Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Ways to happily eat more vegetables. 3 days into Dry July, I reflect.


In my line of work, I advise people about healthy habits on a(n almost) daily basis, I figure I need to practice what I preach. I have thought this for most of my career, after spending my Intern year getting many of my meals from vending machines. So, though I might fall short of the mark myself, I always have my own health at the back of my mind, and I do try.

The whole eat well and exercise thing is not controversial - all experts agree on this. They might quibble about exactly what food and what exercise is best, but the basic premise remains.

One thing that all health practitioners agree on though is that most of us need to eat more veggies. No, not potatoes, nor really sweet potatoes, they are, as far as I am concerned, in the same group as bread and pasta - yummy and full of carbs.

[I am not talking against Potatoes, I have never met a potato I didn't like.] 

Pretty much every other vegetable has the following qualities
  • full of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals)
  • full of fibre
  • minimal calories
The problem is, with the exception of onion, garlic (herbs) and pumpkin, on their own, they are not intrinsically tasty. Mish Bridges and her ilk would have you steaming them and eating them en masse and telling you that you HAD BETTER LOVE IT, I like the French approach. They eat lots of veggies, but make them tasty. This is what I try to do. 

Here are a few ideas

Baby spinach
  • I am not a big fan of spinach, but know it is good for me. Whizzed up in a food processor, a big bag shrinks into a small volume of unadulterated goodness. It can be added to spag bol (where it looks like basil), soups, casseroles, pretty much any hot meal.
  • Spinach can go into a smoothie quite well, it gives the smoothie a greenish tinge (hidden well by frozen/ fresh blueberries) but you can't taste it. Breakfast veggies!
Brussels sprouts
  • Unfairly maligned. I have always loved them, because my Nanna cooked the bejeezus out of them and served them with love and a roast dinner. An even better recipe is: slice up about 10-15 sprouts, get a little butter and olive oil, sautee the sprouts in a frying pan, add a little lemon juice, some salt and pepper, sautee the sprouts further until bits of the sprouts become sticky and caramelised, add some toasted pine nuts or flaked almonds and cook for a bit more, then et voila and you are welcome.
  • I always try and buy mushies every shopping trip, and I like the brown ones. For a quick but posh meal, slice up some mushies, sautee in a bit of olive oil and stock, once mostly sauteed add a touch of truffle oil (you can get this in fancy food shops and a little goes a long way). Add some chopped chives or spring onion. Serve with a couple of poached eggs, and let the yolk go through the mushies. 
  • Mushies lend themselves well to being whizzed up in a food processor. I like to add them to a spaghetti bolognese, as they become indistinguishable from the meat, and lend an earthy flavour to the sauce.
  • I am very fond of hommus, it is tasty and healthy and it is a serve of veg. Especially when eaten with veggie sticks. When I get my thermomix I will make my own.
On adding fats to veg
  • This makes nutritional sense. Green veg are rich in vitamin K, and orange veg in vitamin A. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble. Hence adding a little butter to the veg not only makes the taste better, it makes the nutrients more bio-available (in English - more easily absorbed by the intestines)

Other general ideas
  • green beans with a little butter and seeded mustard - oh yeah. A little butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper is good too. Acid helps with iron absorption, and this is good as the iron in green vegetables is not very bio-available.
  • Have a look at anything Yotam Ottolenghi has written, he has a wonderful way with vegetables. His book Plenty is fantastic.
  • Parsley grows virally in the garden - take advantage of this. It is super nutritious. I had a surfeit of parsley recently, which I made into a walnut and parsley pesto.
  • I have my eggplant at the ready. I am going to make this caponata. It is so yummy that I can serve it up with steak or chicken and not even miss the spuds. Really.
  • I am very fond of a slaw. I buy the basic mix in the bag at the supermarket, and jazz it up with chives, and then soak in a bit of lemon juice to soften which will minimise the amount of mayo required
  • If you have a food processor or thermomix, whizz up a couple of beetroot with one carrot, an apple, an onion and some parsley. Add some lemon juice. If you are feeling bold, mix in some mayo. Yum. 
  • Cold weather lends itself well to braises - veggies like fennel, silverbeet and chard are great as a braise. Go nuts with the garlic.
  • Mash some well-boiled pumpkin with some butter and chopped chives, and have instead of mashed potato. More nutrients, less carbs.
Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is. 

