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The Basics Of Cooking Vegetables

The array of vegetables available in grocery stores and farmers markets today is astounding. With health and nutritional consciousness becoming a top priority in many people's lives, vegetable consumption has gained popularity like never before. Not only are we seeing an increase in the variety of different types of vegetables, but there is also more variety in types as well.

Cooking vegetables by the season

Although farming technology allows us to have most types of veggies year-round, it's important to remember that fruits and vegetables are seasonal. Eating vegetables in season will ensure that they will be at their best and freshest. Here is a list of common vegetables and the season that favors each one best:

  • Summer: Lima beans, beets, corn, cucumbers, edamame, eggplant, endive, garlic, butter lettuce, okra, sugar snap peas, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, Yukon Gold potatoes, radishes, shallots, crookneck squash, summer squash, zucchini, tomatillo
  • Spring: Artichokes, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cactus, corn, fennel, collard greens, spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, butter lettuce, onions, peas, ramps, sorrel, Chayote squash, watercress
  • Fall: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cardoon, cauliflower, radish, endive, garlic, ginger, artichoke, butter lettuce, mushrooms, pumpkin, radicchio, acorn squash, butternut squash, delicata squash, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, turnips
  • Winter: Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, collard greens, kale, leeks, buttercup squash, delicata squash, sweet dumpling squash, sweet potatoes, turnips

Common ways to cook vegetables

How you cook your vegetables is really a matter of personal preference, but there are certain techniques that are more suited to certain types of vegetables than others. Cooking techniques affect qualities such as color, flavor, texture, and nutrients.

The most common methods for cooking vegetables are the following:

  • Boiling
  • Simmering
  • Steaming
  • Stir-frying
  • Sautéing
  • Roasting
  • Grilling
  • Broiling
  • Stewing
  • Braising
  • Frying

How to select and prepare fresh veggies

Follow these easy steps to ensure the best preparation of your veggies and vegetable dishes!

  • How to Select Fresh Vegetables - Purchasing, storage, and preparation are all factors that also affect vegetable cookery. As previously mentioned, the best vegetables are those that are in season and freshly picked. Look for vegetables that are firm, brightly colored, and not bruised or damaged. Ideally purchasing vegetables from a farmers market where they have just been picked and are at their freshest and most nutritious would be best. As vegetables age, they decrease in nutritional value, flavor, and often in texture.
  • Properly Store Your Veggies - Once purchased, vegetables need to be properly stored so they remain at their best until you are ready to use them. Potatoes and hard squash should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place. Onions and garlic should be stored in the same way, but should not be stored near potatoes as they have an adverse effect on each other. Tomatoes are best stored at room temperature unless they are over-ripe, in which case they should be refrigerated and used quickly. Most other vegetables should be refrigerated in a clean, dry bag until you are ready to use them. Remove the leafy tops from any vegetables that have them, such as carrots or beets, before refrigerating because the leaves absorb moisture from the vegetables and cause them to lose moisture more quickly.
  • Prepping Your Veggies - Without exception, all vegetables should be wiped, or washed, before you prepare them. Even those vegetables that are peeled should have any excess dirt removed before you proceed with them. A soft brush is often preferred for washing vegetables and can get into difficult crevices that may not otherwise be reached.

Peeling and trimming vegetable skins like carrots and potatoes is a common practice. Sometimes vegetables like broccoli or asparagus have a tough outer layer on the stalk or stem. In this case the tough, fibrous outer layers are removed and the tender, edible layers revealed. Some other preparation techniques include removing the ends and strings from pod vegetables such as green beans and snap peas or removing outer leaves from artichokes. Some vegetables like peppers must be cleaned internally before they are ready for use; the seeds also need to be removed. Leeks and scallions need to have any dirt and grit that has accumulated inside removed.

When is a vegetable really a fruit?

The distinction between fruits and vegetables is often blurred when it comes to cooking. Many foods are technically fruits, but are treated as vegetables when they are consumed and fall into a broad category known as fruit vegetables. Botanically speaking, fruits are the ripened ovary and seeds of a plant that reproduce when they are pollinated. Most people choose to distinguish fruits and vegetables by taste and categorize fruits as being sweet and vegetables as being savory.

Some of the more common fruit vegetables are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Avocados
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Squash

While many of these do have some sweetness to them, they are much lower in sugar than traditional fruits and are typically eaten in savory preparations and not desserts.

About the Author

Daniella Malfitano is a chef, entrepreneur, author of six digital cookbooks (available on and Amazon and iTunes), TV host and creator of the PBS television series "Delicious Discoveries with Daniella Malfitano" and educator for her traveling cooking and wellness company Delicious Discoveries. Daniella is always available for cooking demos, culinary workshops, public speaking engagements as well as culinary consulting, culinary business development, and brand ambassador partnerships with brands that are in alignment with her passion for local, healthy food. Daniella's passion and enthusiasm for food is contagious and it is evident in everything that she does! For more information visit www.daniellamalfitano.com or email info@daniellamalfitano.com.

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