I never met a vegetable I didn’t like. Of course, it took me a while to realize this. Like a lot of people, I grew up fed on mushy Brussels sprouts, canned spinach and revolting beetroot salads, as well as other nameless horrors served in truck drivers’ cafes and as school meals. Only when I began to make vegetable juices, exuberant salads and cook my own vegetables did I discover just how delicious vegetables can be in their many incarnations. For a long time, cooked vegetables have had a bad rap. Some of this is the result of our not being able to buy an abundance of good quality organic vegetables. As a result, most of us have come to think of vegetables as flavorless things which everyone knows you’re supposed to eat because they’re good for you, but nobody can face them. When vegetables are cooked properly, they have a marvelous flavor of their own.
LIFE FORCE CAN BE YOURS
From the humble turnip to the leaves of radiccio, vegetables are superb sources of light energy form the sun—the same light from which your living body is made. Their beauty is the beauty of life force itself. When they have been grown in healthy soils and eaten either raw or with as little cooking as possible, this energy becomes your energy—an energy which can’t be measured in chemical terms but its potential for enhancing health exceeds even that of phytonutrients themselves. Steam vegetables, stir-fry them, bake them, purée them, eat them raw—however you go, vegetables are not only one of the most important food groups in relation to health; they are some of the most delicious.
Low in calories and riddled with fiber, certified organic vegetables are rich sources of antioxidants from Vitamins C, E and phytochemicals, helping to protect against the free-radical damage that produces degeneration and rapid aging. Not long ago at Tufts University, scientists developed a method of determining the anti-oxidant power of specific fruits and vegetables by measuring their ability to quench free radicals in a laboratory test tube. We can now test a food’s oxygen radical absorbance capacity. Using the ORAC test, we can categorize a fruit or vegetable according to its overall anti-oxidant power. Fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are at the top of the list, along with vegetables like kale and spinach, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. The antioxidant capacities of a high ORAC fruit or vegetable goes way beyond its vitamin and mineral content.
COLOR ME RADIANT
By now independent researchers have identified hundreds of health-enhancing phytochemicals to inhibit blood clotting, balance cholesterol, detoxify the body of wastes and poisons, reduce inflammation and allergies and even slow the proliferation of cancer cells. These amazing nutraceuticals, work synergistically. This means that the wider the variety of low-sugar fruits and non-starchy vegetables you eat, the greater will be the protective health-enhancing benefits you. Eat more spinach and leafy greens such as silver beet, kale or collards, and you tap into a rich supply of the carotenoids, zeaxanthin and lutein to help protect your eyes and brain from degeneration. In an interesting study of 356 older people reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that eating good quantities of these leafy green vegetables—the equivalent of a large spinach salad each day—reduced their risk of macular degeneration by 43%. (This is the age-related retinal disease that has you holding a menu three feet away from you in order to read it.)
SIGN OF THE CROSS
I always think the word “cruciferous” sounds like some kind of a crunchy salad. In fact it is used to identify vegetables, including the brassicas, which get their name from the fact that they carry cross-shaped flower petals. These same vegetables—including bok choy, mustard greens, collards, turnips, swedes, broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower, boast high levels of all sorts of phytochemicals and vitamins, plus special kinds of precious fiber. For a start, they are rich in indoles, especially indole-3-carbinol, which has the remarkable ability to increase your body’s production of detoxifying enzymes. This is one of the reasons why women who eat a lot of the crucifers—four or more times a week— have a very low incidence of cancer of the breast and of the ovaries. Indole-3-carbinol, and probably other plant factors too, in cruciferous vegetables both help clear the body of the forms of estrogen that have a negative effect on it, as well as dramatically decreasing the body’s production of these forms of estrogen. But beware: indoles are highly heat-sensitive. To get the best from them both in flavor and in their health-boosting powers, it is best to eat them raw, lightly steamed or wok-fried.
PROTECT YOUR DNA
Another study from the Journal of Neuroscience reported that eating a good portion of spinach each day delayed the onset of age-related memory loss. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts, rich in sulforaphane and indoles, protect DNA from damage. Scientists estimate that each of the 60 trillion cells in the human body, each one suffers 10,000 free radical “hits” each day. And this is on the increase as a result of increasing chemicals in our environment. Phytonutrients help protect us from oxidation damage. Eating large quantities of fresh organically grown vegetables is breakthrough stuff when it comes to establishing radiant health. So make friends with the colorful vegetable kingdom. Build your daily meals around them by eating salads, by drinking juices, by cooking them in ways that preserve as much of their innate life-enhancing abilities as possible.
