Monday, March 19, 2012

Eat Your Vegetables!

The government food pyramid recommends a healthy diet that includes three to five daily servings of vegetables.  For many years Americans held tight to a self-imposed aversion to vegetables.  In light of a few realizations, luckily, this trend has recently begun to recede.

For those members of the American baby-boomer generation, let’s take a journey down memory lane.  Follow the ghost of veggies past; don’t be afraid.  You are a child again, sitting at the family table with your faithful canine friend taking up his position under the table right against your knee.  Mom presents dinner.  We see a nice roast that she cooked for hours.  Some mashed potatoes, very good; but now what’s this we see?  A bowl of army issue-green hued textured mush.  Oh, and it smells!  It emanates a slight stink that hovers in the air.  Come to think of it, you smelled that an hour ago from your room at the other end of the house.  Oh my.  That dog’s going to eat plenty tonight!

This was the way with vegetables cooked by the older generations.  They knew only one way to prepare them – boiled, boiled and boiled some more.  Isn’t it funny how this generation of homemaking women, who had the time to put effort into preparing the vegetable course into something enticing, took the easy way out and just threw the green beans or Brussels sprouts into a cauldron, oh, um, I mean pot, and just boiled the color and flavor and crispness away?  Yet today, career women, and epicurean men, have embraced the process of placing as much preparation and culinary artistry into the veggie course as they do the rest of the meal.

Now let’s fast forward to the generation X’s and Y’ers.  It is now your childhood.  Those same vegetables are being plopped on your place setting and you, like your parents, coax the trusty living garbage disposal to your side.  This scenario continues, but less and less frequently as you become teenagers.  America is beginning to see the faint start of a food revolution.  Your parents have begun to discover new ways to prepare vegetables, whether through the television cooking shows on the public broadcasting channels or the cooking magazines that appear front and center at the checkout counter’s magazine rack.  As time marches on, new vegetables that you had never even heard of are appearing in our markets.  ‘What is fennel anyway?’ you may have asked at one point.  If your mother had merely boiled it to death, as her mother would have, you probably wouldn’t like that one either.  What you experienced, however, was a side dish that had some texture; it had flavor, and the flavor married well with the additional touches Mom used to cook it.  And so, those GenXers with parents who were willing to abandon their own parents’ way of cooking vegetables grew up to finally experience vegetables as they were meant to be eaten, and actually like them.  If you were one of these young adults who saw the light, chances are that your children are eating up their vegetables and poor ‘Buddy’ under the table isn’t looking quite so tubby.  Yes, children today will eat their vegetables if you enjoy them yourself and resist the urge to assume that they won’t just because you may not have as a young child.

Preparing tasty vegetables can be as simple of roasting them with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt of pepper.  Simple, yet delicious, as the cut sides of the vegetables caramelize during the roasting process, thus adding another facet of flavor.  Everything can be roasted, from fennel, carrots, parsnips, beets and Brussels sprouts in the fall and winter to asparagus and tomatoes and peppers in the warmer months.  Even cauliflower and broccoli florets can benefit from this treatment.

In my February blog on the foods of France, I shared a recipe for ratatouille, a versatile dish in which a medley of summer vegetables stew together, seasoned with herbs.

Salads are simple means of getting in some vegetables, and the ingredients to a salad are only as limited as you allow.  Absolutely any vegetable can go into a salad, and you can always make the salad more interesting texture-wise and color-wise with the addition of such embellishments as nuts, cheese, croutons, sliced apples or pears or dried cranberries.

Today, our markets abound with seemingly countless variety of vegetables from all over the world.  It is easy to get in our five servings a day, and there are endless ways in which to prepare any of them that beckons.  In the spirit of three to five a day, I will now pass along four easy vegetable recipes that are easy to prepare and will earn their rightful place on your menu alongside your best entrees.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Hazelnuts
½ pound thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound Brussles sprouts, stems trimmed
Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil
¼ cup chopped hazelnuts

Cook the bacon in a skillet.  Set aside.  Halve the Brussels sprouts lengthwise and arrange cut side down in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes – you want the cut sides to brown.  Remove from the oven and place into a serving bowl.  Toss with the cider vinegar and the hazelnut oil, then stir in the cooked bacon pieces and the nuts.  Serves four.

 Braised Fennel with Apple Balsamic Vinegar
4 fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper
¼ cup white wine
½ cup chicken broth
1/2 cup apple balsamic vinegar

Chop off the finger-like stalks from the fennel bulbs.  Stand each fennel bulb on that cut side for stability and cut the bulb in half.  Remove the tough core.  Now cut each half into quarters or thirds, depending on the size of the fennel bulb.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat.  Brown the fennel bulbs in the skillet.  Once all of the cut sides have lightly browned, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add the wine and allow to reduce by half.  Add the broth, reduce heat to simmer and cover the skillet.  Allow to simmer until the bulbs are tender, about 10 minutes.  Remove the cover and add the apple balsamic vinegar.  Raise the heat to medium-high and allow to boil until the liquids have reduced and become syrupy.  Place fennel into a serving dish and spoon the balsamic mixture over.  Serves eight.

Warm Beet Salad
4 beets (red, gold or combination of the two) peeled, cut into 1-inch dice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 10-ounce package fresh baby spinach leaves
2 seedless Naval oranges, peeled and cut into segments
1 cup shelled walnuts
1 cup crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 450-degrees. Place beets into a roasting pan, drizzle with two tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss to coat.  Roast in the oven for approximately 45 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, in a Tupperware container, shake the ½ cup olive oil, the vinegar, the ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper until well combined.  Combine the spinach leaves and orange segments.  Divide spinach and orange mixture among four salad plates.  As soon as the beets come out of the oven, divide them among the four salads, arranging on top of the spinach.  Sprinkle salads with the blue cheese and the walnuts, drizzle with the dressing and serve.  Serves four.

Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Patty Pan
2 zucchini, unpeeled, thinly sliced crosswise
2 yellow squash, unpeeled, thinly sliced crosswise
½ pound baby patty pan squash, unpeeled, halved horizontally
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup of assorted fresh herbs, chopped (such as parsley, basil, mint, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, chives … whatever you like and whatever you have an abundance of in your garden!)

Heat the olive oil on medium high heat in a large skillet.  Add all of the squash and sautee until very tender and some of them are starting to brown.  Add the garlic and continue to sautee for five minutes more.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir in the herbs.  Serves four.

There simply is no excuse now; summer is just around the corner.  If you have a green thumb, start planning a simple vegetable garden and get your entire family involved in the selection of vegetables to be planted.  If toiling away in the soil on a ninety-five degree day isn’t your thing, hang tight.  By mid-July the farm stands will be brimming with the most succulent, colorful bounty that your local growers have cultivated for your enjoyment.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately the enormous amount of super processed foods that many Americans consume, that are filled with sugar, salt, msg, etc, has in some ways, ruined our taste for complex and real flavors with such as are found in many vegetables. Too many of us now shy away from entire taste groupings such as bitter, sour, musky, etc., as a result. The best solution is to cut back on the mass produced factory products. In the long run, it will enhance our appreciation of vegetables.