Vegetables taste good, provide vital nutrients and enrich our meals. But like all foodstuffs with high nutritional value they suffer if handled incorrectly. You will enjoy their value to the full only if you are very selective when you buy, and treat them with care afterwards.
A perfect shape, large size and a gleaming surface are no guarantee of quality. Nowadays such aesthetic appeal can often be achieved by using chemical fertilisers and treatments, which may leave unwholesome residues in the plants.
When you are shopping look for vegetables that are grown as near as possible to where you live. Vegetables that have ripened in the sun have their own special flavour and a typical shape and colour; they feel crisp, firm or springy as the case may be. If you can buy organically grown vegetables, do so. This type of produce is cultivated largely without the use of mineral fertilisers and chemical pesticides or fungicides.
It is a good idea to prepare what you need for the day as soon as you have done your shopping.
The first step in preparing vegetables is cleaning them, i.e. removing earth- covered roots and any pact of the plant that will not be used, such as the damaged outer leaves of a head of cabbage and the tough, dark-green leaf ends of leeks.
To get rid of any residues of lead, vegetables which have been roughly cleaned should then be thoroughly rinsed in warm running water – tender leaf vegetables should be washed in slow-running water and turned frequently. Vegetables with a smooth skin should be rubbed well as they are rinsed. Rough surfaces with bits of soil clinging to them should be scrubbed thoroughly under warm, running water.
Pick over leaf vegetables and herbs, discarding coarse stems and damaged leaves. Scrape or peel root vegetables such as carrots, turnips or celeriac with a sharp knife or thinly peel them depending on the nature of the surface. Remove the thin fibrous outer membrane from asparagus or celery.
Skin tomatoes and peppers. Place tomatoes briefly in boiling water before peeling. Put peppers into a very hot oven or under the grill for a short time until the skin begins to split and brown.
Prepare vegetables for cooking by cutting out or pulling off any parts that cannot be eaten such as stalks or roots and coarse fibres and ribs. Do not wash the vegetables again or leave them in water after doing this; every cut you make enables valuable nutrients to be leached out.
Far more vegetables can be eaten raw than is generally realized. As their nutritional value is highest when they are eaten raw, dieticians recommend that as many vegetables as possible should be eaten raw, as salads.
But this is not to everyone’s taste. Many people prefer their vegetables cooked. When cooking them, you should always bear the following principles in mind:
Always cook vegetables for as short a time as possible with just enough heat; even when cooked, vegetables should still be slightly crunchy.
Never keep vegetables warm. If possible prepare just the right amount so that there are no leftovers, If it is unavoidable, reheat vegetables that have cooled briefly, but never do this with spinach. If spinach is reheated it becomes unwholesome, and can be positively harmful to children.
Leave about a third of the vegetables raw to chop finely or grate, then mix these into the cooked vegetables. One exception is green beans. They cannot be eaten raw, and need to cook for 10 minutes at about 100°C/212°F for the indigestible phasein to be broken down. When serving beans – or any other cooked vegetable – you can compensate for the nutrients lost in cooking by using fresh herbs. Chop the herbs just before you are about to serve the dish and sprinkle them over the vegetables.
Which Method Of Cooking Vegetables Is Best?
You should always cook vegetables with very little liquid and/or fat, especially if the liquid is retained as part of the completed dish. There are a few types of vegetable that are usually boiled, like asparagus for instance; the lightly-salted cooking water can then be used for making soup. You will find suitable methods of cooking vegetables on the following pages. They are interchangeable. The method you choose will depend purely on the end result you want to achieve.
In cooking vegetables, remember the advantages of using a pressure cooker. Vegetables cook in next to no time under pressure. If you cook this way, you can omit salt, flavouring the vegetables with wine, spices or herbs, which in turn produce a delicious sauce.