Vegetables Every Day

Vegetables Every Day
Carrot Tarator with Beets

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New food guidelines

“Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.”  This is one of the key messages from the latest update to the USDA’s dietary guidelines, but will this change eating habits?    Likely not.

Why don’t adults eat lots (like half your plate lots) of vegetables?  

Some people truly don’t have the access or means to eat right (or sometimes eat at all), but that’s not the problem I’m tackling. My friends are generally educated, well-meaning, have access to fresh and frozen produce, and enough money to buy food. One reason vegetables get skipped is they are not convenient. You can’t get them at a drive-through. We don’t see ads for yummy vegetables on TV, we don’t pass farmers markets with big neon signs on the way home from work. The kids are not nagging you for them.
But I don’t want to discount the likability factor.  Often vegetables we get  are old, bland, and / or overcooked plus selectively bred for looks and shelf life instead of taste.  It’s not a wonder we don’t eat vegetables.

So, how to change?  Start by cooking a really tasty vegetable dish, even if just once or twice a week (but every week).  The best place to get really good, fresh vegetables is the farmers market, do try (look beyond the jewelry, candles, and crepes). This is prime season in Arizona (and California - but there, prime season runs all year).  But… you can just go to the grocery store.  Look for the freshest things: not to discriminate, but in general, this will not be asparagus from Peru, even if it’s organic.  Buy no more than a week’s worth of produce, less if you don’t know what your week is going to look like.
So…The last post for Sautéed Broccoli looked so good …  you’re excited.  You went to the farmers market. By the time you finished your crepe, the broccoli was gone.   You went to the store.  But they just had some nasty, wilted, sad looking broccoli.  But… there were some awesome looking green beans.  Guess what?  That broccoli recipe will work for green beans.  In fact, it will work for most any vegetables!  Don’t have a lemon tree in your back yard?  Use some other acid… like a bit of the gourmet vinegar you got as a gift and don’t have a clue how to use.   Don’t like red pepper flakes?  Use some other herbs.  Big date tomorrow and don’t want garlic breath?  Use some shallots.  Need to “man it up”?  Use some bacon.   Honestly, skip everything but the fat and salt, and they will be good if you started with good vegetables.

Sauteed Vegetables: The generic technique

ANY Vegetable* (enough to feed however many people, but don’t crowd the skillet)
Water (enough to steam)
Fat: Olive oil, butter, vegetable oil, rendered bacon fat (save the crispy bacon to go on top)
Aromatic: Garlic, onion, shallot, or red bell pepper
Herbs: red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, thyme, rosemary, parsley, orange peel, or curry
Acid: Lemon, lime, or orange juice, or wine or cider vinegar, wine**
Salt.  Pepper.

Clean and chop the vegetable into nice pieces.  Put in a skillet, and  enough water to cover the bottom.  Put on high or pretty high heat.  Stir and cook until they are almost done and water is gone (add more water if needed).  Add the fat, then aromatic, spices and/or herbs it a spot in the middle. Stir until fragrant (less than a minute).  Add the acid, and a touch of salt, and some pepper if you want.

My favorite combo’s (olive oil unless otherwise mentioned):
Green beans, garlic, red pepper, lemon (just like the broccoli)
Kale, garlic, sherry vinegar
Green beans, garlic, mustard seeds
Green beans, bacon, red pepper
Cauliflower, onions, curry, OJ
Asparagus, shallots, orange rind, orange juice
Carrots, butter, thyme (can skip the acid and carrot is an aromatic)
Zucchini squash, bacon, onions
Spinach, onions, bacon (skip the acid)
Mushrooms, shallots, red wine

* Exceptions:
Baby spinach:  this will cook in like 30 seconds.  Start with the hot fat (and a little water if the spinach is dry). 
Mushrooms: there is enough water in the mushrooms, start in oil and sear.  Finish with red wine.
Potatoes:  Too starchy.  Either start in a lot of water and drain, or just fry in hot oil.  Add a bit of water to help steam.

** wine as the acid: you can use this as the starting liquid instead of water

*** For more than 3 or 4 people, or to do ahead:
Cook the vegetable in a large pot of boiling water until almost done.  Then put directly into a bowl of ice water.

 I love the feedback from the last post (keep it coming!).   

Thursday, March 10, 2011

4th Anniversary!

Can you believe it? The blog is 4 years old.  And time for a change:  Instead of just writing about what ever … food, books, travel, and a few rants, the focus is going to be on healthy eating.  There still may be some books and rants, but books and rants on healthy food.

Why?  Because I believe that the typical modern diet is slowly killing my friends and family.   Pretty strong words.  I certainly don’t have all the solutions.  But I have found some ways to eat better.. and not just recipes or things to eat (or not), but changes in eating habits.  Change that  didn’t happen overnight; but habits that over time focused on eating more good food, and getting the crap out of my diet. This went hand-in-hand with learning what was good… or not, which is not simple in today’s environment where real “experts” are gaining new knowledge about the human body, and how it interacts with food (which is changing a lot of previous recommendations on what to eat), which is compounded by marketing from the agribusiness who are just trying to get more of our food (and tax) dollars.
Anyway, I would like to use the blog to share what I have learned, and hopefully help everyone live a little better.
To start… my current favorite way to eat broccoli:

Sautéed Broccoli

Serves 2
1 bunch (2 medium sized heads) of broccoli
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 – 2 cloves garlic
Pinch of red pepper
Shake of salt
Squeeze of lemon juice

Wash the broccoli, cut off the flower parts and separate the pieces into about 1 – 2 inch clumps.  Cut off the bottom inch or two of the stem if it is tough, and slice the rest (you might want to peel first).  Put the prepared broccoli in a large (10-12 inch) skillet, and put in enough water to cover the bottom by a ¼ inch or so.  Place on the stove and turn to high.  When the water starts to boil, stir the broccoli around so it steams evenly.  Cook until its bright green and just starting to soften, about 3 minutes or so.  The goal is to dry off the water about the time the broccoli is done (you can add a bit more water as needed). Then, make an open spot in the bottom of the pan.  Add the oil, garlic, and red peppers. Stir and cook until the garlic is fragrant and broccoli is coated with oil (about 30 seconds) then remove from the heat.  Add a bit of salt and a squeeze of lemon to taste.