Appetizer · Central American · Italian · Mediterranean · Side dish

How to Eat Your Vegetables

I’ve been thinking a lot about food and improving health, in general. This is a great pastime when I am procrastinating and avoiding my day job, which if I am honest is pretty often. I am sure you are well versed in the benefits of vegetables, so I will spare you. But do consider adding more into your life, because they will make you feel better, and I think returning to basics has been really helpful this year for me, mentally and physically.

I was born in the early 1970’s – a time where convenience and heavily processed food was the norm. This really clashed with how my great grandmothers and grandmothers cooked. Now, we understand the wisdom of eating fresh produce, and food that is in season. But for decades, the idea of microwave or canned food persisted. Do you remember the weird, sadistic trend of disguising vegetables in foods that kids would eat, like brownies?

When I was a kid, I would go to my other friend’s houses, and would always be shocked by the lack of vegetables, or the ones at the table were drowning in velveeta, boiled within an inch of their life, or was simply canned corn thrown in a bowl, like a sad afterthought. The only exception was my neighbors from Taiwan, where beautifully cooked vegetables took center stage. I was fortunate to eat there on a regular basis, because their daughters were close in age to me.

While I don’t want to pass too much judgement (people were busy, it was a different time), I was very lucky to have good practices and habits set in place by family. My rule of thumb when kids were young and I was very busy was to always make sure at least a salad was on the table. Now, I try to have multiple servings and options, especially in spring and summer when vegetables are very fresh. But I do believe that many people aren’t quite sure what to make, or need some inspiration. So I thought it might do some good to list out favorite vegetables side-dishes for you to enjoy and get inspired by. Most of these derive from Italian and Spanish cooking, but the winter vegetables, I picked up from neighbors whose dishes I admired.

Quick and Easy:

  1. Tomatoes & Feta – Heat oven to 350 degrees. Take campari tomatoes or slice a larger fresh tomato and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil & top with feta. Top with a little salt and ground pepper. Cook for 10-12 minutes.
  2. Cucumbers & Feta – peel, deseed and slice two cucumbers. Slice 1/2 small red onion thinly. Add a little salt and pepper. Mix 2 Tbs red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil and some fresh mint leaves. Blend to emusify and drizzle over cucumbers and onions. Add feta or goat cheese. *If you don’t have mint, this is also lovely with fresh basil or oregano.
  3. Quick Caprese – slice tomatoes and top with drizzle of a good olive oil and some basalmic vinegar. Grind a little salt and pepper on top. Add a slice of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil. Top with basalmic glaze, if you have it.
  4. Sliced cucumbers – Peel & Slice 3 peeled cucumbers wafer thin on a mandolin and thin put them in a strainer. Add salt and let it sit in the strainer for 10-20 minutes. Squeeze all moisture out of the cucumbers and place in a bowl with 2 minced cloves of garlic. Add 1 tbs of white vinegar and salt to taste. Dilute with a little water if needed. This is best served chilled.
  5. Curtido This is mostly as a side for pupusas, but we love to use it as an all purpose slaw for barbecue, hot dogs, or crabcakes. I often serve it with fish for some crunch and dimension. We also add chiles, but that is optional.
  6. Grilled zucchini & summer squash – if you have time for the grill, this is fast and easy to put together.

Vegetable Spreads:

  1. Caponata – this is best made ahead and chilled. This is salty, sour, sweet, and decadent, all at the same time.
  2. Pisto Manchego – like Caponata, this is great spread onto a bread. Has roasted flavors & cumin notes.
  3. Roasted Red pepper Dip – this is great with pita and one I used to always bring to the break room.
  4. Romesco – this is probably my favorite staple, and is often in fridge and ready to go for eggs, bread, or fish.

Takes a little time, but worth it:

  1. Greek salad – this is a favorite in our family, and we make it on a weekly basis in summer. We always bring it to cookouts.
  2. Ciambottathis is favorite of our children. They used to call it pizza vegetables, and had no idea they were eating so many vegetables.
  3. Eggplants and honey – you have to soak the eggplants for an hour, but once they are ready. these are quick and easy to make.
  4. Grilled chile-lime corn – Preheat your grill. Partially shuck your corn and remove the corn silk. Put the husks back and dunk in cold water for ten minutes. Shake water off, and rub corn with butter and if you want some spice i.e. chili-lime seasoning or elote seasoning. Place husks back over the cobs, and grill for ten minutes. If you don’t want spice, salt, pepper and paprika will do.

In the winter:

  1. Maple sweet potatoes – this is so delicious in the dead of winter.
  2. Roasted potatoes, brusell sprouts and asparagus I often make this in fall in a large baking sheet.

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