 Now. About dry July....

The idea of a month without wine....is a bit daunting. I will admit. But, being a reflective person, I have paused for a little thought on this. Broken it down. A lot of people don't, or won't.

The thing is, my enjoyment of nice meals, social events and music gigs is very much psychologically attached to having a glass or two (or sometimes more) of wine. Sometimes cider, but mostly wine.

A couple of glasses of wine is a common edge-taker-offer of stressful days, or meeting new people, especially so with the dating escapades that I went through.

I was driving through Fitzroy, Collingwood and the City yesterday, and I thought about all the memories of nice meals out, making new friends, some awkward/ fail moments. Meeting my fella. All of these involved wine in varying quantities. Ahhh, the memories. The fact that I have memories of all these situations is indeed reassuring!

I was eating dinner with my boyfriend last night, and I noted how slowly I was eating, and how I didn't eat all that much. It's not just the alcohol that is the killer, calorie wise, it is all the other things you ingest with it. I get the wine munchies. Dessert? Cheese? Absolutely! Can't not!

Wine, I will miss you, particularly your red variety. The nice little buzz you give me. The way you make a rich meal or a lump of cheese sing. The way you make it a bit easier to talk to people.

I will not miss the headache you give me after I have had more than a couple of glasses, or how my sleep is disturbed. Or how I am more prone to getting emotional......

I will learn to live without you for a bit. Hell, even maybe thrive without you...


Do you eat enough vegetables (a big serve with lunch and dinner each day?)
Do you have any good ideas for serving veg? If so, I would like to hear them.

Do you enjoy a glass of wine (or three)? How would you go denying yourself for a month? Be honest, no judgement here :D


  1. I find the Western diet apart from Italian and Greek is hard to make veggies taste great as it doe seem to just steam. French is ok but then all that sauce almost negates the benefits or is the pouring of beurre blanc just me? In Korea as you know a lot of food is vegetables as side dishes but they do so much to them that you could easily be vegetarian there and not feel like you are missing out whereas I feel like veggies are more of a chore now. But caponata I could eat all day long!

    1. Hi CSW - I found that Korean food was mainly about the meat. mmmmmm Pork.....
      Mmmmmm, beurre blanc......tho seriously, a little butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice doesn't up the calories too much, especially to what is a minimal calorie thing.
      will go look at your Martha tips, better get on that bandwagon!

  2. Roast and, when they are cooked, crumble some fetta over the top and pop it back in to brown. Though I will pretty much eat steamed or boiled vegies so long as they are not undercooked.

  3. This is really interesting. I chuck spinach into lots of things but never thought of whizzing it up..... would make things way more interesting!

    Here's a good healthy thing to make if you need a good dip - I like it with crackers or even raw cauliflower florets. I like it because it's pretty much just a can of beans (about $1.50) and tastes better than any boring ol store bought hummus. http://pinterest.com/pin/150448443774763964/

    1. Yum! Will have to try that! But with more garlic...

  4. I absolutely *love* pumpkin, mushrooms, baby spinach and hommus!

    My two favourite ways to consume vegetables would either be in an enormous stir-fry (whip them up with some garlic, ginger, onion and chilli, and you have yourself an excellent side!), or by roasting them. Pumpkin smothered in cumin and ground coriander and then roasted is particularly scrumptious :)

  5. Nice post, Cilla! Really good tips here. I'm so with you on the Ottolenghi love. Good luck with dry July! I just don't think I could... ;) Well, no I could if I had to, but I don't want to! :) I'm veggie mad. & I'm never against a good spoon of butter to season veg.
    Heidi xo