Vegetables are healthy, colorfoul and delicious but even a lot of people embrancing the fitness/bodybuilding lifestyle do not eat enough of them. Sadly most people think veggies are boring or even do not like them at all. If you are one of them, I am sorry to tell you that you just can’t cook. Vegetables are rich in micro nutrients, fiber and low in calories. They can taste incredibly good and bring your main dishes to the next level. What they lack are some culinary key elements and a little love and creativity when preparing them. Read on to learn more!
Most vegetables have a rather subtle taste, at least compared to something like cookies, and need some support to really shine. Some of them are also a little bitter, which is problematic for many people who have never learned to appreciate bitterness. But when combined with the elements below, veggies transform into something delicious.
The “tricks” I am going to show you below are already commonly used by the food industry to make their products hyper palatable, triggering overeating and therefore urging the custumer to buy more of them. But unlike the food industry, who uses these tricks to shove more and more cheap crap into you, we use these tactics to big up on the good stuff: veggies, veggies and more veggies.
Some of the veggies I like most already are quite sweet and can even be used as a sweet ingredient (like carrots and peas), but many people aren’t used to their subtle sweetness anymore, so giving them a little helping kick with additional sweetness helps a lot. Other veggies like courgette or fennel completely lack sweetness, so giving them a little of what they are lacking, is a good idea. Use sweetness sparingly, you can always add more later.
- Sugar – boring, but its “pure” sweetness come in handy and give something like a bland tomato salad a real lift. Use calorie free sweeteners instead when low on carbs.
- Honey/Maple syrup – like sugar but with more flavour. Great for glazing root veggies.
- Fruit juices or syrups – come with a sour note, which is welcome for almost all veggies. Also adds a lot of flavour.
- Sweet wine or spirits – like Vin Santo, Marsala or Cointreau. Make sure you cook it long enough to evaporate the alcohol. Mirin or Sake also add a little umami.
Most veggies aren’t sour, or at least shouldn’t be sour if they are ripe. But a little sour note, often combined with sweetness creates this sweet-sour play we really like in things like ketchup.
- Fruits – some fruits like lemons have a lot of sourness. Green apples also work great, e.g. grated with cellery in a Waldorf salad.
- Vinegar – there is an incredible variety in vinegars. Some are really sour, some are almost sweet. I like to have red wine vinegar at home as it goes well with almost everything.
- Citric acid: actually it is the salt of the citric acid – citrate. Use it very parsimoniously as it is pure sourness.
There aren’t many veggies that are hot on their own, so if you are somebody who likes some heat, just add it to your veggies to make them more interesting. Start slow, as too much heat is almost impossible to remove later on.
- Chilies – endless varieties from really hot to rather mild. Taste a tiny bit before using.
- Pepper – the allrounder. Goes with pretty much everything.
- Ginger – refreshing, rather mild heat.
- Mustard – most mustard is rather mild, but English mustard is hot!
- Wasabi/horseradish – not very popular, but a great partner for creamy vegetable dishes like mashed potatoes.
The magical fifth taste. Umami literally makes everything better. It is almost impossible to overdose this taste, but you will need less salt if you go heavy on umami.
- Monosodium gluatamate (MSG) – widely used in almost all of Asia. No, it doesn’t make you sick. Eating at low cost crappy restaurants that use MSG to juice up their low quality ingredients makes you sick.
- Miso – fermented soy beans (or other legumes). The darker the miso, the stronger and saltier.
- Mirin/Sake – also adds sweetness and that typical wine-like body.
- Anchovies – usually melt in the pan. Surprisingly not fishy.
- Soy/fish sauce/Worcestershire sauce – go with anything.
- Beef concentrate/Marmite (yeast extract) – adds that meaty, moreish taste like miso.
- Parmesan cheese – the cheese with the most umami.
- Dried tomatoes
- Garlic and onions (powdered or slowly caramelised)
Similar to umami, salt also makes anything better. No wonder we crave it so much! Dose carefully, too much salt is really unpleasant and nearly impossible to remove.
- Salt – well, the classic. Use it. No, it doesn’t lead to high blood pressure. A crappy diet and being obese leads to high blood pressure.
- Miso – great stuff.
- Capers – good in chopped salads, but also delicious warm.
- Soy/fish sauce
Spices and herbs
There are countless spices and herbs to choose from and many people are overwhelmed by that much variety and the possible combinations. Personally I use spices and herbs by feel and I suggest you do the same. I often start with the vegetable and then take a look through my spices to see what peaks my interest today. And so far I’ve come to the conclusion that almost everything goes with everything. So start experimenting!
Some good combos include:
- Carrots and cumin.
- Spinach and nutmeg.
- Fennel and dill.
- Courgettes and oregano.
- Parsnips and cinnamon.
- Peas and mint.
Putting it to work
After reading all this I am sure you are wondering how to incorporate those strategies in practice. Therefore I want to share my go-to method of cooking vegetables like asparagus, broccoli or carrots:
- Prepare your veggies. Peel (if necessary, most of the time not) and cut into half centimeter segments to keep cooking time low. I like to use asparagus for this (like in the picture above) as there is almost no preparation needed.
- Set a pan over high heat. Add a teaspoon or two of fat of your choice and fry your veggies until 80% done. Let them take some good colour, this improves taste too.
- Turn the heat down to low and add a good glug of mirin, soy sauce and a little bit of red wine vinegar. Let cook until almost all of the liquids are evaporated and the veggies are tender.
As you can see, this is a really simple way of adding salt, umami and sweet-sourness to veggies. Sometimes I switch things around a little, but this is the back bone. Feel free to add heat and spices if you like.
I hope you are now looking forward to cook some delicious veggies yourself. Start with the little mothership recipe above (and there is anothere one here) and experiment to your likeing with it. Remember: veggies are great and now you have all the tools you need to make them delicious too!
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