Are you getting bored with your vegetable dishes? If you are, maybe it’s because you are cooking the same vegetables the same way every time. We all know that we need to eat our vegetables because they are good for us, and our bodies need all those vitamins and minerals to be healthy. Besides our bodies, our minds, taste buds and appetites need to be nourished as well. Our vegetable dishes should be exciting, appetizing and delicious, motivating us to eat even more vegetables.
There are over a dozen different ways to cook vegetables, so if you usually steam or saute them, maybe it’s time to try something new. All veggies are not created equal, and some may taste better roasted while others are best grilled. The more you know, the more you will get the most delicious taste out of your veggies. Let’s go over the different methods of cooking vegetables and pick up some recipe ideas along the way.
1. Raw Veggies
Sometimes the best way to enjoy vegetables is to not cook them at all. Even when I am prepping veggies for cooking, I always munch on a few pieces raw. That’s the way you really taste the vegetable in its natural state and keep all those nutrients. Of course, not cooking veggies doesn’t mean you have to just eat them plain like a rabbit. Enjoy all sorts of greens and other vegetables in refreshing salads tossed in amazing dressings. Make soups in the blender or noodles out of squash. There are plenty of ways to prepare raw vegetables with marinades, sauces, herbs and spices and turn them into a beautifully composed dish.
2. Boiling Veggies
Boiling is an easy and fast way to get crisp, bright veggies, though you need to do it right or they could end up gray and mushy with no nutrients left inside them. The key is to make sure the vegetables spend the minimum amount of time necessary in the boiling water. Hearty vegetables like broccoli, green beans and cauliflower are good choices for boiling. To boil vegetables, simply bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt, and add your veggies.
Cook them for only a few minutes until they are bright in color and as tender as you like them. That is called blanching. Remember that the veggies will continue to cook a bit after you take them out of the water so either remove them a minute or two early or run them under cold water to stop the cooking process.
Simmering is similar, except you add the veggies before the water boils and let them cook at a lower temperature for a longer time. This method works well with veggies that need longer to cook like potatoes, beets, turnips and yams.
3. Steaming Veggies
If you don’t want to submerge your veggies in water or cook them in oil, steaming might be the choice for you. Steaming cooks vegetables, making them tender, bright, flavorful and retains many of their nutrients. Steaming is a good method for delicate vegetables such as asparagus or greens, or those that need to get softened before sautéing like Brussels sprouts or carrots.
To steam vegetables, bring some water in a pot to a rapid simmer or easy boil, add a steamer basket or colander on top and place the veggies in the basket. You can add aromatics like garlic or ginger to the water to add flavor to the vegetables. Let the veggies steam until they are bright in color and as tender as you want them. After steaming, sprinkle your veggies with salt, fresh lemon, herbs or dip them in a savory sauce.
4. Sautéing Veggies
Sautéing is one of my favorite ways to cook vegetables, mainly because it’s quick, easy and the veggies get a ton of flavor. They also keep a lot of their nutrients since it is such a fast method of cooking. Sautéing involves cooking veggies over high heat in a pan with a bit of oil and aromatics. This method works for almost any vegetable including greens, asparagus, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, onions and green beans. Cut your veggies into equally sized pieces for even cooking.
Heat your pan over medium-high heat, add oil and let the oil heat up until it starts to shimmer. Add any aromatics such as onion, garlic, ginger or chile pepper, and saute them until they are softened. Add the veggies, being careful not to crowd the pan. Season the veggies with your favorite herbs and spices. Stir the veggies often in the pan and cook until they are crisp-tender.
5. Stir-Frying Veggies
Some people use the terms “saute” and “stir-fry” interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Stir-frying happens at a much higher heat than sautéing does and at a much faster speed. The food also has to be constantly stirred and tossed so it doesn’t burn. Stir-frying is seen in Asian cuisine, and it is a fast way to make dinner for the whole family. With stir-frying, it is important to prep all your ingredients before you start cooking. Since the food cooks so fast, there is no time to chop veggies during the process. While stir-frying is usually done in a wok, a saute pan works just as well as long as there is lots of surface area for the food.
To stir-fry, have all your veggies and aromatics ready as well as any sauce you are adding to the dish. Heat the pan on high heat and then add oil that can stand up to the high cooking temperature such as vegetable or peanut oil. Add the vegetables to the pan in order of longest to shortest cooking times. Stir the veggies constantly until they are crisp-tender and bright. Add any stir-fry sauce at the end and toss the veggies to coat them.
6. Braising and Stewing Veggies
Braising and stewing involve cooking ingredients slowly in flavorful liquid. It is done over low heat and may take up to several hours. Vegetables that are cooked in these methods become soft, tender and full of flavor. These are also methods that allow you to walk away from the stove and do something else while the food cooks. Since the food cooks in liquid for a long time, braising and stewing are best done with heartier veggies like root vegetables, potatoes, beans, squash and celery. You can braise veggies in water, broth, wine or any flavorful liquid. For the most flavor, saute the ingredients in oil with aromatics until they are browned and then add the liquids for them to cook in.
7. Roasting and Baking Veggies
Roasting veggies is probably the easiest way to cook them. It’s also the way I suggest preparing a vegetable if you are worried you won’t like it. Roasting vegetables involves caramelizing them in a hot oven. The natural sugars of the veggies come out leading to a sweet, savory intense flavor that is like no other. Roasting is also a great method because you don’t need to be there for the cooking. Simply preheat the oven to 400 degrees or so, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and chop your veggies into whatever shape you want.
Toss them in a bit of oil and season them with your favorite herbs and spices. Let them roast until they are tender on the inside with a crisp crust. You can roast any vegetable including onions, garlic, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, and squash. For detailed cooking times and temperatures, check out Your Guide to Roasting Vegetables.
8. Frying Veggies
Fried food may not be the healthiest way to eat, but when you’re eating fried vegetables, it becomes a balance of nutritious and indulgent. If you really want to get someone who is resistant to eat vegetables, frying may be a good way to introduce them to it. That’s how I got my husband to taste Brussels sprouts. Frying doesn’t have to mean deep-frying in quarts of oil. Pan-frying will give you delicious, crispy coated veggies with not a lot of oil. To fry veggies so they are golden brown, make sure the oil is around 375 degrees. Any higher and the food will burn rather than become golden. Any lower and you will get greasy, soggy veggies.
9. Grilling Veggies
Grilling veggies is easy and you get food with a rich, deep, smoky flavor. The veggies caramelize so they get sweet and crisp. You can grill indoors or out and almost every vegetable can be cooked this way. To grill veggies, let them sit in a tasty marinade for at least 30 minutes or toss them in oil and seasonings and grill them according to the time necessary for that particular vegetable. When grill marks form, flip the veggies to cook on the other side until they are tender.
10. Pickling Veggies
If you hear the word “pickle” and only think about … well, pickles, I’m happy to tell you that there are more vegetables to enjoy this way besides cucumbers. Veggies can be vacuum sealed in canning jars and stored for up to a year or they can be quickly pickled without the canning jars and stored in the fridge for up to two months. Pretty much any vegetable can be pickled but crisp ones that won’t break down in the brine are the best choice. These might include radishes, mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers. Quick pickling involves immersing veggies in brine made with vinegar, water, herbs and spices. Boil the pickling liquid for five minutes and then pour the hot brine over the vegetables. Let them cool before refrigerating them.
When you start using all the different methods of cooking vegetables, you will learn which ways you like certain vegetables best and you will discover new favorite dishes. With all the possible combinations of veggies and cooking methods, there is no possible way anyone will ever have to convince you to eat your vegetables.
by Rhea Parsons