well.
  • Fill a large bowl with ice and water. This ice bath is an important step in the blanching process.
  • To blanch, gently simmer your veggies, never more than a few minutes, sometimes even just a seconds, and then immediately stop the cooking process by plunging the veggies into the water bath.

Under blanching can stimulate vegetable enzymes and over-blanching will leave you with the colorless, flavorless, less-nutritious mess like over-boiling can, so it is important to check out proper blanching times for each veggie. When you blanch rather than boil you will find it easier to control the final outcome.

Once blanched, you can properly freeze for later use, sauté on the stove top in desired fat to enjoy warm, incorporate into omelets and frittatas, create salads, add to casseroles, or simply dress with a vinaigrette!

The best vegetables to blanch are:

  • Broccoli, Broccolini, and Broccoli Rabe (with lemon and olive oil, or chili flake, garlic, olive oil)
  • Asparagus (with orange and garam masala)
  • Cauliflower (with paprika and olive oil, or with capers, lemon, garlic, chili flake, and olive oil)
  • Collard Greens, Broccoli leaves, Cabbage leaves (use as a wrap or stuffed woth ground bison, chicken, pork, or turkey)

2. Steaming

Steaming vegetables is similar to blanching in that this method will maintain the brightness and yummy texture when done properly. Steaming has been made popular by dieters who shun fats. Steaming allows you to cook without added calories yes, but to me, this is not the point of steaming.

Creating delicious vegetables means creating appetizing textures, and steaming is just another great way to achieve delectable vegetables. You can use a steam basket or purchase a steamer with a fitted lid to steam your way to tasty dishes. Steaming also takes very little time, seconds for more delicate leafy greens like spinach, and just a few to several minutes for sturdier veggies like sweet potatoes, depending on the shape and size of your cuts.

Check out vegetable cooking time charts to get an idea about different veggie steam times, but it also doesn’t hurt to use a glass lid so you can see when items, like leafy greens, are steaming. Once they are wilted, they are done! Keep a fork on hand too for checking items like beets and hearty squash. Once they are fork tender, you are good to go.

The best vegetables to steam are:

  • Eggplant (use with a marinade, like coconut aminos, ginger, and avocado oil)
    Spinach (with lighly pickled red onion)
    Carrots (with a little orange and thyme or sweet basil)

3. Roasting

Roasting is one of the best ways to prepare vegetables because it involves zero to little processing beforehand, and then you just throw it all in the oven and forget it until the timer goes off.

Cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts often get the brunt of vegetable hatred due to common association with egg and sulfur vibes. Veggies like these contain a compound called sulforaphane, and when overcooked, that stinky smell and taste is released. The ideal method for preparing items like these so that they are delicious is to gently roast them.

Roasting creates yummy caramel and nutty flavors and delightful textures. Be sure the vegetables are clean, dried, and cut into like-sizes to ensure even roasting. Lightly toss your Brussels, broccoli, or cauliflower in a high smoke point oil—like avocado oil—and season and roast right away in a preheated 350ºF oven, agitating once or twice every 5-10 minutes or so, until golden and with crispy edges. Pro tip: once oiled up, roast right away. Leaving cruciferous veggies out once coated with fat will make for a soggy final product after roasting.

Roasting root vegetables is popular, too. I love to roast my roots by lining a sheet pan with parchment paper, loading it up with chopped sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beets, and the like, rub with coconut oil, and season. Pop in a hot 400ºF oven and 20 or so minutes later you have amazing roasted roots, with no clean up thanks to the parchment paper.

The best vegetables for roasting are:

  • Kabocha or acorn squash with cinnamon and coconut oil
  • Whole sweet potatoes, stuffed with steamed spinach and coconut butter or manna
  • Brussels sprouts with bacon fat and hijiki
  • Shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly and roasted in avocado oil
  • Beets, roasted whole with coconut oil (the skins peel right off after roasting)

4. Braising

braising

Another popular root vegetable cooking technique is braising, when you sear an item stove top and then stew it slowly, covered. This can happen all on the stove top, or use a dutch oven and transfer from stove top to oven.

Braising vegetables along with meat roasts is super tasty. The glory of a one-pot-meal, like a braise, is that you can get a ton of different veggies into one dish, and a richer flavor for both the meat and the vegetables. If you are making a pot roast, see how many different veggies you can braise along with your beef, or add to a vegetable soup, or even toss in your morning egg scramble.

