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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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September 12, 2017

8 Tips for Cooking Vegetables

By Mark Sisson
18 Comments

Roasted fruits and vegetables on wooden tableThis spring when I asked what nutrition topics folks would be interested in reading about on the blog, the subject of vegetables came up repeatedly. Specifically, several readers wanted more ideas for how to cook them—with a mind to preserving (or enhancing) both nutrition and taste. As much as I love my big-ass salads, I get it. Sometimes you need to mix it up, and moving toward the cooler seasons only underscores the point.

With that in mind, let me offer a few points that help folks have their vegetables and a hot meal, too. See what you think and if it might offer some ideas for this week’s Primal dinners.

Don’t Overcrowd the Skillet

Almost any vegetable can be prepared by slicing the vegetable thinly, heating oil in a pan over medium-high heat, and then sautéing it until tender. Add a little garlic if you like, and finish with sea salt. Easy, right? However, if you want the sautéed vegetables to be genuinely tasty instead of mediocre, here’s the trick you need to know: Don’t overcrowd the skillet.

Use a wide skillet and only sauté a single layer of vegetables at a time. Vegetables release water as they cook, especially softer vegetables like zucchini and mushrooms. If you put too many veggies in a pan at once, they’ll steam and turn to mush in their own liquid instead of sautéing to golden brown.

The same goes for roasting vegetables. Don’t pile vegetables on a sheet pan. Spread them out evenly in a single layer. Take the plunge and buy another sheet pan so you can make more at a time.

Try Roasting

If you’re not in the mood for a big pot of “clean out the fridge soup” then the easiest way to use up vegetables is roasting. Make a habit of roasting a sheet pan’s worth every week, using any vegetables that are past their salad prime. Roasted vegetables are a delicious side dish for any meal, and they’re great added to any Big-Ass Salad you pack for lunch the next day.

Here’s the best way I’ve found to roast veggies:

Peel if needed, then cut all the vegetables into pieces that are basically the same size so they’ll cook at the same rate. Group the vegetables by texture and/or type, so that shorter cooking veggies are on one sheet pan and longer cooking veggies are on another. (For example, root vegetables, squash and potatoes can be grouped together, and cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts can be grouped together, and onions, zucchini and bell peppers can be grouped together.)

Coat the veggies generously with avocado oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (or your favorite spice blend). I like fresh rosemary, but I use a lot of herbs depending on my mood.

Spread the vegetables out evenly in one layer on a sheet pan, with a little room to spare. Don’t overcrowd the sheet pan. (For easier cleanup, line the sheet pan with parchment paper first.)

Roast in the oven at 425º F for 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the type of vegetable. Veggies are done when they can be easily pierced with a fork and are lightly browned on the edges.

Mix the vegetables only once or twice while they roast. Use a rimmed baking sheet, so the veggies don’t fall off the pan when you mix them.

Better Steaming

Simple and quick, steaming vegetables is perfect for busy weeknights. The great risk with steaming is sogginess (unfortunately how most of us think of steamed vegetables), so always set a timer. Stop steaming the veggies before they’re completely soft; they’re done when still slightly firm in the center. Most veggies take 5 to 10 minutes. Harder ones like sweet potatoes, carrots and squash steam in 10 to 20 minutes. For the best results, steam different types of vegetables separately.

A collapsible steamer basket is an inexpensive kitchen investment, and most rice cookers and Instant Pots have a steamer tray. Or, if you have one, use the microwave. Put cut-up vegetables in a bowl, add about 3 tablespoons water, and cover the bowl with a plate. Cook 2 ½ minutes, then check for doneness. Be careful of hot steam when removing the plate. Or, try this method of microwave steaming with wet paper towels.

Hands down, the most delicious way to flavor piping hot steamed vegetables is a generous pat of salted pastured butter. Once chilled, steamed veggies are a convenient add-in for salads, and also great dipped in Primal Kitchen® Mayo or dressings.

