Putting Vegetables on the Plate

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Vegetable Jazz–Take Five

Several young mothers of my acquaintance were discussing the difficulties involved in following nutritionist’s advice. Specifically, they needed help in working five servings of vegetables into their children’s daily diet. Interestingly, several grandmothers joined the conversation, saying that their husbands were similarly vegetable-resistance.

How sad that so many people have learned to dislike vegetables. How fortunate that opening the magical door to the land of vegetable love is so easy. That last bit is especially good news, since thanks to recent research on plant foods in the human diet, government nutritionists now recommend up to NINE daily servings of plant-based foods.

Over The Rainbow

Before you panic, remember that variety is as important as volume. Since each kind and color of vegetable offers a unique blend of nutrients, mix them up as often as possible.  The new-ish Rainbow Diet plan involves eating food of every possible color each day, including beans, fruit, and leafy greens as well as vegetables. It’s also helpful to remember that an official “serving” is often smaller than we assume. Many fruits, from mangos and bananas to apples and pears, provide several half-cup servings.

Where the Jazz Comes In

Vegetables are often a harder sell than fruit, but minor adjustments to familiar recipes can amplify your daily plant intake without fuss. To expand your repertoire, jazz it up. Aim to combine up to five kinds of vegetables every time. Want to serve corn or peas? Start with an onion relative–garlic, onion, leek, shallots, 1/2 to 1 cup for 4 people. Chop in a colorful pepper and a Rainbow carrot in red, yellow, orange, or purple (1 for 4 people).

Now add lots of greens (1 cup per serving of spinach ends up being about 1 tablespoon when cooked). If adding cabbage or kale, allow 1/2 cup per person. Finally, add the calorie-dense vegetables like corn or peas. These are usually the most popular, probably because they are almost as sweet as fruit. Use them sparingly, allowing no more than 1/4 cup per person but surrounding them with complementary vegetable companions that boost both flavor and nutritional benefits.

Some Assembly Required

If you combined all these lovely foods, the cooked total will be around 3/4 cup per person.  so make a leafy green salad with some mushrooms, more peppers, and avocado. Serve each diner a mere cupful and you’ve easily enjoyed over half your daily allotment at a single, lovely meal.

Here are some ideas to spark your kitchen creativity:

Really Chili

1 teaspoon safflower or olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon chipotle (or any) pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 pound lean ground turkey, crumbled (optional)
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped
2 cups (or 1 15-ounce can) crushed or diced tomatoes with juice
2 cups (or 1 15-ounce can) cooked black beans, drained
2 cups (or 1 15-ounce can) cooked pinto beans, drained
1/4 cup cilantro, stemmed
1/2 cup pepperjack cheese, shredded

In a soup pot, heat oil, garlic, and onion over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add pepper flakes, cumin, and chili powder and cook for 1 minute. Add turkey if using and brown quickly (2-3 minutes). Add celery and pepper and cook (2-3 minutes). Add tomatoes and beans, cover pan and heat through (15-20 minutes). Serve hot, garnished with cilantro and cheese. Serves 6.

Peppered Squash Soup

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 ancho pepper, seeded and chopped (wear gloves)
12 ounces frozen or fresh squash puree
1 organic orange, juiced, with grated rind
OR 2-3 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
4 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons yogurt

Heat oil and butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and pepper and saute until onion is limp. Stir in squash and orange juice, adding rind to taste (start with 1 teaspoon). Stir in broth and season to taste with salt and pepper (I use lots). Heat through (do not boil) and serve warm, garnished with yogurt.

A Snappy Autumn Salad

Crisp and flavorful, this elegant salad is perfect for a fancy brunch or a family get-together.

Pear and Gorgonzola Salad

1 ripe avocado
1 organic lemon, juiced, plus grated rind
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups leafy greens, rinsed and dried
2 cup spinach, stemmed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 pears, cored and thinly sliced
1-2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
4 tablespoons fresh parsley OR cilantro, stemmed

For dressing, combine avocado, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, garlic, and 1/4 cup walnuts in blender and puree, thinning as needed with lemon juice. Season to taste with grated lemon peel (start with 1-2 teaspoons), salt, and pepper. Gently toss greens and green onions and divide between four plates. Fan sliced pears on each plate and sprinkle with walnuts and crumbled cheese. Drizzle with dressing and garnish with herbs. Serves four.

Yams Or Sweet Potatoes Or Squash Or….

This thick, rich, hearty soup can also be made with pumpkin or winter squash, and the lactose-sensitive can leave out the yogurt (though you might want a spritz of lime or lemon for that bright, tart contrast).

Yam and Peanut Soup

1 teaspoon olive or safflower oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large white or yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2  yams (or sweet potatoes), peeled and cut in 1 inch cubes
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup natural style peanut butter (no sugar)
1 cup sour cream or yogurt (nonfat works fine)
4 tablespoons peanuts, toasted and chopped
4 tablespoons salsa
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, stemmed

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Brown garlic on all sides, then add onion and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Add yams and saute until lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Add carrots and celery, sprinkle with salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft (15-20 minutes). Puree in a blender or food processor, then return to saucepan. Stir in peanut butter and sour cream or yogurt and heat over low heat until hot through. Adjust seasoning, adding salt to taste. Pour in bowls and garnish with peanuts, salsa, and cilantro. Serves 4-6.

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