January 1, 2011
The catch phrase “strive for five” reminds us to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day. And I suspect that most of us still do not do it, unless you count fruit-filled pie and French fries. We can do better and there’s no better time to start than now. If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to be health-conscious or lose weight, then fruits and vegetables are your friends.
As a child, I was one of those picky eaters who refused to try some foods. Readers who grew up in the South probably recall vegetables seasoned with a little bit of fatback or bacon drippings. They are also familiar with vegetables overcooked until they lose their bright color. We learned to cook a new way, because of my father’s heart condition, and that was the beginning of my love affair with vegetables.
So in this brand new year, let’s lose the animal fat. Kick the can to get rid of nitrates. It takes only a little longer to prepare fresh vegetables that are now so readily available at the supermarket. Some vegetables can be frozen without losing their taste and texture. So opt for fresh whenever possible. Stick with what’s in season to save money. “Fresh” is easier than you might think.
Some vegetables are always available, like carrots. One of those things on my wish list is a mandolin that will make it quick and easy to cut vegetables for cooking. But finely cut carrots are available in the refrigerator section of the produce department, so I can enjoy a julienne of carrots with no prep. Cook them in boiling salted water just until crisp-tender, drain and toss with butter, salt and pepper.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and leafy green vegetables, including spinach and kale, are full of essential nutrients. While I know many people who like their greens boiled and served with vinegar, I am not among them. Spinach is one of my favorite vegetables, raw in a salad or as a substitute for lettuce on a sandwich. It can be cooked quickly by putting just-washed spinach in a covered saucepan and steamed quickly without any additional water. We learned to press the cooked spinach between two clean, stainless steel bowls to remove the excess water. Then just add a little salt and pepper and maybe a pat of butter. You can also toss in finely shredded candied ginger.
Brussels sprouts are delightful when not overcooked. Wash the heads, remove the loose outer leaves, trim away the stems and cut an “X” about a quarter inch deep into the bottom of each tiny head. Steam them done in a covered frying pan with very little water. They cook quickly and remain a lovely shade of green. Cook broccoli in much the same way by cutting the head into bite-sized florets and steaming them until they are just tender enough to be pierced easily with the point of a knife. Toss cooked broccoli with a tiny bit of butter and freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese.
This same technique works for other vegetables such as asparagus and green beans. When the vegetables are done to your taste, drain the water, add butter, salt and pepper and serve promptly. When cooking green beans, add dried cranberries to cook along with the beans or garnish cooked beans with cooked, crumbled bacon or sliced almonds sautéed in butter. Enjoy a healthy new year!