Whether you're picking your vegetables from a garden patch or choosing them at the supermarket, there is a world of difference in taste and nutrient retention between poorly cooked and properly cooked vegetables.
And now, as more and more studies show a stronger link between vitamins and nutrients and better health, vegetables have taken on even greater importance. Our recipes use the best cooking methods for the best-tasting recipes.
Top 10 new vegetables
Some of these vegetables are really new; some of them are vegetables that have fallen out of favour in the past but are now being seen in a new light.
1. Blue potatoes: First there was blue corn, now there are blue potatoes. They look weird but taste basically the same as regular potatoes. Mashed, they look, well, unusual. Cube them along with regular potatoes for extra colour in a salad. Tip: For even more colourful fun, boil white potatoes in beet juice.
2. Crociferous vegetables: This group includes cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower. These have received special attention in the past few years because studies have shown that they can be effective in reducing the risk of certain forms of stomach and intestinal cancer. Try broccoflower, a cauliflower-broccoli hybrid, which cooks more quickly and has a milder taste than cauliflower.
3. Dandelions: Instead of destroying these weeds, try eating them. Rich in vitamins and mineral salts, dandelions can be shredded into a salad or boiled lightly and served like spinach. Choose tender, young plants.
4. Beet greens: Get a nutritional bonus from fresh beet greens: they are an excellent source of beta-carotene, calcium and iron.
5. Fennel: It looks like celery but has a mild, sweet flavour reminiscent of licorice. Low in calories, fennel contains vitamins A and C, along with small amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium. Serve fennel as you would celery: raw and crunchy is best, but you can also sauté it.
6. Legumes: The best plant source of protein, legumes are edible seeds enclosed in pods. They are also well stocked with complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, zinc, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, folate and fibre. Don't stop at the familiar kidney bean either. Try fresh fava beans (broad beans), which have a buttery flavour and mealy texture; nutty cranberry beans are great in casseroles, chilies and soups; chickpeas and lentils have a very firm texture and are suitable for salads and soups, or to toss with pasta. Get a little adventurous and experiment with mung beans, black beans and lima beans, too.
7. Peppers: The most surprising feature of these vegetables is how nutrient-dense they really are. They are excellent sources of many essential nutrients, especially vitamin C. One sweet green pepper has more vitamin C than a medium orange. Sweet red peppers have even more, plus a healthy dose of beta-carotene. Now available in rainbow colours — the latest pick is bright orange.
8. Tomatoes: Check out new yellow and orange varieties, and tiny cherry and pear tomatoes. While tomatoes are not as high in nutrients as some other vegetables, they are a leading vegetable source of vitamin C because we eat so many of them.
9. Leafy greens: These include spinach, rappini, Swiss chard and collards. They contain fibre, various minerals (including iron and calcium), beta-carotene, vitamin C and other substances that may protect against certain types of cancer. Whenever possible, use the cooking liquid from greens in a sauce, add it to a soup or use it as the base for a vegetable stock; a significant percentage of the nutrients will be leached out into the water. Try growing red Swiss chard in your garden — it's packed with nutrients and is easy to grow.
10. Chinese greens: Among the newest specialties are ethnic greens, now becoming more widely available. In general they are an important source of calcium for vegans. Two servings (7 oz/200 g) of Chinese cabbage (bok choy, for example) provide the same amount of calcium as 1 cup (250 mL) of milk. Napa and bok choy, Chinese cabbages, are delicious in salads and slaws.
Best ways to cook your vegetables
• Vitamin C is water-soluble and heat-sensitive. Therefore, cook vegetables for as short a time as possible. When cooking in water, have the water boiling before you add the vegetables. This is true for all vegetables, including root vegetables such as potatoes.
• Use cooking methods that use a small amount of liquid or none at all, such as steaming or microwaving, to conserve nutrients. One recent study suggests that microwaving is the best way to preserve nutrients: foods microwaved in a 1,700-watt oven retained almost 75 per cent more vitamin C than when boiled.
• When stir-frying vegetables, cut down on fats, substituting stock or juices for some of the fat.