Vegetables

Vegetables

By
Margaret Fulton
Contains
34 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740669269
Photographer
Geoff Lung

At any time of the year, there is always some vegetable at its peak. Use them not only as an accompaniment, but let them take star billing.

For vegetables to be tempting, they must be cooked with care and imagination. Try cooking in a very small amount of stock with a little butter or oil added for flavour and lustre.

Seasonings make the difference to vegetables, especially frozen ones. Fresh herbs added for flavour, browned butter poured over, or toasted almonds sprinkled on for texture contrast, are little touches that make a good cook an outstanding one.

Make an interesting finish with:

Slivered, toasted almonds for beans, broad beans, asparagus, broccoli or brussels sprouts.

Crumbled crisp bacon pieces for carrots, peas, beans or broccoli.

Chopped parsley is good with all vegetables.

Diced roasted capsicum for peas, cauliflower, beans or mixed vegetables.

Crisp buttered breadcrumbs and chopped hard-boiled eggs are delicious with cauliflower and asparagus.

Creamed vegetables make a good dish at any time. Use 1 or 2 varieties. Allow 1 cup béchamel or mornay sauce to 3 cups vegetables to make 4 servings. Add the hot sauce directly to hot vegetables, brown under griller or in oven, or serve sauce separately.

A purée of vegetables is now very easy with today’s electric appliances. There’s the hand-held ‘magic wand’ and the food processors that are designed for small or family-size meals. These machines process, chop, or purée a wide range of foods and are a great help in the kitchen.

Globe artichokes

The leafy bud of a plant of the thistle family, globe artichokes are one of our most elegant vegetables. They can be boiled or braised as in artichokes in wine. To prepare, trim the stalk and outer leaves, cutting the points off each leaf. Cut one-third off the top of the artichoke.

As each is prepared, place in a bowl of cold water into which is squeezed some lemon juice, to prevent discolouring. Artichokes are cooked when a leaf pulls out easily. To eat artichokes, pull off the leaves one at a time, bite on the base and pull the leaf, through your teeth, for the fleshy morsel. When you get through the leaves, remove the fuzzy choke and enjoy the choice base of the artichoke. At the beginning of the season the Italian elongated artichokes are available. They have hardly any choke and, even if they do have, are usually not worth worrying about. They are usually quartered or halved then fried or braised in stock or wine.

Asparagus

The first breath of spring is when asparagus makes its appearance in the greengrocer’s shelves. Special pans for cooking asparagus are available, although a wide, not too shallow, frying pan with a lid is ideal. Take care to wash asparagus thoroughly and snap off the tougher ends.

Beans

There are a great variety of green beans on the market and, with many of these now stringless, they are a vegetable to be enjoyed often. The old snap test is still the best assurance of age and freshness. Top and tail beans (if very young, tails may be left on) and if they have strings, run a knife or vegetable peeler down the sides to remove them. Leave whole or slice thinly into diagonal strips, or snap in half before dropping into boiling, salted water. Cook for 6–8 minutes or until just tender, drain and toss with butter.

Beetroot

Wash beetroot, cut tops off leaving a little stalk. Do not damage skins or tap root. Boil in unsalted water for 30–45 minutes. To bake, wrap in foil and cook in a 180°C oven for 1–1 1/2 hours. Beetroot is as delicious served as a hot vegetable as it is as a salad.

Broad beans

Fresh broad beans, with their large lumpy pods, are usually shelled just before going into the pot. When the beans are large it is necessary to remove the skins after boiling. If the beans are very young, they can be eaten with the skins.

To cook, drop into boiling, salted water and cook until just tender. Drain and add a little butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Broccoli

Choose rich-green florets without any yellow buds. Trim tough ends and peel stems. Make cross-shaped slits in the stalks to speed cooking. Stand the stalks of broccoli upright in a deep saucepan, add 2.5 cm boiling, salted water, cover and cook until stalks are just tender, for 6–8 minutes. Drain well.

Cabbage

Cabbage is one of the least expensive vegetables and it’s also low in kilojoules and high in potassium and vitamin C, amongst other good things. There are so many light and flavourful ways of cooking cabbage. Ideal for stir-frying, braising and steaming, its leaves are also delicious in salads or used to encase savoury fillings.

