Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Turning Over New Leaves

 One thing everyone knows, nowadays, is that we can all benefit, both health-wise and taste-wise, from eating more veg. But knowing that isn't the same as knowing how; recipes that are seriously fortified with veg can be expensive, or unseasonal, or just too damn much work for some of us. I say this after 18+ years as a vegetarian cook, and one who passionately loved vegetables before that change occurred. I'm also a person on a budget, and a person that doesn't have four hours to prepare a daily six course meal just because I don't consume animals.

 The key, for me, has not been in finding the right recipes, but in learning how to add more vegetables to any, and every, recipe I can. I started doing this as I soon as I left my mother's home and kitchen, and I've never stopped. Here are my basic, everyday ways:

 Add an extra veg at the beginning of preparation:

 Making a green salad? Against the background of mixed lettuces and whatever else, try a few handfuls of raw zucchini or crookneck squash, finely diced, and a handful of chopped dried fruit as well, such as apricots, craisins, or apples, dried or fresh. These two additions go well with most dressings and a wide spectrum of standard salad toppings. When you're done, throw in a handful of chopped nuts, to boot. Or cook some pepper strips, carrot strips or zuke on a hot, dry griddle till the vegetables brown and soften a little. The combo of crisp greens and slightly wilted veg is always a winner.

 If you're sauteeing or sweating aromatics such as onion and garlic to begin a soup, stew or skillet dish, add in some thinly sliced carrots or peppers there, too. If you've already got 'em, add in tomato or mushroom, or slivered green beans. If the recipe doesn't call for garlic, or onion, add some anyway.

Add an extra veg in the middle stages of prep:

 Say you're making a batch of soup or a casserole-- go beyond what's called for, and throw in one extra thing, be it a couple handfuls of frozen edamame in the stew or a layer of sauteed peppers, greens or okra mixed into your mac-n-cheese. Substitute two lightly cooked vegetables any place you'd normally use just one to stand in for an animal product: when I make Giada D.'s stellar manicotti, I use sauteed mushrooms and red pepper instead of beef, and it's divine.

(above, a bubbling veg stew I just keep adding more vegetables to-- the zuke chunks were last)

Never let a grain or side go unadorned:

Making a batch of corn muffins? Add 1/2 C thawed frozen corn, along with some fresh dill or cilantro if you have it, to the batter. It adds moisture, sweet flavor, and welcome texture. Add a little grated sweet potato or parnsip to that zucchini cake, for that matter.

 Throw diced tomatoes, thawed peas, a cup of cooked pinto beans, or chunks of bell pepper into rice, barley, quinoa or wheat berries while they cook. They bring their own moisture to the process, so generally, no adjustment is needed to the water ratio.

 Even if you're eating the side with a veggie-filled stew, another veg will make it more interesting. I do this with potatoes as well, and if you think plain potatoes in cream and a dab of butter is good, you should try it with peas and spinach added, or with chunks of zuke thrown into the boiling water a moment before you drain the potatoes. In this case, I add some mint and dill as well, or oregano.  Put zucchini strips into the water of the pasta just before you drain that-- it's enough to cook it perfectly, and the sauce doesn't get watery.

Add an extra veg at the end of cooking:

 Last minute additions make for inspired eating, whether it's a slice of raw onion popped into a salad, or adding interest to a cooked soup or stew, a handful of sliced kale stirred into a taco topping just before serving, or a salsa of fresh peppers and fruit to eat with those muffins.

 Put a layer of chopped tomatoes under the crumb crust of that veg-filled mac-n-cheese, or that layered eggplant casserole; marinate some frozen corn and use it to top your sandwich filling; grate raw carrot or beet onto a portobello steak or a tofu stir-fry. Toss olives or raw tomatoes into red sauce at the last minute. Throw ripped fresh spinach into everything, including the greased pan you're about to fry that cage-free egg in. It's better that way.

 It gets to be a habit, after a short while. And it frees up your ideas of what stew, tacos, pizza, sauce, mashes, and classic soups should include... which means you'll be less bound by old ways of cooking, in the future.  

 Now you know my ways-- what are yours? Are you trying to eat more vegetables, too, and if so-- what vegetables are you using? I've mentioned the same five or six here; maybe you have a different set of go-tos, and I'd love to hear about them.

 Peace, Mari

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