Grilling Isn’t Just for Meat

If you’re firing up the grill for meat, it makes sense to cook the entire meal on the grill. From zucchini to sweet potatoes (and even kale), vegetables are amazing with the smoky flavor and charred edges that only a grill can impart. It’s true that some vegetables are easier to grill than others, but with a few tips, you can expertly grill almost anything non-animal.

Heat-stable oil and salt should always be used, lightly coating the vegetables before grilling, then pouring on more oil and salt when the veggies are done. For even more flavor, marinate veggies in vinaigrette before grilling, or drizzle vinaigrette over warm, grilled vegetables.

Softer vegetables, like mushrooms, zucchini, onions and bell peppers are easy: Cut into smallish chunks and skewer, or cut into long, wide pieces that won’t fall through the grates. Grill until tender and lightly charred.

The easiest way to grill hard vegetables is to give them a head start. Firm vegetables can be brined before grilling. Or, simply parboil the vegetables before grilling. Potatoes (regular and sweet), carrots, beets and other root vegetables can be cut into medium bite-sized pieces and boiled in water until just barely tender. Drain the vegetables, toss with oil and salt, then finish on the grill to char the veggies and cook to full tenderness.

Stalks of kale and Swiss chard, even wedges of Romaine lettuce, can be transformed on the grill into smoky, charred versions of their raw selves. Coat lightly in oil and salt, and grill the leaves 4 to 6 minutes (leaves can be ripped from the stalks before or after grilling)

For the least amount of fuss, place single layers of thinly sliced vegetables on a large, lightly oiled piece of foil, then fold the foil around the vegetables like a loose packet. Grill the packet 8 to 12 minutes for quicker cooking vegetables, and 12 to 15 minutes for things like potatoes and onions.

Cooking Dark, Leafy Greens

This doesn’t just mean kale, Swiss chard, and collards. Radish leaves, beet greens, turnip leaves…they’re all edible. As mentioned above, greens can be grilled, but sautéing is the most common cooking method.

Sautéing is easy. Greens + oil + garlic is all you need. The challenge is coaxing greens into tenderness so you don’t end up with a pile of chewy leaves.

Try this technique: Tear the leaves off the stems. Stack the raw leaves in a pile, roll the pile up, and use a large knife to slice the leaves into thin ribbons. Heat olive oil and garlic over medium, then add the sliced greens by the handful, until it all fits in the skillet. Add 1/3 cup stock, water, or coconut milk. Turn heat up to medium-high and cover. Cook 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the lid and cook 2 to 3 minutes more until the liquid has evaporated.

Frozen Greens and Flavor Cubes

Despite good intentions to eat more greens, who among us hasn’t thrown away a limp bunch of kale after ignoring it all week? What about a soggy bag of baby spinach?

Instead of wasting greens, blend them. Put handfuls of greens in the blender. Add a little water or coconut milk if necessary (to keep the blender moving) until the greens are pureed into a smooth consistency. Pour into an ice cube tray. Freeze, then remove and store cubes in a sealed plastic bag. Throw frozen green cubes into smoothies, soups, stews, and chili.

For savory flavor cubes try this:

  • 3 handfuls loosely packed herb leaves (mix herbs like basil, cilantro and parsley, or just choose one herb)
  • 3 handfuls baby spinach or other chopped green
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger (optional)

Combine herbs, greens, garlic and ginger in a blender until smooth, adding a little water or chicken stock as necessary, again, to keep the blender moving. Pour the puree into an ice cube tray. Freeze, then remove flavor cubes and store in a sealed plastic bag. Instantly add flavor to your meal by melting frozen flavor cubes in a hot skillet of sautéed vegetables or meat, or melt a flavor cube into a bowl of hot cauliflower rice or soup.

