Best Methods for Cooking Veggies While Retaining Nutrients
A common question we get from people learning how to be a vegetarian is how to retain nutrients in vegetables when cooking. It may be a challenge to get enough nutrition eating a meat free diet, and BuddingVeg.com wants you to know how to get the most from the food you eat!
Despite what some people believe, raw vegetables are not always best. Some vegetables are actually made more nutritious by cooking. In many instances, cooking veggies draws out or converts nutrients in vegetables that would otherwise be inaccessible to the body. This is especially true for fibrous foods like root vegetables that need to be broken down a bit to allow the body to absorb the nutrients locked inside.
So, let us take a look at the best methods for cooking veggies and talk about some tips to retain nutrients in vegetables!
How to Cook Veggies by Roasting
Roasting vegetables is a great way to develop flavor using little oil or salt. One of the benefits is that there is no water involved which means that water soluble vitamins such as C and B vitamins tend to stay in the veggie. When roasting vegetables, leave the peel on to maximize nutrition and enhance texture. Scrub well under cool running water to make sure the vegetables are as clean and as free of contaminants as possible.
Basic roasting procedure:
- Scrub veggies well under cool running water.
- Do not peel.
- Chop to uniform size.
- Toss vegetables in good-quality olive oil or favorite cooking oil, herbs, maybe a little salt and pepper.
- Roast at 350°F until the vegetables have softened up and caramelized (browned) a bit. For half-inch chunks, roasting time is usually a little over half an hour.
Best vegetables to roast: Parsnips, Potatoes, Carrots, Brussels Sprouts, Eggplant, Hard Squash, Garlic, Onions, Fennel
How to Cook Veggies by Sautéing
Sautéing is best suited to vegetables that are moderately rigid.
Try to limit cooking time to avoid blasting out the nutrients. While you get a nice result with moderately high heat, you also do not want to overdo it and destroy the integrity of the vegetable.
Use good-quality oil with a high flash point (coconut, peanut, grapeseed, or plain olive oil – not EVOO) or broth as outlined below, the lowest possible temperature, and the shortest amount of time to maximize the nutrition and yumminess of sautéed vegetables.
Basic Sauté Procedure:
- Scrub well under cool running water.
- Do not peel. Slice thin.
- Preheat the pan over medium heat.
- Swirl in a generous drizzle of vegetable stock or favorite cooking oil.
- Drop in the vegetables and toss frequently for the first couple of minutes.
Reduce the heat once the veggies are in the pan. When the heat has brought the sizzle down to a nice soft sound, cover and simmer for a few minutes to cook the vegetables through. If you used broth, try finishing them with a little extra virgin olive oil before removing the vegetables from the pan.
Best veggies for sautéing: Summer Squash, Onions, Garlic, Bell Peppers, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Mushrooms, Green Beans, Eggplant
How to Cook Veggies by Baking
Baking works for all vegetables!
Baking is similar to roasting in that is usually done in the oven, but different because caramelization is not the point. The point of baking is just to make the veggie yummy and enjoyable!
Baked vegetables include a broad range of flavors and preparations; everything from simply jazzed up with olive oil and herbs, buried in cheese, stuffed with deliciousness, or baked in sauce or as part of a “one dish” meal such as ratatouille.
The key point is to not overdo it. Use the lowest temperature possible, 325°F – 350°F will get the job done.
Because there are different ways to bake vegetables, and it changes according to recipe, reference the basic roasting guidelines outlined above. Just remember to take the veggies out of the oven before they are cooked to oblivion!
Best vegetables to bake: Carrots, Onions, Garlic, Peppers, Beans, Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Hard Squash, Summer Squash, Endive, and Root Vegetables.
How to Cook Veggies by Steaming
Steaming works for any vegetable, but especially well-suited for those that have delicate to medium rigidity. Steaming is not ideal for spongy veggies (like eggplant and mushrooms).
Steaming is cooking over, not in, a bath of gently boiling water. Steam breaks down the vegetable gently and let that hold onto the most nutrients.
Some nutrients in vegetables are lost when steaming, primarily those that are water-soluble such as B complex and C Vitamins. Steaming has the added benefit of not requiring any fat. Roasting, baking, and sautéing all require at least a little fat to avoid drying the veggie out. Taste-wise, steamed veggies taste similar to how they do when they are fresh and raw.
Basic steaming procedure:
- Wash the vegetables well under cool running water.
- Do not peel.
- Prepare a pot of boiling water about an inch deep.
- Meanwhile, chop into similarly sized pieces. The smaller the cut, the shorter the cooking time. Season the water with fresh lemon juice, vinegar, salt and/or herbs to enhance flavor.
- Place vegetables in a steaming basket and put steaming basket in the water. Make sure that the water does not touch the vegetables.
- Put a lid on it and steam until they are done. This is often lightning fast – a 3 to 5 minute process.
- Drizzle with high quality extra virgin olive oil or butter and seasonings to taste.
Best veggies to steam: Artichokes, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, Spinach, Kale, Chard, Green Beans, Squash, Cabbage, and Peppers.
How to Cook Veggies in the Microwave
Any vegetable can be cooked in the microwave, Just want to make sure that it is covered and has a little water to prevent it from drying out.
For fibrous foods like artichokes or root vegetables, make sure it is tightly covered, vented, and has enough liquid to last for the entire cooking process, as it takes several minutes. For baked potatoes, stabbed them several times first, then wrap them in plastic wrap after seasoning the skin with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and/or herbs.
The microwave is best suited for steaming or reheating. It is an easy way to prepare frozen veggies
Basic microwave procedure:
- Wash the veggies while under cool running water.
- Cut to uniform size.
- Place in a microwave safe dish, and add a tablespoon or two of water or veggie stock. Use more for foods that are going to take a while – like artichokes.
- Cook for 3 to 6 minutes and adjust cooking time based on your results. Artichokes will take 20 to 30 minutes.
A note on microwave cooking: There is concern that microwaves may destroy nutrients. Microwaves cook food from the inside out, and at a molecular level. Studies on the results of microwave cooking are in conflict, which makes it impossible for us to give accurate advice about whether or not to use the microwave. Ultimately, you must follow your own heart – and do not overcook your vegetables!
To Cook or Not to Cook?
It is best to eat a diet that mixes raw and cooked vegetables. As we mentioned, many vegetables are easier to digest when cooked, which increases the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Just think about a potato. When it is uncooked it is pretty much inedible. When cooked it is incredibly versatile, and your body gets to absorb the vitamin C, potassium and fiber it contains.
The most beneficial veggies to eat raw include tender things such as greens, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, mushrooms, peas, and broccoli. Raw vegetables are packed with beneficial enzymes and vitamins. The beneficial effects of enzymes are magnified when they are activated by catalysts such as raw cider vinegar or fresh citrus juice.
Let’s hear from you about how you are cooking vegetables and what you’re finding works the best for your body. Please leave a comment and let us know !
Image courtesy of Tina Phillips / freedigitalphotos.net