Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Making vegetables pop

I feel it's important to eat a wide variety of plant foods every day. Each one contains nutrients that aren't found in the others, including various phytochemicals that are still being discovered!

I also realized a long time ago that the reason vegetables are often unappealing is that we don't put as muchtime and effort into their preparations. I would labor over a sauce or flavorful marinade for the main dish, and a hearty delicious side of starch & fat (potatoes au gratin, risotto, etc) or a main dish that combined a fatty meat with some starches and fat (lasagna, casserole). The veggies were an afterthought, tossed into a pan with a little butter and salt.

 Now I eat my meats simply grilled, roasted or pangrilled and spend more time putting together delicious mixtures of vegetables -- especially raw ones! Raw vegetables are more filling, have more fiber & more nutrition than cooked, so they are definitely a dieter's best friend.

1) Slaws. Don't skip over this category just because you've never been big on traditional slaw! I've learned to create slaws that are sooo satisfying and tasty I often snack on them between meals. I buy bags of slaw mixtures, both the cabbage-based ones and the shredded broccoli type. Often I mix the two together so I can have the fiber & nutrition of the broccoli with the sweetness & lightness of the cabbage. I'll give you some specific recipes later, but generally I use about 4 cups of slaw mix, 1/4 cup of dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, etc), 1/4 cup of nuts or seeds (slivered almonds, sesame seeds, etc), 2 Tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed (for the fiber, protein, healthy fats & nutty flavor), and 2 Tablespoons of low-fat dressing (my faves are sesame ginger and poppyseed). This gives you about 140 calories per generous 1 cup serving, 42% from healthy fats, 42% from the best kind of carbs, and 16% from protein. Makes a wonderful salad substitute, side dish with a sandwich or grilled meat. (there are also slaws made with other types of shredded veggies, like peppers, carrots, etc. I'll add some of those later as well)

2) Salads. The trick is to use plant foods to create flavors & textures rather than cheeses, bacon bits, and croutons. Experiment with different lettuces and additions. Chopped broccoli and cauliflower are interesting in a salad, as are shredded carrots, grape tomatos,  raw peas, soybeans (edamame), cucumber, sugar snap peas, radishes. My favorite salad is a fruit-enhanced one, using dark green leaves, canned mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks, strawberries, blueberries, nuts (almonds, walnuts or pecans) with a little fresh cilantro tossed in and a light rasperry dressing. Or how about a salad with Thai flavors, with chopped peanuts and lime and a ginger dressing? Of course, you can make your salad into a main dish with the addition of some lean protein. Top that fruity salad with a grilled tuna steak seared with lime and cilantro, or add some chunks of chicken breast to that Thai salad.

3) Ratatouille. One of my favorite cooked veggie mixtures. Saute cubed eggplant (tip: the smaller ones are much tastier than the big ones!) and sliced zucchini and/or summer squash in a large frying pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Use medium-high heat so the veggies sear before soaking up the oil! Add any of the following that you have on hand: bell pepper strips (red is my fave), sweet red onion, artichoke hearts, chopped asparagus, halved brussels sprouts, chopped broccoli or cauliflower, Whatever you like, really! Then, when the veggies are getting just crisp-tender and the eggplant is soft, toss in two big handfuls of baby spinach leaves and some cherry tomatos (halved) or grape tomatos, quite a bit of garlic and basil. Delicious! I make this in giant batches & will nibble on it for days.

For those who prefer to follow recipes, I'll add some in later posts, but hopefully this gives you some idea how to combine lots of veggies in fresh and interesting ways with just a little healthy fat and NO simple carbs!