TRAVERSE CITY — Many people have a love-hate relationship with vegetables.
They love them when they’re drenched in butter, gravy or cheese; they hate them otherwise.
That makes eating at least five vegetables a day seem daunting.But vegetables prepared properly and creatively — sans the butter, gravy and cheese — don’t have to be a chore to eat, said Laura McCain, instructor of a class held recently at Northwestern Michigan College. In “The Art of Vegetable Cooking,” she teaches that you can eat healthfully and be excited about it, too.
The chef and Munson Medical Center dietitian shared tricks and techniques for making the most colorful part of our diet easy and delicious in the Feb. 8 class at NMC’s Oleson Center. The traditionally waitlisted class is sponsored periodically by the Health Education Institute, a partnership between the college and the hospital.
“People come because they want to expand their repertoire,” said McCain, who loves both the science and art of cooking. “Everyone knows they should do vegetables, but they get in a rut.”
McCain’s tips for perfect vegetables include not overcooking them, picking the freshest vegetables you can find and cooking them soon after they come home with you, and enhancing their natural beauty and taste instead of drowning them out with too much sauce, manipulation or cooking time.
“The number one mistake people make is overcooking,” said McCain, whose favorite cookbooks for vegetables include “Fields of Greens” by restaurant executive chef Annie Somerville and “Fast @news:Food My Way” @news:and “New Complete Techniques” by celebrity TV chef Jacques Pépin. “And they don’t know about cooking with water.”
For instance, boiling broccoli pieces in about 1/4 cup of salted water with olive oil for three minutes before removing the lid for two minutes helps keep the vegetables green and firm, yet tender and flavorful. Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family, and using this process helps keep the cabbage notes at bay.
“If you’re boiling away your liquid, you’re concentrating the flavor,” McCain said.
Another way to combat the bitter tones of vegetables? Combine them with something savory like broth, pasta, beans or grains to lesson the flavor you don’t like. Or add spices to sweeten the pot.
McCain’s go-to olive-oil-braised carrot recipe not only calls for low-salt chicken or vegetable broth, but employs spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
For a quicker, easier way to enhance the flavor of vegetables, dip them in a healthy sauce.
“One of my favorite sauces is part tomatoes and part roasted red peppers,” said McCain, who simply purées a can of tomato sauce or chunks with a can of roasted red peppers. “We add a little balsamic vinaigrette and that goes on stir-fried veggies.”
Derek Migazzi is all for quick and easy ways to get more vegetables on his family’s table, especially after a long day at work as a physical therapist.
“We seem to do the same things over and over again,” said Migazzi, 33, of Traverse City. “We try to get a lot of color but I don’t know much about technique. Usually we boil or sautée or steam.”
Class partner Mary Cooper has another reason to learn more about cooking vegetables.
“I have rheumatoid arthritis and my rheumatologist suggested I switch to a vegan diet about three months ago,” said Cooper, 64, of Traverse City. “And it worked.”
Cooper said a typical meal may include fresh-cooked carrots and green beans, plus raw celery sticks with peanut butter (rounded out by cooked quinoa, considered a “super grain” because of its excellent nutritional profile).
But if you’re “texture-challenged,” try puréeing your veggies with a stick blender in a recipe like cream of tomato soup, McCain suggests. While some preparation methods can reduce their fiber content, puréed vegetables have as much fiber as fresh.
“French chefs purée everything,” said McCain, whose favorite tomato soup recipe calls for light cream, whole cloves and a bay leaf, along with chicken stock, bacon, baby carrots, celery, onion and garlic.
Kristal Nolf and Sherry Trier will try anything to get their families to eat vegetables. That’s one of the reasons the friends and NMC colleagues decided to take the class, a prize in the college’s wellness “Olympics.”
“We’re trying to be healthier and lose weight,” said Nolf, 38, of Buckley, who loves vegetables but hasn’t yet convinced her family to go along.
“My problem is I don’t know how to do vegetables, frankly,” said Trier, 43, of Traverse City. “I wanted to learn how I can do vegetables my husband will eat.”
Olive-Oil-Braised Carrots with Warm Spices
1-1/2 lbs. carrots (about 10 small), peeled and halved lengthwise (if large, quartered lengthwise)
3 medium cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 c. lower-salt chicken or vegetable broth
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cayenne
Heat a medium sized sauté pan with the olive oil. When shimmering, add the garlic and spices. After about 1 minute, add the carrots and let sear for another 2-3 minutes. Add the broth and cover for 3 minutes. Uncover the sauté pan and continue to braise until almost all of the liquid has boiled away and the carrots look a little shiny, about 5 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.
—@news: Modified by Tamar Adler from “Fine Cooking”
Chickpea and Tuna Salad
1 medium ripe plum tomato
1 14-oz. can cooked chickpeas, drained
5-oz. shallot, peeled and minced
2 medium ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into small cubes
1/2 cucumber, peeled and cut into small cubes
Sea salt to taste
2 T. Spanish extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for garnish
1 T. sherry vinegar
1 9.15-oz. can atun claro (tuna packed in olive oil)
Grate one tomato to create a tomato puree. Set aside. In a bowl, combine the chickpeas, shallots, tomato, pepper, cucumber, olive oil and vinegar. Toss. Season with the sea salt. Spread grated tomato on the base of each plate. Top with the chickpea mixture. Remove chunks of the tuna from the can and place over top of the salad. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve. Makes 2 servings.
—@news: José Andres, “The Today Show”
1 bunch broccoli (about 1 1/4 lbs.)
1/4 c. water
2 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
Cut the broccoli florets off the stems and divide the florets into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces. Peel the skin from the stems with a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler. Cut the peeled stems into 1 inch pieces. Put the broccoli into a stainless steel skillet and add the water, oil and salt. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, over high heat for about 3 minutes. Remove the cover and cook over high heat for about 2 minutes, or until the water is gone and the broccoli is glazed and tender but still firm. Serve. Makes 4 servings.
—@news: Chef Jacques Pépin
Sesame Green Beans
1 T. olive oil or part sesame oil
1 T. sesame seeds
1 lb. fresh green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/4 c. chicken broth or water
1/4 t. salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add sesame seeds. When seeds start to darken, stir in green beans. Cook, stirring, until the beans turn bright green. Pour in chicken broth, salt and pepper. Cover and cook until beans are tender-crisp, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook until liquid evaporates.
Fresh Cream of Tomato Soup
3 medium slices bacon, raw
6 large baby carrots
1 c. celery, diced
1 c. white onions, chopped
2 T. fresh garlic cloves
.33 c. unbleached white flour
6 c. chicken stock (like “Better Than Bouillon” reconstituted chicken base)
1 29-oz. can tomato puree, without salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. crumbled bay leaf
1 or 2 whole cloves
1 c. light cream
Render the bacon. Add carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Cook about 8-10 minutes. Add flour and blend well to make a roux. Cook about 3 to 4 minutes. Add stock and blend. Add tomatoes, pepper, bay leaf and clove(s). Simmer 30 to 45 minutes. Puree with immersion blender. Add hot cream into the soup. Adjust seasonings, if necessary. Makes 8 servings.
—@news: Laura McCain