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Published August 27, 2010, 12:00 AM

Vary your vegetables and cooking methods

“Can your mama do this?” the chef asked my children as he tossed knives in the air and caught them behind his back.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Can your mama do this?” the chef asked my children as he tossed knives in the air and caught them behind his back.

They shook their heads. I would need paramedics standing by with an ambulance if I juggled knives, I thought to myself. My husband and three kids watched in amazement at the antics of a chef cooking on a hibachi grill on a recent vacation trip.

He prepared the grill and chopped broccoli, carrots, onions, potatoes and meat into small pieces as we watched.

“Does your mama do this?” he asked as he lit the grill on fire, and the flames shot 5 feet in the air.

They looked at me and laughed. I haven’t lit an indoor appliance on fire on purpose or by accident. I have, however, done some flame-throwing with an outdoor grill.

“Open your mouths!” he said as he pitched small pieces of vegetables into the mouths of my family members.

They all caught vegetables in their mouths as well as our dogs catching treats.

I finally caught a chunk of potato in my mouth on the third try. I like to think my lack of skill in catching food is the result of having a smaller mouth than the other members of my family. However, they might disagree.

We certainly experienced a fun change of pace at our family dinner that evening.

The meal was a good reminder to aim for variety in our vegetable choices and preparation methods.

Think about the usual ways you prepare vegetables. What methods do you use?

You might prefer raw veggies as salads or as snacks. You might use a microwave or a pan on the stove to prepare vegetables. Maybe you enjoy grilled or roasted vegetables.

Regardless of the preparation methods you use, try to reach the daily vegetable recommendation for most adults: 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables.

Vegetables grilled outdoors are a welcome treat. Simply brush the vegetables with Italian dressing or salad oil, add some seasonings and then grill.

Microwaving is an excellent way to retain vitamins and color in vegetables.

Since little water is used, microwave-cooked vegetables retain most of their nutrients.

Boiling vegetables in water certainly is easy, but you may lose some of the nutrients in the cooking water. To avoid nutrient loss, allow about 1 cup of water (or less) per 4 cups of vegetables. Instead of discarding the cooking water, consider refrigerating it for use in a soup within a few days.

Steaming is a method that uses little water. All you need is a steamer or colander and a small amount of water in a pan. Steam the vegetables to tender-crisp to preserve color and vitamins.

Pressure cooking (steaming under pressure) can shorten the cooking time for root vegetables such as beets, carrots, turnips, dry edible beans and peas. Since the food cooks quickly, be sure to follow the cooker manufacturer’s directions so you do not overcook.

Try stir-frying to preserve the color and texture of vegetables. In a pan, heat a small amount of oil or a liquid, such as low-sodium broth, then quickly stir until the vegetables are tender-crisp.

Panning also can be used to prepare vegetables. Shred or cut the vegetables into small pieces and place in a heavy pan coated with a small amount of cooking oil.

Add a tight-fitting lid to hold in the steam and cook for five to eight minutes.

Some vegetables suited for panning include shredded cabbage, carrots, sliced summer squash, thinly sliced green beans and most leafy greens.

Explore the various ways of preparing vegetables. Try oven-roasting root vegetables from a local garden or farmers market with this easy recipe adapted from the Montana State University Extension Service.


Roasted Root Vegetables

4 medium-sized root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips or rutabagas)

2 chopped carrots

1 medium chopped onion

¼ cup canola oil or olive oil

3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese

Seasonings of choice (dried basil or rosemary suggested)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut vegetables into large chunks. Place in a medium bowl and pour oil over the top. Add Parmesan cheese and seasonings and mix well. Spread an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake for one hour or until tender. Check a few vegetables to see if they are tender.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 250 calories, 15 grams (g) of fat (mainly monounsaturated “healthy” fat), 26 g of carbohydrate, 7 g of fiber and 150 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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