At least once a year -- it should be more often -- I drag a lot of you kicking and screaming toward the idea of eating more vegetables.
I'm not saying you should become vegetarians tomorrow, but it wouldn't hurt going meatless once a week, or just cutting back on the amount of meat you eat. Nationally, there is the Meatless Mondays campaign, but I don't care which day of the week it is if you would all just spend a little more time planning a meal that involves more green and yellow and red and orange stuff. When nutritionists talk about "eating the rainbow," they mean filling your plate with the colors of carrots, yellow squash, tomatoes, spinach, zucchini, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and more.
Not a Quarter Pounder with yellow cheese, red ketchup and a piece of green iceberg lettuce.
Face it, vegetables are really good for us. It's the stuff we're supposed to eat three servings of a day, plus two of fruit. Studies show Americans never even come close to that goal, with generally less than a third of the U.S. adult population eating the five servings daily. They also show that the top excuses for not eating vegetables are: People don't like the way fill-in-the-blank tastes, they don't know how to cook it and they think vegetables have a high cost.
Here's my answer to that: You need the right recipe and an open mind. Plus, if you bought less meat and processed and white food, such as potatoes, pasta and bread products, your budget would have room for vegetables.
If the day ever comes that I am standing in a buffet line and I see someone with a plate piled high with vegetables, I'm going to introduce myself and say, "Let me take your photo because I think you're an endangered species."
This basic recipe for lettuce wraps can be adapted to your tastes with whatever ground meat (or meat substitute) or julienned vegetables you prefer. Look for hoisin sauce near where soy sauce and other Asian condiments are sold in the supermarket.
1 pound ground beef, chicken or turkey
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 cucumber, cut in matchstick-size pieces
2 carrots, cut in matchstick-size pieces
2 tablespoons mint leaves, torn into pieces
8 Boston lettuce leaves
Brown the ground meat in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, breaking up the big pieces into smaller crumbles. When meat is thoroughly cooked, drain off the fat and stir in hoisin sauce and peanut butter. Heat through. Add cucumbers, carrots and mint; toss gently. Serve beef mixture in lettuce leaves. Serves 4.
"Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle" by Michelle May
VEGGIE HASH WITH SUNNYSIDE-UP EGGS AND SIDE SALAD
2 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 mini-bell peppers or 1/3 full-sized sweet bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons snap beans, snipped and chopped
1/2 Yukon gold potato, chopped and par-cooked to soften a bit ahead of time
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup spring mix, torn or chopped
4 to 5 baby tomatoes
1 radish, peeled and grated
2 baby carrots, peeled and grated
Heat a medium-sized saute pan over medium heat. Add bacon to the dry pan. Lower heat and cook bacon for 5 to 10 minutes, rendering the fat.
Add onion to the pan and cook an additional 5 minutes or until the onion is almost translucent. Add the mini-bell peppers, snap beans and pre-cooked potato to the pan. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more and remove from heat. Strain excess bacon fat from the pan.
Just before your hash is done, add olive oil to a second saute pan over medium high heat and coat the bottom of the pan. Crack eggs into the pan and cook, sunnyside-up, approximately 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, as desired.
Combine spring greens, baby tomatoes, grated radish and carrots in a large bowl. Toss with your favorite dressing, or make a light dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and herbs. Serves 1.
This recipe makes enough for one large round baking dish. Depending on whether you serve this as a main course or as a side dish, the recipe can feed between 2 and 4 people.
Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Pinch crushed red pepper flake
1 medium-large zucchini
1 medium-large yellow squash
4 medium tomatoes
1 small Japanese eggplant
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
Note about the vegetables: Be sure to purchase squash, eggplant and tomatoes that are roughly the same size in diameter. They don't have to be perfect, but if you end up with a really skinny zucchini and a fat eggplant, you may have to do some trimming to get the dish to look as nice. Regular bell shaped eggplant are too large, so use of Japanese eggplant, which tend to be more cylindrical.
Asiago or your choice of cheese
Fresh basil, julienned
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.
Once hot, add onions and cook for a minute until they just begin to soften.
Add in half of the chopped garlic and the crushed red pepper flake; season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the vegetables. Lower the heat if you notice the onions are browning too quickly.
While the onions cook, slice the ends off the squash and eggplant, as well as the stems off of the tomatoes and discard. Then, slice each vegetable so that it is about 1/4-inch thick. You can make this more or less thick, but the most important thing is that you make your cuts consistent so the vegetables will all cook evenly. If you make the cuts thinner, keep in mind they can cook faster; thicker, and they will take a bit longer (though the flavor can develop more).
Once the vegetables are prepped, add the tomato paste to onions in the pan. Stir to distribute, until the paste has coated the onions and the mixture is fragrant. Transfer the onion mixture to the bottom of your baking dish; drizzle with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.
Next, begin arranging your sliced vegetables in the dish, alternating by color. You can arrange these in whatever pattern you want. Sprinkle the rest of the garlic over the top of the arranged vegetables, then season the whole thing with salt and pepper and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake 40 minutes to an hour, or until the mixture is very bubbly and the vegetables look tender. Remove the dish from the oven, and turn your broiler to high. Layer shaved or sliced cheese on top of the cooked vegetables, then bake underneath the broiler until the cheese gets bubbly and brown. Let the dish sit for a couple minutes, garnish with freshly chopped basil, and serve.
This is delicious with grilled steaks, roasted chicken, and would also be awesome with pasta or couscous.
Victoria McGinley at vmacandcheese.com
Asian-inspired, this dish is made with minimal amounts of oil and soy sauce. And that lets the green beans shine through. If you're unfamiliar with ginger root, ask at the store and you'll find you can buy just a small piece of it.
