Wake up the sleeping princess on your plate…
Vegetables are the mainstay of a healthy diet. While much of the nutrition research is contradictory, to say the least (‘coffee is good for you’; ‘no, coffee is bad for your heart’; ‘milk counts as part of your liquid intake’; ‘no, it doesn’t), the one thing all researchers agree on is that veggies are where you’ll find all the vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, phyto-estrogens, anti-cancer components etc. necessary for our health. You won’t find any study claiming that vegetables are seriously bad for you!
Surprising then that vegetables tend to be the group of foods least eaten by most of the population. Prior to a consultation I always read my clients’ food journal, where they specify their daily food intake over a few days. Rare is the client for whom vegetables top the list of daily foods, or even come anywhere near the bottom third. What a gap between what’d good for us and what we actually eat every day all day!
If this gap is due to the perception that vegetables are boring and tasteless, then the following tips will help you move away from this antiquated notion, coming from the days when veg was cooked in water till death, then dumped on the plate, colour- and life-less. Eat your veg raw or cook it till just done, not a second more. Then use one of the ideas below – or a few of them together – to jazz up your plate of goodness.
- Herbs - fresh chopped herbs pack so much flavour, they’ll immediately liven up any dish, and they pair beautifully with their close relatives, the veggies of this world. Use any that you like. Fresh is best though some herbs retain their flavour well also when dried (e.g. thyme, marjoram, rosemary), if not too old. Choose from basil, parsley, coriander, mint, dill, chervil, chives, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon or thyme – or their many varieties. Grow them in your garden or in pots on the windowsill for immediate availability all year round.
- Spices – Simply adding a new spice to a basic dish changes its look, feel and taste completely. Curry powder, ground cumin, ground coriander and chilli flakes are among the spices which can lift a common dish to a brand new level. Ras-el-hanouth (Moroccan spice mixture) is especially good at doing just this.
- Citrus peel – grated citrus peel looks elegant (if shaved on top) and tastes terrific in almost anything. Lemon and orange zest livens up all veggies, although lime is the king of citrus peels, transporting you to Asia with the first whiff. Use a high quality grater (I love my Microplane) and preferably grate organic citrus fruit, as they’re not waxed. Wax isn’t such a great flavouring agent…
- Soy Sauce - soy sauce is a natural flavour enhancer, which means it adds that extra mouthfeel to the foods it’s added to. A little goes a long way, as soy sauce is high on the salty scale. Only ever choose high quality soy sauce, like organic Tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) or Shoyu, which are fermented much longer than the commercial varieties and are therefore halthier and has much deeper flavour. Of the commercial varieties Kikkoman is best. Sweet soy sauce (ketsjap manis) is another good one to have on hand.
- Nuts – the healthy fats in nuts add a touch of richness and palate flavour. Nuts come in a variety of colours and flavours, and are crunchy, which jazzes up the texture of any dish. Use raw nuts; serve them chopped or sliced rather than whole (this way just a few nuts go a long way); and sprinkle a few extra on top, for good looks.
- Seeds - the truth about nuts (see above) is also the truth about seeds, except use your seeds whole, or you’ll be spending days chopping them. Think pumpkin, sunflower, linseed (flax), pine nuts, sesame (white and black) and – for a superb and less usual touch – poppy seeds. Seeds are a power-house of health!
- Garlic and ginger - these two flavouring agents are a match made in heaven. As the Asians know well, they’ll give a kick to any old dish. Grate some raw garlic and ginger on top of your veggie dish and moisten with a bit of fab tasting olive oil. If this is too sharp for you, slice or chop them very finely and fry quickly in a bit of oil, butter or ghee (30 seconds – 1 minute to avoid burning), then pour over your veg. Superb.
- Oils - slippery issue, as so many people try to avoid oils when attempting to lose weight. Well, we all need good quality oils and fats, even those of us trying to lose weight. So limit the quantities (1/2 tablespoon of raw, organic, unheated oil for those on a diet; more generously for those who are not) and go for the best quality you can. I use organic oils exclusively – with such an important thing to health as fat there’s every point in investing money in the best possible products. Choose from extra virgin olive oil, hazelnut, walnut (fantastic), pumpkin seed, argan and sesame for lovely flavours. Naturally flavoured olive oil, e.g. with basil or lemon flavour, is also a great one to keep on hand. Roasted sesame oil, though not especially healthy is a fantastic aromatic, and a couple of drops are enough to give your dish an irresistible aroma.
- Vinegars – usually I am not a fan of extra acidic vinegars, but some of them brighten veggies very nicely. A seriously good balsamic vinegar (the longer it has been cured, the better) is one example, as is white balsamic vinegar. Raspberry vinegar is also lovely – go for a high quality bottle, not a cheap and nasty one.
- Cheese – make little go a long way. 25g per person of finely chopped, crumbled or shaved real parmesan or goat’s feta are enough to lift up a veg plate from boring to utterly delicious. Any good cheese would do the same, these two are simply easier to digest. Go for organic cheese anytime.