To cook cabbage, start by removing the tough outer leaves and then quartering the head. Cut away the core and hard centre portions at the base. Using a long sharp knife, shred the leaves into long thin strips. Either steam the cabbage or blanch it in enough boiling, salted water to barely cover. Boil uncovered for 5 minutes, by which time it should be al dente. Drain and add melted butter or olive oil to the saucepan then toss, covered, over a gentle heat until tender. Season with salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

Capsicum (sweet peppers)

Ripe and red, yellow, orange or green, capsicum are like precious jewels when used properly. A simple way to cook capsicum is to halve them, flick out the seeds, remove the ribs and cut the flesh into strips. Fry in a little olive oil, perhaps flavoured with garlic. Season with salt and pepper and serve with grills.

Many recipes call for the capsicum to be skinned. To do so, first char over a gas flame or under a very hot grill, turning all the time. Place in a paper bag and leave to cool. Scrape away the charred skin and rinse lightly in cold water. Halve and remove the seeds and membranes.

Cauliflower

Choose a firm white cauliflower with compact flower clusters. Wash, remove coarse outside leaves, and trim the stalk level with the head. Make a crosswise cut in the stalk. Plunge the cauliflower, stalk down, into boiling, salted water. Cook uncovered until just tender, about 10 minutes. It is cooked when a knife pierces the stems easily. Small florets may be cut off the whole cauliflower in quantities needed and cooked for 6–8 minutes. Serve with melted butter flavoured with lemon juice and pepper. Cauliflower masked with mornay sauce and gratinéed under the grill may be served as a separate vegetable course.

Carrots

Carrots add a marvellous sparkle to meals. Cook them so they still have a bite to them, in a small amount of boiling, salted water, or try them vichy style, evaporating the water so that none of the fabulous flavour is lost. Or try cooking them a similar way but with peas added, or puréeing them with nutty parsnips. These are all great vegetable dishes.

Eggplant

Deep rich purple, slick and glossy, choose smooth firm eggplants with a nice squeak to them like a fresh apple. Avoid extra large ones as they can be watery and lack taste. Salting or blanching eggplant before cooking removes any bitterness and prevents it from drinking up too much oil in frying. Salting is not necessary for very young, fresh eggplant.

Leeks

Leeks make an excellent cooked vegetable. Before cooking, the roots and the green tops must be trimmed off; only the white part and 5 cm or so of the green is worth eating. Leeks usually have a great deal of grit between their leaves at the base of the stalks and they must be washed very thoroughly. They can be halved lengthwise, almost to the centre then washed under running water, while gently spreading their leaves apart to help flush out any grit.

Mushrooms

Fresh mushrooms have a very subtle flavour and must be cooked gently so that they will not shrivel and become dry.

To sauté: Use just enough butter or oil to cover the surface of the pan. A dash of lemon enhances the flavour. Cook over a moderate heat for no longer than 4 minutes to preserve their shape and flavour.

To stew: Heat a little butter in a pan, add the sliced mushrooms and a little cream or stock and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently for 5–8 minutes.

Potatoes

Possibly the best-loved vegetable of all, the potato has been a valuable source of nutrition for centuries.

Sweet potatoes

Light coloured skin and flesh are characteristic of sweet potatoes, while a darker red-brown skin and bright orange flesh are referred to as yams or kumera.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a great standby in the kitchen. They have many uses in providing a quick snack, a first course or a vegetable dish. It pays to buy the best red ripe tomatoes you can find. Tomatoes are best stored at room temperature. Only keep in the refrigerator when they look like going soft.

Zucchini

Zucchini or baby marrows should be about 10 cm long and very firm to the touch. Spongy ones will be bitter. Do not peel, but cut off the stem end. Wash well and slice. Drop into boiling, salted water for 3–5 minutes, until just tender. Drain. Put the saucepan back on the heat, add a little butter and the zucchini slices. Season to taste, toss well and serve. Small baby patty pan or yellow squash may also be cooked this way, though halve if largish.

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