Were you told to eat your greens when you were young and now go out of your way to avoid them? It's unfortunate that many of the healthiest of vegetables are also the most bitter. Just imagine, if healthy veg tasted great, no one would be overweight and the dieting industry wouldn't exist!
Many of the veg we love to hate provide us with the greatest nutrition benefits and avoiding them could mean you're missing out on key vitamins and minerals. Attempts at disguising the worst offenders includes smothering with high fat sauces, covering with batter or drowning them in butter to try making them edible. But all this does is turn a healthy veg into a calorific and unhealthy one. However, it is possible, with a few simple ingredients, to turn healthy vegetables into gourmet delights while still retaining their ‘healthy’ status.
Why do some vegetables taste so nasty?
It's true that some vegetables, particularly those from the brassica family such as broccoli, cauliflower, rocket and kale, aren't as pleasing to the palate as others and can taste quite bitter. Good old Brussels sprouts, which tend to make their only appearance at Christmas, is another common example.
This bitterness is the plants' own defence against predators, insects and the like. But when we eat them, they're beneficial not only for their concentrated nutrients including magnesium, potassium, Vitamins A, C, K, and calcium, they help to stimulate our digestive enzymes, which in turn helps us process and digest our meal more efficiently. Strong smelling vegetables such as pickles or onions can also be off-putting for some. Luckily, the taste and smell of many foods can be altered, improved or even disguised completely.
Negative food association
Childhood food association can have a lasting effect on our adult diets. If you were forced to finish food you disliked or perhaps given soggy, unappetising vegetables, it's understandable not wanting attempt them again. Likewise, if you were sick after eating something with the offending vegetable you may not want to try it again. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome these negative food associations by cooking and serving food in a different way.
Stir frying is a fantastic means of including a wide variety of healthy vegetables. The high cooking heat helps preserve essential vitamins as food is cooked very quickly. Starting with basic ingredients such as chopped garlic, ginger, chilli and spring onions, add a range of evenly-sized chopped vegetables, including broccoli, carrots and cabbage. Experiment with adding different sauces like soy, gluten-free tamari, or rice wine and then drizzle over a little sesame oil. You'll transform even the most unappetising vegetables into an Oriental flavoured delight.
Blending healthy vegetables into a pasta sauce provides a wonderful disguise. Finely chop or grate vegetables such as courgettes, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli and add to the sauce. Alternatively for young children, cook first then puree and blend into the sauce. They’ll be so well hidden, no one will have any idea they’re eating something they normally dislike. Using a high speed blender such as a Nutribullet is ideal for disguising vegetables in a smoothie. Using a banana for sweetness, try adding frozen spinach, fresh kale and a selection of berries. The colour will change but it won't look obviously green!
Roasting vegetables transforms even the most bitter of brassicas, whereby they develop a lovely sweet taste, so you may find you prefer them this way. Try chopping a variety of vegetables into a similar size, say, red onion, chopped garlic, courgette, aubergine, sweet potato, pumpkin, broccoli and cauliflower and placing them into a roasting tin. Rather than drowning them in oil, simply drizzle or lightly spray over a little olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast in a hot oven for 30 minutes. Discard any burnt parts.
Spice it up
Do you have a spice rack full of herbs and spices you never use and are gathering dust? If so, start experimenting. There are so many recipes available online for livening up vegetables and a varied collection of herbs and spices can completely change the taste of boring or tasteless vegetables. For cooked veg, experiment with spices such as cumin, turmeric and coriander for an Indian inspired flavour.
Give salads a zesty lift by using chopped raw garlic, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. This provides flavour to boring leaves while at the same time making the nutrients more bio-available to the digestive system. Adding freshly chopped herbs such as coriander, parsley and mint adds even more nutrients, while distracting away from the original bitter taste.
Making vegetables more tasty is easy, but making them palatable and healthy takes a little experimentation and practice. Finding a combination that works well for your taste buds will not only help you enjoy healthy vegetables it will provide numerous health benefits. Sometimes it just means getting rid of old habits and learning new ones. Don’t be afraid of experimenting or trying something you haven't eaten for a long while. It’s well worth it if it means you can actually enjoy eating healthy vegetables. You never know, you may find your taste buds actually like something you once swore would never pass your lips again.
Recommended recipe books
If you're after inspirational ways for cooking your vegetables, I highly recommend the following recipe books*.
Eat Green: Melissa Hemsley
One Pot Vegan: Roxy Pope & Ben Pook
Quick & Easy: Deliciously Ella
Speed Bosh: Henry First & Ian Theasby