So much for the technical stuff. Now, let me share with you a few of my favorite vegetable recipes. Try them and see what you think:
I’ve never been able to figure out why the most common puréed vegetable is mashed potatoes, when there are so many other vegetables, like beetroot, swede, spinach, beans, carrots, and celeriac, which purée equally well. The secret of great vegetable purée lies in what you add to it. You can either cook the vegetables and purée them on their own, or you can mix them together to make bright-colored complements for fish, poultry and meat dishes.
One of my favorites is celeriac, which I think goes beautifully with any kind of game or fish. Carrots too make a wonderful purée, as does spinach. Even beetroot, which I think tastes ghastly in its normal boiled form, brings wonderful color and flavor to a meal when puréed and seasoned properly.
What You Need
- 450g of root vegetables
- 1/2–3/4 cup of organic, sugar free coconut milk
- 75g of butter
- 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable bouillon powder
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped (optional)
- 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
- A handful of raw cashew nuts
- Sea or Himalayan salt
- Freshly-ground black pepper
Cut off the top and bottom of the vegetables and wash thoroughly, but do not peel, as much of the nutritional value in vegetables is in the skin itself. Slice each vegetable about 1/4 inch thick and cut each slice into 4–8 pieces. Place them in an electric steamer or a steamer pan over boiling water. Steam for 15–20 minutes until they grow tender. Put the cooked vegetables into a food processor or blender. Add the butter, garlic, vegetable bouillon powder, parsley and cashews and blend, adding enough coconut milk to give your purée the consistency you want. This usually takes about 2–3 minutes. Taste and season accordingly.
You can make these purées the day before and then gently reheat them with a knob of butter on top.
A member of the lily family, asparagus was used by the ancient Greeks to treat kidney and liver troubles. It's one of the best natural remedies for PMS-related bloating and a top source of folic acid, the antioxidant glutathione and vitamin C. Not only does asparagus appear in early spring with a very short growing season—which makes it seem ultra-desirable—it is another powerfully healing vegetable. Asparagus has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a remedy against indigestion. When researchers compared the therapeutic effect of asparagus with a commonly used drug in the prevention of nausea, hiatus hernia, heartburn and gastric acid reflux, they found that asparagus was just as effective as the common drug remedy, yet had no side effects. Asparagus also has great diuretic properties. It stimulates the digestion and has long been used to alleviate rheumatism and arthritis. And it has sedative properties.
When shopping for asparagus, look for bright green, straight, fresh-looking spears with compact tips. Stay away from the woody, stringy or streaked spears and those with spreading tips. These are sure signs that they're not really fresh. Bring the asparagus home and rinse it in cold water. You can use raw asparagus in salads by cutting it into 1/2" pieces, and also as crudités with dips. But the thinner asparagus is better for this. And it must be very fresh and crunchy if you're not going to cook it. Because the tips of asparagus cook much faster than the tails, it's a good idea to steam it in a tall, lidded pan designed specially for that purpose: but don't worry if you don't happen to have one. I like to serve steamed asparagus with wedges of lemon and shaved Parmesan, plus a little garlic salt and pepper. You can also use homemade dips, pestos or mayonnaise including aïoli and serve asparagus hot or cold.
serves 4 to 6
I love baked asparagus. This recipe makes a great starter to a formal meal, but I like to eat it on its own as a meal in itself.
What You Need
- 3 dozen organic asparagus spears, trimmed and peeled if necessary
- 2–6 tablespoons of melted butter
- Sea salt or Himalayan Salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste
- 1 lemon, divided into 6 wedges
Place the asparagus side by side in a flat, rectangular baking dish and drizzle wipe with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid or with foil. Then bake at 225ºC (430ºF, Gas Mark 7) for 20–30 minutes, depending upon the thickness of the asparagus – that is until the spears are browned and tender. Add a little extra melted butter just before serving if it is needed, and a wedge of lemon to each plate. This can be served warm or cold.
snow pea AND ALMOND STIR FRY
A great combination of crunchy almonds and delicate green mange tout, or snow peas.
What You Need
- 250g of snow peas
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil or boiled-down soup stock
- 50g of almond slivers, toasted or raw
- 125g of mushrooms
- 1 teaspoon of tamari
- 1” finger of fresh ginger, shredded fine
Top and tail the snow peas. Heat the oil or boiled-down stock in a wok or large frying pan. When hot, add the almonds and ginger and stir fry for 3–5 minutes. Now add the remaining ingredients and continue to stir fry for another 2–3 minutes. Serve immediately.
Other Ways to Go
Great candidates for stir frying include Chinese cabbage with cashews, sprouts with tofu, carrots with fresh parsley, cabbage and onions.
Do try some of my favorite recipes and let me know how you get on with them. Also, please let me know if you have any other of your own wonderful vegetable recipes you want to share with us.