Everyone knows we have to eat lots of vegetables because they are healthy, loaded with vitamins and minerals and good for our bodies. The truth is that we also need to nourish our appetites, taste buds and minds. If we don’t like the way vegetables taste, we probably won’t eat many of them, and the ones we do eat, we might do so reluctantly. If we can cook vegetables so that they taste delicious, savory, sweet, caramelized, spicy and flavorful, then we will look forward to our next dish of veggies. There are so many ways to cook veggies and fill them with flavors we love and crave, all without compromising nutrition. Here are some tips for how to cook vegetables so they taste delicious.
No matter what you are cooking, you want to take every chance you have to add flavor. Start with aromatics like shallots, onions and garlic. Heat a bit of your favorite oil in the pan and saute thinly sliced shallots and minced garlic until they are lightly browned and the smell permeates the air, telling everyone you are cooking something delicious. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes or finely chopped chiles for a bit of heat. Or grate some fresh ginger for an Asian flavor. When you add the vegetables, toss them so they get coated in the seasoned oil. These aromatics set the foundation for an amazingly flavorful dish.
After you add the vegetables, it’s time to add more seasoning and enhance their natural flavors. You could just add salt and pepper, but why not experiment with different herbs and spices? Use fresh or dried herbs and spices. Thyme, oregano and parsley are also among my favorite herbs while cumin, coriander and paprika are my favorite spices. Certain spices pair perfectly with specific vegetables. For instance, squash, pumpkin and sweet potatoes go well with cinnamon and nutmeg. Peas pair with thyme, mint or lemon. Carrots and beets taste amazing with a sprinkle of cumin. I always add a pinch of nutmeg when I cook any dark, leafy greens. Of course, season your veggies with salt and black pepper.
Balance is important in cooking. If the veggies are bitter, you could add agave nectar or sugar to sweeten it a bit. Add a bit of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice for some acid; balsamic is fruity and rich and can stand up to the hearty vegetables like greens and mushrooms though apple cider and red wine vinegar are also good choices. I like to use vegan Worcestershire sauce for complex, savory flavors. Tamari, soy sauce, liquid aminos and seaweed add rich, salty flavor. Play around with your favorites and come up with combinations you like best. You don’t need to add a lot; you just want to enhance the flavors of the veggies, not cover them up.
There was a time when the category of vegetables I would eat included just potatoes, corn, peas and lettuce. Over time I got to like broccoli, but it wasn’t until I became vegan and started tasting new veggies that I discovered I loved a wide variety of them. Now I have a rule that I can’t say I don’t like a food unless I have tried it several times, prepared in several different ways. Try buying one or two new veggies during each shopping trip. Go to your local farmers’ market and ask a farmer to suggest something new for you to try and how to best prepare it. Maybe pick up some artichokes to make a Spinach Artichoke Dip or some broccoli rabe for Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Red Chili Flakes. Set a goal to serve at least one new vegetable dish a week. If there are already vegetables that you love, make your goal to prepare them in a few different ways either by using a different flavor profile or a different cooking method. Try mixing various veggies together to make new flavor and color combinations. Make your dishes look pretty; after all, we eat with our eyes. You may find that you like more veggies than you ever thought possible. How about trying Brussels sprouts this week? Read my article, “5 Ways to Get Anyone to Love Brussels Sprouts” for recipe ideas.
When you are making the effort to eat more vegetables, make it easier for yourself by cooking them correctly. Nothing is worse than sitting down to a plate of gray, mushy, flavorless, overcooked vegetables. Read up on proper prepping, cooking times and methods for whatever vegetable you are planning to make. Season them properly and keep your vegetables bright and crisp-tender. For more tips on what not to do, read “How to Avoid These Common Mistakes When Cooking Vegetables.”
You can take one vegetable, like cauliflower, and cook it in a variety of ways. Methods include boiling, steaming, simmering, roasting, grilling, sautéing, stir-frying, braising, stewing, and even pickling. Whatever method you choose will lead to different flavors and textures. You may find that while you are not crazy about it steamed, you absolutely love cauliflower when it’s roasted. Some veggies, like broccoli, are delicious simply steamed or simmered while others, like zucchini or Brussels sprouts, reach new heights of flavor when they are roasted or fried. Boiled corn on the cob is great but Charred Corn on the Cob with Thai Chili-Lime Mayo is amazing.
Sometimes the only way a person will eat veggies is when they are drowned in sauce. I’m not suggesting that you cover up the flavors of your veggies but a tasty sauce or dip can be a nice complement to a dish. Saute your veggies in a sweet and sour sauce, mix them with pasta in a verdant pesto sauce or steam them and enjoy them in a Chinese garlic sauce.
Whip up a Warm “Vegveeta” Cheese Dip or a bright Salsa Verde. Eat veggies in your dip like this Char-Roasted Eggplant Dip. And of course, who doesn’t like ranch dressing? Dip your raw crudité in this Low-Fat Tofu Ranch Dip. Check out “10 Ways to Make Awesome Dips and Spreads” for more ideas.
Stuffing vegetables is a fun way to eat something different that also looks pretty impressive. There are a bunch of veggies that can be stuffed such as artichokes, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, and squash. You can fill them with rice, quinoa, mushrooms, spinach, or any of your favorite ingredients. Season them with herbs and some vegan cheese and bake them to perfection. Try making Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed with Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf, Vegan Greek Rice Stuffed Peppers, and Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms.
Sometimes the best way to enjoy vegetables is to not cook them at all. Even when I am prepping veggies for cooking, I always munch on a few pieces raw. That’s the way you really taste the vegetable in its natural state and keep all those nutrients. Of course, not cooking veggies doesn’t mean you have to just eat them plain like a rabbit. Enjoy all sorts of greens and other vegetables in refreshing salads tossed in amazing dressings. Make soups in the blender or noodles out of squash. There ae plenty of ways to prepare raw vegetables with marinades, sauces, herbs and spices and turn them into a beautifully composed dish.
Try this Zucchini Pasta with Pumpkin Seeds and Garlic, Raw Lasagna with Cilantro Pesto, Sundried Tomatoes and Marinated Veggies, Avocado Kale Chili Salad, and this Creamy and Raw Butternut Squash Soup with Marinated Mushrooms.
If you think you don’t like vegetables, try, try again. Experiment with different vegetables cooked in different ways with different flavors. I guarantee that you will find a few that you like or even love. Also, check out my article “10 Ways to Get Yourself to Eat More Vegetables” for more ideas and suggestions.
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Lead image source: Raw Lasagna With Cilantro Pesto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Marinated Veggies