If you wish, substitute ground turkey for the pork. Also, invest in a small bottle of sesame oil, which can add amazing flavor to any vegetable dish.
Gingered Green Beans With Ground Pork
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root, finely chopped
8 ounces lean ground pork
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, or more as needed
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce, or more as needed
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Fill a mixing bowl with ice water.
Add the green beans to the pot. Cook for 6 minutes or until the vegetables are tender; drain, then immediately transfer the beans to the ice-water bath to cool for 5 minutes. Drain the beans and spread them out on a clean dish towel to dry.
Meanwhile, heat the vegetable or peanut oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the garlic and the ginger. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 or 7 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to keep the garlic and ginger from browning.
Increase the heat to medium-high; stir in the ground pork to incorporate with the ginger and garlic, breaking up any clumps of meat. Lightly salt the mixture; cook, stirring every minute or so, for 6 to 8 minutes, until the meat is cooked through and lightly browned.
Add the cooked green beans, sesame oil and soy sauce, tossing to incorporate. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, so the green beans are heated through. Taste; add sesame oil and/or soy sauce as needed.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 7 servings, each with 150 calories, 10 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 95 mg sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, special to The Washington Post
This galette takes 30 minutes or so to bake. That's time to check the kids' homework or make a salad or relax with a glass of wine.
The recipe couldn't be simpler, in part because you use frozen squash puree and a store-bought crust. Pizza dough (about 1 pound) could also be used, again from the store or your own hands. Some crispy bacon or crisped cubes of prosciutto would be good mixed into the squash, and you could saute the onions in the fat.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced in thick half-moons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
About 1 package (10 or 12 ounces) cooked frozen butternut squash puree
1 refrigerated pie crust for a 9-inch pie (or equivalent homemade crust)
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
5 fresh sage leaves, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
Freshly ground pepper
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the onion and season with a little salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, thaw the squash in the microwave according to package directions. Mix the squash and cooked onions together right in the skillet. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt or more to taste.
Place the crust on a parchment-lined baking sheet; spread with the squash mixture, leaving a border about 1 1/2 inches wide.
Sprinkle with the blue cheese and sage. Season with plenty of pepper.
Fold the border of the crust over the edge of the filling. It will cover about 1 inch of the filling, leaving the middle exposed.
Bake until the crust is golden brown, 30-35 minutes. Serve warm, sliced into wedges like a pie and accompanied by a green salad.
Makes: 4 servings, each with 322 calories, 20 grams fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 32 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 540 mg sodium, 4 grams fiber.
CRAFT'S ROASTED CAULIFLOWER
1 head cauliflower
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Coarsely chopped smoked almonds, for garnish
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Stem the cauliflower and cut it down into small florets. Place in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil and 1 to 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste, along with several grinds of pepper.
3. Spread the cauliflower onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast until the cauliflower is tender and lightly browned, 35 to 50 minutes.
4. Plate the roasted cauliflower, garnishing each serving with smoked almonds. Serve immediately.
Serves 6, each with 94 calories, 2 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 0 cholesterol,
Noelle Carter, Los Angeles Times
Eggplant is one of those rare vegetables that needs to be well cooked. It can have a bitter taste if undercooked, so make sure it is soft and yielding.
Think of this recipe as a veggie substitute for scalloped potatoes. You can substitute crumbled cornbread, stale garlic bread or panko bread crumbs for the crackers. Shredded Cheddar-Jack blend or Swiss cheese may be used. Though only salt and pepper are traditional, you can add garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes or chopped Italian parsley before baking.
SCALLOPED EGGPLANT CASSEROLE
1 large eggplant (about 4 cups when cubed)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup evaporated milk
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1 1/2 cups crumbled saltine crackers
Pare the eggplant, slice in half to remove seeds and cut flesh into bite-size cubes. Place in saucepan with water to cover, bring to a boil, and cook until partially soft, about 5 minutes. Drain well.
While the eggplant is cooking, heat the oven to 350 degrees, and coat a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Remove half the butter and set aside.
Add the onions to the skillet and saute until transparent. Add the drained eggplant and saute briefly to give the cubes some color. Remove from heat.
Beat the eggs with the evaporated milk and stir into the eggplant mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and fold in about half the cheese and half the crumbs.
Transfer to the prepared pan, and top with remaining cheese. Cover with remaining crumbs, drizzle with reserved melted butter and bake 20 minutes, or until the casserole is heated through and the crumbs are lightly browned.
Makes 6 servings, each with 367 calories, 26 grams fat, 128 mg cholesterol, 11 grams protein, 22.5 grams carbohydrates, 2.5 grams fiber, 472 mg sodium.
Linda Cicero, Miami Herald
This is the vegetarian answer to sloppy joes, made with black beans and mushrooms. Feel free to saute some red or green peppers as well.
VEGGIE SLOPPY JOES
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 cup trimmed and diced mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
3 cups canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup prepared tomato sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Salt and pepper
6 whole-wheat hamburger buns
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and saute until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add mushrooms, cumin and paprika. Stir everything together and allow mushrooms to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add beans, tomato sauce, vinegar, mustard and syrup, and allow to simmer and thicken for about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper if you like.
Toast hamburger buns (to make these sandwiches a bit less sloppy). Spoon a generous amount of bean mixture onto the bottom half of each bun and sprinkle with a good pinch of shredded cheese. Put hamburger lid on top and serve. Serves 6.
"How to Feed a Family" by Laura Keogh & Ceri Marsh (Random House, September 2013, $27.95)