Meet Your Veggies!

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Farmers Market BountyAll ten of them!

According to the list-maker, their definition of vegetable is the broader one: as in, if it’s not animal or mineral, it must be vegetable!

Now, the key to cooking well is not so much in being able to follow a recipe–that’s a great place to start, of course–it’s in the cook’s comfort with their ingredients. The more you cook, the more you learn how ingredients work in various situations. After a while you will find that you’ve gained enough proficiency to save a failing recipe or improve a sub-par one.

So let’s see about these 10 types of vegetables!


Carrots, Parsnips, Beets, Radishes and Turnips

Split ’em, Peel ’em and Roast ’em up crispy. Any of these veggies (yes, even the radishes) are wonderful after some time in the oven. Turnips, sliced like steak fries and drizzled with olive oil and spices, make a great French fry alternative. Wrap each beet in foil before roasting, the skins just rub off–no knife required! And if you’ve never had a parsnip (they look like a white carrot), they’re slightly sweet with a hint of pepper and can be whipped and mashed in addition to roasted.


Ah, those leafy greens. Everything from Arugula to Watercress can make for wonderful salad bases. The heartier greens (like turnip, mustard and kale) make amazing side dishes that cook up quickly in a hot pan with a little bit of garlic and some olive oil. Don’t be deceived by their volume, though: there’s a lot of water in those leaves and they cook down to next to nothing in seconds. Start with way more than you think you’ll need and you’ll have a nice side dish in no time.

Seeds (and Nuts)

When I took Latin in high school a common phrase we learned translated to “from soup to nuts” meaning the whole kit and caboodle since formal Roman meals began with soup and ended with nuts. While a nut course isn’t part of today’s usual line-up, they make a great snack because of their B vitamins and relatively healthy fats (though the latter is why it’s a good idea not to eat too many).

Cooking with nuts is fairly straightforward: they’re great as fillings and toppings and can be ground, in the case of almonds, as a sauce thickener. Mostly you have to be careful that the nuts haven’t gone bad–those fats they are so rich in? Can easily turn rancid, which is why it’s not a bad idea to store leftover nuts and seeds in the freezer–they’re one of the few foods that isn’t harmed by the freezing process.

Seeds also encompass beans and peas and even lentils. Those are best soaked and cooked long and slow in order to tenderize them but they are serious power-houses when it comes to protein and fiber. Always good things. That, and they are so malleable and will take so many different flavor profiles they can be used over and over without feeling like you’re eating the same thing.


This category is full of the unexpecteds. Buds aren’t something we think about eating but the most common one are the little tiny buds that make broccoli florets look like little trees. Blanch them in boiling water to bring up their color and then use them however you want. We like to just steam them and toss them with a little olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.

Other buds in hiding are cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Cabbage is another one of those foods that deflates as it cooks and looses all that water in the leaves. Steam it in a big pot with a ham hock for your New Year’s Day meal or shred it for an awesome cole slaw. Brussels sprouts are usually boiled or steamed, but split them and roast them with a little curry powder and you will be in for a wonderful surprise!


Easy mark, right? Fruits are sweet, juicy, lots of natural sugars and perfect for desserts. All true. But don’t annex them to that final course so soon.

Mangoes and pineapples have enzymes that make them wonderful natural meat tenderizers. They also pair wonderfully as a topping (like a chutney) for grilled meats. Apples and pears are each great matches to pork. And tart cherries or cranberries with chicken? Perfection.

Fruits are pretty delicate, though, so you want to be careful not to cook them too long or they’ll be mush and mush isn’t always great.


Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and water chestnuts. The first three? Boil them, roast them, bake them or mash them and they’ll be great. Now, for white potatoes you might need to pile on the flavor agents–salt, herbs, garlic out the wazoo. One of the best things about white potatoes is that they are so malleable but if they’re under seasoned? It’s blech.

Sweet potatoes and yams, though, they have a wonderful natural sweetness but you don’t have to stick with the cinnamon and brown sugar. Experiment with a little bit of chili powder or cumin along with the “sweet” spices and edge out of those tuber-ruts!

Now water chestnuts are great in an entirely different way. I have two main uses for them: stir fries (where they soak up that wonderful sauce) and spinach dip. Something about the crunch among the creamy is just heavenly.


Celery, anyone? Not just for dieters, some diced celery livens up a chicken salad, helps round out your basic stock-making veggies (along with onions and carrots) and really is good when filled with peanut butter or pimento cheese. So what if it’s a carrier some days, every veggie has its purpose!

Another favorite stem or stalk is the asparagus. Always look for tightly closed tips (those are actually flower buds!) and snap off the bottoms before cooking (if you hold each end and bend they’ll snap where they need to–discard the bottoms, they’ll be too tough to eat). Steam them and add a little lemon juice and pepper. You can go the hollandaise-route, but only if you’re feeling really ambitious.


Two quick(?) thoughts here: citrus peels are fabulous for flavoring all sorts of dishes without adding extra liquid because the zest is chock full of wonderful oils. All you want is the colored part, the white spongy bits are the pith and they are very bitter.

The other peel worth noting is cinnamon. It’s actually the inner bark of certain trees (cinnamon and cassia)–which is why the whole sticks look so woody. Try adding some to your meatballs the next time you make them–it’s great with red meat.


Edible flowers are so much fun! They have the most impact when added as a salad accent but they can also be folded into tarts and cakes, dried and used as teas or–in the case of larger ones like squash blossoms–filled, battered and deep fried!

Always be sure of the source of your edible flowers, you want to make sure there were no harmful pesticides (which is why you don’t just swoop into someone’s garden and dig in!). Edible varieties include nasturtium, carnation, honeysuckle, chickory, cornflower, sunflowers and roses.


Bamboo is generally an acquired taste, but if you eat enough Chinese take-out you might just acquire it. Hundreds of pandas can’t be wrong, right? But don’t go making like a panda and just gnaw on a stalk–they must be fully cooked before eating to prevent unpleasant side effects.

So, are you inspired to try a different vegetable this week?

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