Learning how to cook vegetables is important, because if you’re looking for cheap and easy meals to cook, you don’t have to look further than the produce section of your grocery store. Veggies are the one thing we need to eat more of than any other food, and as luck would have it, they’re often relatively cheap. Vegetables are also easy to freeze, if you know how.
The problem is, not a lot of folks know how to cook vegetables so they actually taste like something you’d want to eat all the time. The reality is that they’re easy to screw up, and if you came from a household where your mom turned dinnertime veggies into bland, gray lumps of vegetal sludge, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
When I was growing up, it seemed like the entire world hated Brussels sprouts. I remember people talking trash about them for years before I’d ever actually tasted a single sprout. From what I’d heard, Brussels sprouts were bitter, gross, and tended to be mushy.
When I hit my 20s a friend presented me with a side of Brussels sprouts to accompany a roast she’d made (similar to these maple bacon Brussels sprouts) and the sprouts she made were actually amazingly good. They took on a lovely shade of deep green, tasted both vegetal and smoky, and maintained a perfectly crisp – but still tantalizingly tender – bite.
Why were my friend’s Brussel’s sprouts so good when the majority of kids born in the 70s and 80s thought they were disgusting? Turns out, my friend just knew how to cook vegetables properly. Not only that, Brussels sprouts were her go-to side dish for dinner parties and one of her favorite sides for other easy meals to cook, which is a pretty ringing endorsement.
If you find that your attempts at learning how to cook vegetables usually end in disaster (or simply blah-boredom), these 7 tips will cure your lackluster veggie experience. You might be surprised as how easy they are.
- Add some acid. Veggies LOVE a little splash of brightness, and lemons fit the bill perfectly. Other acidic options are white vinegar, un-oaked white wine (try Sauvignon Blanc), rice wine vinegar, or orange juice. You don’t need much to take a veggie dish from “eh” to “yay,” and usually just a few drops will suffice. So consider keeping a few choice acid options in your pantry for use on a moment’s notice.
- When sautéing, change up your fat. There are so many different oils you can use to liven up the flavor or your vegetables. Real butter is one easy option, and it’s perfectly healthy if you only use a tablespoon or two. Other fats I love to use for sautéing vegetables are sesame oil, garlic-infused olive oil, peanut oil, or even duck fat. I keep a little tub of duck fat in my fridge, which I picked up from my local butcher, and occasionally add a teaspoon to the olive oil I usually cook my veggies in. So. Good.
- Add your salt last. This is really important if you’re looking for success in learning how to cook vegetables. Salt is hydroscopic, which is a big, fancy word that means it sucks the water out of everything it touches, veggies included. So if you salt your vegetables too early in the cooking process, it can turn them into limp, green shoelaces because they expel all of their water content and end up drowning in their own juices. Even a small amount of salt can take otherwise crisp veggies and soften their outer layer, losing that fresh, satisfying crunch. So wait until you’re just about to take them out of the pan before salting them, which will preserve their texture.
- Add more salt. Are your veggies bland and boring? Try adding a little more salt than you normally do to perk up their flavor. (And you’re adding the salt at the end, right?) Or try Soy sauce, which works well with a lot of greens, such as broccoli, chard, kale, and spinach. A few turns of freshly ground black or white pepper can also take vegetables to new heights without adding any crazy ingredients.
- Add some heat. Seriously, a little spice can work wonders when it comes to making vegetables delicious. A few pinches of red pepper flakes or a dash of hot sauce might be all you need to bump up your veggie love.
- Blanch veggies for perfect texture. Do you find that your cooked vegetables always fall short of the perfect flavor and texture? Try blanching them, which is the first way I learned how to cook vegetables. It’s easy: just briefly dunk your veggies in boiling water, wait until they turn deep, bright green, then fish them out with a slotted spoon and plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking process. This helps to preserve color, flavor, texture, and vitamin content. Blanched vegetables are perfect for adding to stir fries, salads, veggie platters, or for packing up and freezing. Here’s a handy timetable for how long to blanche your veggies for.
- Don’t overcook. This is probably the #1 most important point when it comes to learning how to cook vegetables to peak perfection. If you cook anything to within an inch of its life, it will not taste good. Veggies are no different. Overcooked vegetables will turn gray and lose all sense of flavor and texture, leaving them a heap of lifeless sludge. The key to not overcooking vegetables is to remove them from the heat while they are still green – as in, bright, deep green. This goes for stir frying, sautéing, steaming, whatever. Once the shade of green starts to deaden, so will the appeal of your veggies (and, sadly, their nutritional value). This goes for all greenery, from broccoli to chard to bok choy. So do yourself a favor and prepare your vegetables last, so they don’t languish in the pan while your main dish finished up! Which brings me to my final point…
- Serve vegetables immediately! Veggies are best served right at peak done-ness, and unless you’re making a braise or casserole, vegetables don’t like to sit and stew in their own juices. If you’re steaming, sautéing, or stir frying your veggies, serve them as soon as they’re done cooking, lest they turn into a soggy mess in the pan.
To-do for you:
This week, try at least one of these tips to liven up your veggies. Then, compound tricks. Try adding a touch more salt, a squirt of lemon, and stop cooking your greens just a minute or two after they turn green. Then, report back and let me know how it went!
Now it’s your turn. Let me know – what was your veggie experience while growing up? Did you enjoy vegetables at your house, or did your family end up cooking them within an inch of their life? What veggies do you enjoy eating right now?
* * *
Food quote of the week: “Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie.” –Jim Davis. Click to tweet this quote!
This content was originally posted on FearlessFresh.com.