Too often, people plan their meals around a meat and serve vegetables as “side dishes.” I loathe that term – side dish – as it puts those vegetables in second place, suggesting that they are simply accompaniments to the main attraction. Ladies & Gentlemen, I suggest to you that those side dishes need to be elevated to their rightful place as the stars of your meal. And by doing so, you too will be a star recognized by your friends and family who are lucky enough to enjoy your meals.
Before we continue, let me be clear on a couple of things. I am not vegan. I am not vegetarian. In fact, I shun “Meatless Monday” because it puts me in a box, makes me part of the crowd. Like Thoreau suggests, I hear a different drummer and have learned to celebrate my differentness. Having said that, I do love vegetables. And I believe that they are, quite possibly, the most important part of our diet. I want to talk more about that, but first I will give you my story because I wasn’t always so keen on vegetables. Then I’ll tell you why vegetables are stars, and I’ll even talk about a few of the biggest stars.
For years I served vegetables because I was “supposed” to. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. It was mostly because I didn’t have a lot of experience with them. I’ve cooked all my life but never gave much attention to vegetables. I would pull them from the freezer and heat them. Rarely would I buy fresh ones. That all changed when we started shopping at farmers markets. You find a rich variety of locally grown, in season vegetables at markets. Such an abundance of goodness. This was also in a time that I was studying nutrition and learning about the health benefits of vegetables. Today, nearly all of the vegetables we eat are bought fresh.
Michael Pollan, a well known foodie, is often quoted as saying “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Whether you agree with Mr Pollan in general or not, he is right on this point. Vegetables are our best sources for many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients including Vitamin C, folate, calcium, beta carotene, fiber, and antioxidants. They also contain a variety of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are chemicals that have many functions in plants and contribute to a plant’s vitality. They also give plants their unique flavors and colors. In addition, these phytonutrients promote health in those who eat the plants. They have roles as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and also promote liver health. For the most part, vegetables contain complex carbohydrates. They take longer to digest which helps to keep us full longer and and also helps regulate blood sugar levels. And, bonus, if you’re counting fat or calories you’re in luck. Vegetables are very low in calories per serving and most have little to no fat.
Let’s take a look at a few of your stars.
First up is kale. Kale is considered by many to be one of the world’s healthiest foods. Kale is an excellent source of Vitamins, K, C and A as well as providing many other nutrients. All for only about 35 calories per one cup serving. There are a number of varieties of kale.
I personally had little to no experience with kale until we started shopping the farmers markets. I grew up eating other types of greens such as mustard greens and collard greens. My husband professed to not like greens. To be honest, my first attempt at cooking kale wasn’t great. A bit more research brought me to recipes that made Kale a star at many of our meals.
Mushrooms can also be Stars at your table. Okay, technically they are NOT vegetables – a mushroom is a fungus. But their nutritional value makes them honorary vegetables in my book! Nutritionally speaking, mushrooms are a good source of minerals – including copper, potassium, and selenium. They also provide many of the the B vitamins. Mushrooms are also a source of vitamin D, making them unique as ‘vegetables.’ Not to mention that they’re delicious!
You may not think of onions as their own Star, but they certainly can be. In fact, sautéd mushrooms and onions is a very popular dish at our house. Cooked onions have a sweet taste which also makes them a good dish for satisfying your sweet tooth. Onions are among the top 10 vegetables that are sources of quercetin. Quercetin has antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties and is thought by to to help protect against heart disease and cancer.
Spinach is another Star vegetable! It’s very popular at our house. In fact, we once had a cat who liked it. He would even stand in the kitchen and ask for it. No, not by name, but I somehow figured out that’s what he wanted. Spinach is rich in vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and flavonoids. We enjoy it for salads as well as sautéd.
Are you convinced yet? Are you ready to give your vegetable STAR STATUS? And claim STAR STATUS for yourself? I hope that by telling you my own vegetable story, telling about the benefits of vegetables as well as giving the low down on some Vegetable Stars that you’re ready to jump in and learn more.
In case you’re wondering about my “Ode To Vegetables,” I do have an ulterior motive. I’m introducing Veggies 101, a brand new cookbook designed to get you wanting to cook and eat more fresh vegetables. I want more people to learn to enjoy vegetables. To elevate vegetables to STAR STATUS in their shopping, in their kitchens, in their meals, and in their bodies. Veggies 101 will be released by the end of Summer 2014. Visit Veggies101.com to sign up for updates.