Vegetables are chock full of nutritious goodness and a must at every meal, but we all know there are few things as difficult or unpleasant to eat than soggy, overcooked and discoloured vegetables. Unfortunately, vegetables are extremely sensitive to cooking and heat - and can go from very delicious to very slimy in just under a minute.
So if you find that you've been overcooking your veggies - and in the process also losing all that goodness and vitamins - here's our little cheat sheet that will guide you to crisp, vibrant and perfectly cooked greens.
Keep it Simple
If you’re just starting out in the kitchen, keeping your vegetable dishes simple is probably the best way to go. Most vegetables are delicious on their own or even raw, and require only the simplest of seasonings. Just a little salt, olive oil and garlic can make even kale and most leafy vegetables sing when cooked on low heat for a little while. Heavy seasonings or chilli tend to overwhelm the delicate flavour of most vegetables and should be left to hardier veggies like okra, pumpkin, or squashes.
Timing is Everything
Whether it’s boiling, steaming or sautéing, it’s important to watch the clock and colour of your greens closely to prevent overcooking. The veggies should feel crisp and crunchy to the touch and retain their original bright green, orange or yellow hues.
Brussels Sprouts are traditional at Christmas, but some people find them a bit of an aquired taste. Try roasting them for a treat that can convert even the most devout sprout hater. Drizzle the sprouts with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast at 200 C for 30 – 45 minutes, until the outsides are crisp and brown and the insides tender and sweet. Shake the pan every few minutes to ensure even browning.
To prepare broccoli florets, you can try either boiling for 10-15 minutes, steaming for 5-10 minutes, or sautéing them in a stir fry for 5-8 minutes for the perfect texture.
For sliced carrots, either boil for 5-10 minutes, steam for 4-5 minutes, or sauté for 3-4 minutes to retain colour, nutrients and crunch.
Gorgeous quartered purple aubergines need to stay purple, and for that, you might want to stick to either boiling for 5-10 minutes, steaming for 5-6 minutes, or sautéing for 3-4 minutes.
Sliced bell peppers of every traffic light hue look firm but they actually soften very fast on heat. Boil for 4-5 minutes, 2-4 minutes steamed, or sauté (the best way to preserve their sweetness) for 2-3 minutes maximum.
Spinach is notoriously difficult to cook just right and can go limp in seconds. 2-5 minutes boiled (never wait for the green to leach into the water), 5-6 minutes steamed or 3 minutes sautéed in garlic and olive oil should yield firm, delicious, iron rich veggies.
Sliced squashes on the other hand, are hard to overcook and retain their sweetness very well. 5-10 minutes in the stockpot or steamed, and 3-4 minutes in the pan should give you the perfect golden orange slices you need for your salad.
Leafy greens (bok choy, kale) can be tricky because their stems take longer to cook than their leaves. We would recommend splitting the two, and steaming the stems first for 2-3 minutes before adding the leaves and steaming for another 3 minutes.
You’ve cooked your veggies, but your work is not done – the next step is to shock your vegetables to prevent them from cooking any further. While this step is optional (and don’t do it to the roasted Brussels Sprouts!), it does make for an extra delicious salad or vegetable dish and applies only to steamed or boiled greens. Shocking your vegetables also locks in flavour, texture and colour so you can prep your vegetable dish first and serve hours later without worrying about them going limp and sad.
Firstly, prepare an ice bath by filling a mixing bowl with ice and just enough water to cover it. Add ½ tablespoon of salt. After boiling your vegetable to the desired tenderness, use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables from your pot to the ice bath. Leave for about 1 minute, then remove and plate. And that’s about all you need to know to get your veggies right. With greens that delicious, you won’t have trouble cleaning out your plate – and getting more than your five servings of vegetables and fruits a day. Here’s to health!
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