Using Frozen Vegetables

Fresh, seasonal produce is best, but when it comes to convenience, frozen vegetables are a part of modern life, especially if you’re looking to do Primal on a budget. They don’t need to be washed, sliced, or prepped, and they cook in a matter of minutes. The importance of convenience can’t be underestimated. If keeping frozen veggies on hand means you eat more veggies, then stock up the freezer.

Frozen vegetables are usually picked at peak ripeness and flash frozen, preserving all the nutrients. The best way to cook frozen vegetables is to steam, microwave, or simmer them for just a few minutes. For soups and stews, add frozen vegetables straight from the freezer in the last minutes of cooking.

Making Vegetable Stock

Dedicated makers of vegetable stock keep a gallon Ziploc bag in the freezer and fill it throughout the month with veggie scraps from cooking (stems from greens, nubs of carrot, celery, onion, etc.) The rest of us can simply scavenge the crisper drawer for veggies about to turn bad.

Throw veggie odds and ends into a stock pot. Any mix of veggies will do, just make sure you’ve included 1 onion (quartered), 6 garlic cloves, a few stalks of carrot and/or celery, and a handful of fresh herbs (leaves and stems). Cover with water, sprinkle in salt, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and partially cover. Simmer 1 to 2 hours. Drain and discard solids. Add salt to taste. There you go….

Now let me turn it over to you all. Got some cooking tips or favorite vegetable recipes to share? Let’s hear ’em! Thanks for stopping by, everybody.

TAGS:  cooking tips

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18 Comments on "8 Tips for Cooking Vegetables"

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Shary
Shary
11 days 23 hours ago
This is good info for all of us, particularly people who are trying to eat more cooked vegetables. I grew up with veggies and love them fixed a variety of ways, but a lot of people have had bad vegetable experiences. Roasting is easy and a great way to get the most flavor out of any vegetable. The only thing I would add to this list of tips is that some vegetables (string beans and asparagus come to mind) aren’t very good raw and need to be cooked until fork-tender to bring out the natural flavor and sweetness. Also, spinach… Read more »
Elizabeth Resnick
11 days 22 hours ago
Great tips! Roasting is my fave…the veggies have great flavor and it’s so easy. And I always use avocado oil since I like the taste and know it makes the nutrients more bioavailable. When I cook dark, leafy greens, especially kale, I start with oil and garlic. But once the greens soften a little I love to add some bone broth (I call this no-fail kale) for flavor and extra minerals. One of my best veggie tips is to always prepare more than you need. Having leftover veggies in the fridge makes it so easy to throw together a quick… Read more »
Zoltan
Zoltan
10 days 5 hours ago

When it comes to Tuscan kale (cavolo nero in Italian), I simply wash and dry them, tear them into bite-sized pieces, and shallow-fry them in olive oil, making sure the oil is hot enough for the kale to crispen up rather than to cook, and then coat the resulting “kale chips” with garlic paste.

Sylvie
Sylvie
11 days 22 hours ago

Thanks for this, Mark, I’ve been in a rut and this gives me some new ideas.

My go-to favorite: sauteed veggies in coconut oil with coconut aminos added about halfway through. I’ll mix up sliced carrots/beets/snow peas/mushrooms/broccoli/whatever else is on hand, starting with the root veggies and then adding the rest after a couple of minutes. I might throw in Swiss chard or spinach toward the end also. It’s a fast cook and I eat it constantly. Which is why I also need some new ideas! :>)

NaturalGirl
NaturalGirl
11 days 21 hours ago

Sauteed veggies in coconut oil sounds delicious. Sylvie thanks for the added veggie tip. Great to have some options. I roast all my veggies with just a little olive oil and season to taste. Always a fun way to cook!

Keith
Keith
11 days 16 hours ago

I have fallen in love with sauteing fresh green beans whole. Tonight had a big old grass fed burger on over a salad of red onions, cucumbers and hydroponic green leaf lettuce. The whole thing was topped with long, browned green beans done in the same pan with the burger and a little olive oil with a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar.

