If you’re anything like us (and most Americans), losing weight, exercising, eating healthier, or even possibly something as specific as adding more vegetables to your diet is on your annual ‘to do’ list. It’s one of our new years resolution each year, but like many, we fall short. One reason is the boredom brought on from eating the same old flavors over and over. Without some strategies to elevate the flavor of vegetables, it’s often easier to give up on those heartfelt resolutions before the year has barely begun. (December 31)
Well, just hang on a second! Steamed Veggies certainly don’t need to be boring, and you can find multitudes of ways to make them interesting and delicious without sacrificing their inherent health advantages. Check out these tips for vegetable side dishes with pizzazz.
Herbs can be found in just about every grocery store all year, and chopped fresh herbs add flavor and brightness to vegetables. Try mint with peas, tarragon with green beans, rosemary with root vegetables, thyme with mushrooms, parsley with carrots, and, my favorite, basil with corn. Simply blanch, steam or quickly sauté your vegetables until they are tender but still slightly crisp, then toss with herbs and either a little extra virgin olive oil or butter if desired. You’ll find you need less fat and salt for flavor when you use herbs to enhance the vegetables.
Both the zest and the juice of citrus fruits add punch to vegetables, and the acidity makes them mouth-watering good. Citrus zest is packed with essential oils that actually add as much or more flavor than the juice of the fruit, so invest in a quality fine zester (I like the Microplane™ citrus zester) and experiment with zest on a wide variety of vegetables. Lemon zest and garlic sautéed with broccoli make one great combo. When using the juice instead of the zest, add it right before serving or the acidity will turn the vibrant colors of the vegetables dull.
If you’re one of those people who rarely cooks with anything but seasoned salt, it’s time to break out the spices! Adding a sprinkling of spices lends an exotic flair to many vegetables. Cinnamon and cumin work beautifully on carrots or squash. If you like things spicy, a little cayenne pepper adds a kick. Fennel pairs nicely with potatoes and onions. Chili powder, cumin and coriander add Mexican flavors.
Aromatic vegetables like onion and garlic add layers of flavor to other vegetables. Start by sautéing chopped onions until slightly soft, then add the other vegetables to the onions. Only cook the garlic for a minute or two to prevent it from burning. When making a vegetable soup, always start with onions.
A few nuts go a long way to adding healthy flavor to a dish. Toast nuts first in a dry skillet until you can smell the aroma in order to bring out the nutty flavor. Pine nuts and raisins with spinach is a classic Spanish combination. Or simply add some toasted nuts to your salads to up the wow factor.
Does plain corn put you to sleep? Simple combinations of vegetables take your food from boring to bold. One of my favorites is combining corn, black beans, diced red onion and diced red pepper with a little lime juice and minced garlic for a great vegetable side dish or salsa that works well with fish or chicken. Asian stir frys are another great way to combine vegetables — try baby bok choy with onions and red peppers and top the vegetables with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.
I know what you’re thinking — isn’t this supposed to be about healthy vegetables? Well, for the carnivores among us, a small amount of bacon added to certain vegetables can’t be beat. I like pancetta — cured but unsmoked Italian bacon — best, but any bacon will do. The trick to keeping it healthy is to cook it slowly until all the fat has rendered out of it, then drain off the fat on paper towels. What you are left with is a crispy topping that’s packed with flavor — and remember that a little goes a long way! Try crispy pancetta crumbled on green beans and you may never eat them “naked” again!
A foolproof technique for cooking vegetables is to first steam or blanch them until they are nearly cooked, then quickly sauté them in a nonstick skillet with a small amount of oil. Using oils with flavors can dramatically enhance the vegetables. Some popular ones are sesame oil (which also adds spicy heat), roasted garlic oil and herb oils.
Oven-roasting or grilling vegetables introduces an earthy, charred flavor to your food. Many vegetables work really well, but some of my favorites are grilled zucchini and eggplant, roasted asparagus, grilled sweet onions, roasted or grilled red peppers, roasted root vegetables, and roasted cherry tomatoes. Looking for a quick one-dish meal? Chop up an assortment of grilled or roasted vegetables and toss with cooked pasta and a little Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. You can always add diced chicken or sausage to this dish, but you’ll find it’s plenty satisfying on its own.
Let us know what you think.
Do you have a sure fire way to kick up the veggies?