Back to basics with Vegetables
Vegetables are enjoying the spotlight these days, taking the lead role on the plate in many fine-dining establishments and enjoying pride of place in kitchen gardens across the country. Here, we offer a handy guide to these edible plants
Vegetables are often given a bad rap – famous for being force-fed to children who would rather have dessert, and sidelined to the edges of the plate to make room for second helpings of meat. They are regarded by many as solely a healthy necessity in meals. However, in recent times vegetables are taking centre-stage, not simply for their nutritious value but for their versatility, flavour and their seasonal appeal. For the general consumer, growing your own in small patches of the garden or in shared allotments has become a commonplace activity while, in restaurants, the vegetable is being showcased as a key part of menus, with many chefs boasting a kitchen garden to complement their sourcing. Vegetables commonly eaten in Ireland can be divided into three different types: tuber/root vegetables which include potatoes, carrots and turnips; leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and endive; and brassicas including cabbage, kale, Brussels sprout, broccoli and cauliflower.
Roasting vegetables may seem pretty straightforward but here are three handy tips to ensure they always turn out just right:
1 Using a flatter sheet pan will help your vegetables avoid turning to mush. If the pan is too deep, the vegetables will steam more.
2 Don’t crowd your vegetables – they will brown and crisp up a lot better if they are given space.
3 Tend to your vegetables while cooking – a good toss will ensure they get an even colour. Don’t forget to season and feel free to experiment all the time: using herbs like thyme, rosemary or wild fennel can add great flavour. Certain veg, like courgettes, shine with a dash of lemon for example
As vegetables become more prominent on the plate – and with many gaining the vague status of a ‘superfood’ – some veg are being elevated to an ‘on trend’ status. Sun-dried tomatoes, Portobello mushrooms, avocado and Brussels sprouts have all had their time in the sun, however, being a trendy veg reached new heights when kale took the spotlight at London Fashion week last year, with kale ice-pops, smoothies and juices making an appearance in every supermodel’s right hand. David Flynn of The Happy Pear in Greystones thinks that kale will continue to be popular in 2015 but also points to other trends that are poised to take over: “Kale is super fashionable and leafy greens in general such as cabbage, spinach and chard are something that people are eating more and more of. For me, root vegetables and greens is where it’s at in winter. But for the coming year, I see fresh turmeric, sprouts and micro greens, samphire and seaweeds (kombu, dilisk, nori) becoming more popular. Also, fermented veg such as kimchi and sauerkraut is growing in popularity – fermented foods are on the up”.
An Irish staple, potatoes were introduced outside the Andes region (where they are indigenous) approximately four centuries ago and have since become an integral part of much of the world’s food supply. They make a valuable contribution to our diet in Ireland, being an excellent source of starch, and are low in fat and high in vitamin C. Rooster and Kerr’s Pink are the two most important varieties grown in Ireland.
A great example of a vegetable that offers gorgeous colour to a dish, carrots are usually orange but can be purple, red, yellow and even white. A member of the parsley family, carrots are related to the parsnip, celery and fennel and are an excellent source of vitamin A and potassium.
The beetroot is the taproot portion of the beet plant, also known as the garden beet, red or golden beet. Low in fat, beetroot is full of vitamins and minerals and packed with powerful antioxidants. It is such a versatile vegetable, being a great addition to salads, soups and even cakes such as chocolate sponge (see Ox’s dessert on page 50 incorporating beetroot into a buttermilk panna cotta).
Peas are part of the legume family. Their sugars start to turn to starch shortly after they’re picked, so they are best eaten fresh from the pod. Frozen peas which are put on ice very shorty after being picked can offer a superior flavour as they are kept as fresh as possible.
A root vegetable native to Central and South America, and popular throughout the tropics, Cassava is treated like a potato. There are two main varieties: bitter and sweet. The former is poisonous if not treated before consumption, whereas the more watery, sweet cassava can be eaten raw. Available year round, it’s difficult to peel, so it’s easiest to buy it ready prepared and frozen.
Often confused with sweet potato, true yams are not even related to sweet potatoes. Popular in Latin America and Caribbean markets, yams are grown in tropical climates and are generally sweeter than sweet potatoes with a higher moisture content.
Also known as lady fingers or gumbo, okra is a flowering plant with edible green seed pods. Commonly used in Cajun, Indian and Caribbean dishes, the flavour is subtle and the texture varies dramatically depending on how it is cooked.
A species of sunflower native to North America, this vegetable is also called sunchoke or sunroot. The flesh has a nutty flavour and is a great source of iron.
The Happy Pear
David Flynn of The Happy Pear in Greystones, offers some top tips for handling and cooking veg
- Keep carrots and root vegetables in plastic bags in your refrigerator as it helps them to retain their moisture and colour.
- Don’t forget that juices and smoothies aren’t only about fruit. Throw some kale into your fruit-based smoothie and you have upped the nutrition content massively. Also, veg-based juices are really where it’s at in terms of fresh juice: have veg as the base and sweeten with apple and season with lime, lemon, ginger etc.
- Leave the skin on your pumpkin when cooking for more nutrition, nice colour contrast and to keep it from breaking up into mush. However, I always peel butternut squash as I find the skin is usually bitter.
- Buy local where possible to ensure the freshest produce and don’t be afraid of a bit of dirt on your veg… they have come directly from the soil and this is where the B12 comes from.