My morning scrambled eggs are usually mixed with green onions and mushrooms thrown in with the butter first.

Katie
11 days 13 hours ago

I love to steam a head of broccoli or cauliflower and then turn it into a dip for more veggies! One of my favorite tricks is to food process tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, garlic and cumin with a head of steamed broccoli or cauliflower to make legume free hummus. It’s sooooo good.

Time Traveler
Time Traveler
11 days 5 hours ago

Tip: Start by tossing whatever vegetables you’re using, in a dry skillet and add the oil (coconut or butter) towards the end. This method crisps the veggies and allows the sugars to caramelize and brown them nicely (Millard reaction) and cuts down on splatter and cleaning. Great for mushrooms in particular, as they very spongy and known to soak up liquids/fats.

Starmice
Starmice
11 days 1 hour ago
I had blackened broccoli at a restaurant and liked it so much I got them to give me the recipe – heat a pan in the oven at 500 until super hot; meanwhile cut up broccoli into florets – include part of the stem too if you like. Toss with olive oil, garlic, salt pepper and fresh lemon squeeze. Roast in oven for 5 minutes until blackened, turn and roast for another 5. Broccoli should still be slightly crisp. Dip in tahini and eat! Also, zoodles! I do them a day ahead – make zoodles from zucchini with a julienne… Read more »
2Rae
2Rae
10 days 18 hours ago

OOooo I haven’t heard about how to get rid of the excess juices from zoodles! Thanks for the tip. I will try that ASAP! I have some fresh, delish, spaghetti sauce waiting in the fridge now.

Rambler
Rambler
9 days 23 hours ago
I never really could get into zoodles…. BUT… I experimented one time by noodle-izing a carrot and using that for my spaghetti. It was fantastic!! Just use a veggie noodle maker or julienne slice, then steam or sauté until tender and add spaghetti sauce (in which you can also easily hide additional veggies like chopped up greens or squash). It doesn’t have the water problem that zoodles do and the flavor is so mild you won’t even notice it. Do keep in mind that they shrink when you cook them, so make more than you think you need.
Cody
Cody
10 days 22 hours ago

1) Make a vegetable curry. Dump any combo (I’ve been using frozen vegetables for this) in a slow cooker, add your favourite curry and let the flavours blend. Store in containers and there’s a few days’ worth of great side dishes.

2) Make a pouch out of foil. Add any combination of fresh vegetables (onion, zucchini, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, bok choy, etc. etc.) cut into smaller pieces, liberally cover with your favourite oil/herbs/spices. Close pouch and toss on the grill or in the oven. Probably the best side dish (for me) when barbecuing.

Brenda
Brenda
10 days 9 hours ago

When roasting a tray of veggies, add whole cloves of garlic! Also, both chopped fennel and a couple tablespoons of fennel seeds take it over the top!

Zoltan
Zoltan
10 days 5 hours ago

Let us not forget about stuffed vegetables and casseroles.
And of course there are all sorts of soups and stews which allow you to get all the minerals “lost” to the cooking liquid – because you also eat the cooking liquid.
Vegetable stock is not your only option to achieve that.

Ellen
Ellen
10 days 1 hour ago

Love these ideas. Another tip: my husband bought an air fryer which I thought would just take up space but turns out I love it, and it works great for vegetables. I toss green beans (frozen works fine) in oil with a little salt and in 10 minutes I have green beans that remind me of the fried green beans you get in Chinese restaurants. Asparagus is great that way too.

I also like veggies tossed in pesto I get at Costco. Has a little dairy but works for me.

Prin
Prin
9 days 6 hours ago

I am kind of shocked you include microwaving anything as an option.

Zoltan
Zoltan
2 days 22 hours ago

Why?

Jack Kennard
8 days 23 hours ago

There are so many ways to cook veggies and some are healthier steamed and some better sauteed. And when I’m too lazy to cook, yes there’s cup broth to hit the spot. Thanks Mike

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