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How to Cook Vegetables

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

More vitamins, minerals, and delicious flavor are lost in preparing vegetables than in any other aspect of the culinary art. Legumes and grains have to be cooked until tender or sprouted to be best utilized. Fruits are most often eaten raw. But our poor vegetable friends are commonly man-slaughtered by sitting, soaking, peeling, and worst of all, boiling.

Vegetables have an abundant supply of vitamins and minerals that are essential to the life of each cell, and thus for optimum health and pleasant dispositions. From the point of view of nutrition, the chief purpose for eating vegetables is the high vitamin and mineral content.

The following steps in preparation will ensure maximum nutritive value:

1. FRESH. Ideally, vegetables should be gathered just before being cooked (one of the joys of a garden!). But whatever your source, choose vegetables that are as fresh as possible. For example, know what days produce comes in at your grocery store.

2. WASH QUICKLY and dry immediately to prevent the water-soluble nutrients and natural flavors from being washed away.

3. CHILL in a dark place as quickly as possible. Some B vitamins are destroyed by light and at room temperature. Vitamin C is destroyed by contact with oxygen. Cut, chop, or shred vegetables when chilled, and if it will be a while before serving or cooking, return to refrigerator.

4. SOAKING causes the greatest loss of nutrients. Boiling "soaking while cooking" is soaking at its worst. Studies have shown 4 minutes of boiling a whole vegetable causes losses of 20-45% of total minerals, 75% of natural sugars, and even greater losses of some vitamins. Since vegetables are frequently soaked both before and during cooking, and boiled longer than 4 minutes, these losses are commonly greater.

5. PEELING, next to soaking, causes the greatest nutritive loss. The minerals are concentrated immediately under the skin. The peeling helps hold the vitamins, for example, by keeping oxygen from destroying the vitamin C. Peel vegetables only when the skin is tough, bitter, or too uneven to clean thoroughly.

6. COOKING TIME: The shorter the cooking time, the more delicious the flavor and the greater the nutritive value. Make it a rule to cook vegetables in the shortest time possible, just until crispy tender, guarding carefully against overcooking. The bright colors, as well as flavor and texture, will be preserved yielding a much more palatable dish.

METHODS

STEAMING or WATERLESS cooking are two of the best methods. If you do not have waterless cookware, use only enough water to keep vegetables from burning; or use one of the collapsible steam racks which adjust to fit almost any size pot.

PAN COOKING or "STIR-FRYING" is an excellent method also. Bring enough water to cover the bottom of a frying pan (about 1/4 cup) to boil using medium heat. Add sliced or chopped vegetables, stirring frequently until desired doneness. Add water tablespoon by tablespoon as needed to keep vegetables from sticking to the pan. Cooking time varies from 5-20 minutes. Summer squashes (for example, crookneck, zucchini) are done in 5 minutes; broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage in about 10 minutes; and carrots may take 20 minutes. Onion, green pepper, pimiento, celery, herbs, and salt may be selected to season vegetables.

PRESSURE COOKING should just be reserved for "emergencies" as, despite the convenience of immediate results, the increased temperature does kill more vitamins. The pressure cooker, with its rack, may be used for steaming with the pressure not applied.

May you enjoy the wide variety of vegetables - rich in flavor, filled with nutrients, bright with color, and delightful in texture!

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