The best vegetables for braising include:

  • Leg of lamb with beets, parsnips, and celeriac
  • Pork shoulder with acorn squash, carrots, and apples
  • Beef roasts with turnip, rutabaga, and collards

5. Seasonal Eating

Choose your veggies seasonally and organic when possible. Tomatoes in the winter taste like mealy mush because they do not typically grow in the cold. When you eat produce without chemicals and pesticides, and from nutritious soil in the proper corresponding season, the produce just simply tastes better. Choosing to purchase from small batch and sustainable farmers is also a great way to experience the optimum potential of vegetables!

Once you are hooked on a particular vegetable, you can take a deep dive into varieties of early season, late season, and heirloom varieties of any given vegetable. When veggies taste amazing on their own, less processing or cooking is needed.

6. Knife Skills

Learning knife skills is one of the major building blocks of becoming a better cook, especially when it comes to vegetables. Knife cuts can seriously make all the difference. Whenever I am asked for tips on how to eat better, I always encourage taking a knife skills course. Consistent cuts create more even cooking, can speed up your prep skills, and creates surface area when you need it for marinades and more.

I once brunoised (1/8’’ dice) eight butternut squashes for a Thanksgiving dinner for my family. I was in culinary school and up for the practice, and these tender little, teeny tiny dices of orange flesh were just titillating! My mom has asked for them every year since. When you have specific knife cuts under your belt, you can reach higher levels of cooking.

7. Mouthfeel

We eat with our eyes first. If the dish in front of you is beautiful and appetizing, your brain will want to eat it! We are similarly triggered by images and cravings, but mouthfeel is also important. Using different knife cuts, tasty fats, dressings, marinades, and cooking methods will change the mouthfeel significantly. You have the power to make your veggies more delectable by finding the mouthfeel that appeals to you.

8. Dressing

vinaigrette

Vegetables are made for vinaigrettes. If you are hip on simply prepared vegetable dishes by way of blanching, steaming, or raw, you must up your vinaigrette game! Lightly dressed, steamed asparagus, or blanched broccoli, will elevate your dining experience. Flavor is also in fat, so try sautéing in bacon or duck fat, or drizzling olive oil or nut oils like hazelnut over your veggies. With a little salt and pepper, this can make for melt-away and yummy textures, in a flash.

The best vinaigrettes for vegetables are:

  • Raw apple cider vinegar, garlic, ginger, and avocado oil, and whisk
  • Lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper, and whisk
  • Avocado, basil, spinach, lemon, olive oil, and blend
  • Carrot, ginger, coconut aminos, sesame oil, and avocado oil, and blend

9. Raw

Raw preparations are perfect when you purchase produce in the peak of their season. My favorite tool for raw vegetable prep is the mandolin.

But aren’t mandolins scary to use? You should be cautious as they are sharp and definitely not the tool to use while catching up on Game of Thrones. Focus and go slow.

Anything that will create noodles is also perfect when it comes to preparing raw items, like a spiralizer. A bowl full of noodles, no matter what the kind, is always fun! Dress them with pestos, add meatballs, or even eat as a salad and use your favorite dressing. If you don’t want to eat your vegetable noodles raw, you can quickly blanch.

The best vegetables for eating raw are:

  • Beets and zucchini (either paper thin or spiralized, marinated in a vinaigrette, with fresh and chopped herbs)
  • Heirloom tomatoes (slice or eat like an apple)
  • Daikon radish (do a quick pickle in a bit of raw apple cider vinegar, turmeric, and fresh pressed apple juice or a touch of maple syrup for sweetness)
  • Cucumbers

10. Herbs

Herbs can offer buckets of fabulous taste to your veggie dishes. Grow them yourself with minimal space and gardening efforts for a whole new level of enjoyment! Some herbs have detoxifying qualities, soothe digestion, and can even be anti-inflammatory. They also taste amazing!

Making a pesto is a great way to utilize your herbage.

The best pestos are:

  • Parsley, arugula, walnut
  • Basil, spinach, pine nut
  • Dill, caper, almond
  • Oregano, pistachio, garlic, chili flake

Bottom Line

braised vegetables

Eat your vegetables. There is no way around it. Veggies are nutrient dense and good for you. You need to learn to love them, and a variety. Vegetables are loaded with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and tons of essential nutrients. If you start with quality veggies, you don’t have to be a wizard to make them tasty. Get creative, make friends with local farmers and other veggie lovers, bend their ears on their favorite ways to make them tasty, plate nicely, make them beautiful, or grow them yourself. And if all else fails, go ahead and throw them in that smoothie.

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