Culinary History Collection


Current Editor: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Issue 7 Winter 2005

Vegetables Add Variety and Versatility to Different Parts of the Meal

by Frank D. Conforti*

When growing up a parent is often heard saying "Eat your vegetables!" or "You cannot leave the table until you have finished your vegetables!" To a child or even an adult, vegetables are often a gray area in one's dining experience. For some individuals eating vegetables are: French fried potatoes; canned kernel corn; or a salad. There are more to vegetables, and one should be aware of vegetable's critical role in maintaining a good diet. It is a challenge to creatively incorporate vegetables into the daily dietary pattern. There are those that are meat and potatoes people who like the basics without excessive frills. It is important to have variety and not have the same meal everyday.

In today's nutrition program vegetables are considered the mainstream to better health. Vegetables contribute vitamins A and C, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Current research indicates that these nutrients are essential in establishing a better health regime. Due to the shortage of the flu vaccine this winter it is recommended to maintain a healthy life-style by eating the right type of foods. Vegetables are a priority food to be considered. Vegetables are versatile; they offer variety to the diet and to the meal. When planning a menu, the incorporation of different vegetables will contribute color, texture, nutrients and flavor to the diet.

Careful preparation techniques are essential in order to maintain the aforementioned quality characteristics. Stir fry and steaming are the recommended conservatory methods of preparation to meet these needs. There are other acceptable methods: roasting, baking and microwaving. Whichever method is selected, remember that when selecting a vegetable(s): variety and versatility must be considered.

Early cookbooks presented the vegetable as a simple accompaniment to the meal. The vegetable was either boiled or steamed with no other accompaniment to enhance its flavor or appearance. However, current cookbooks have expanded vegetable preparation, and an individual vegetable has been afforded at least three different recipes as a representative to a different part of the meal. The vegetable is no longer only incorporated into a soup or salad. Roasting vegetables has grown in popularity to bring out the natural sugars that are present in the vegetable. Try roasting freshly sliced carrots at 425°F rubbed with olive oil and salt and pepper, and you will never eat boiled carrots again. A medley of roasted vegetables (carrots, yellow and green squash, purple onions, potatoes, and red peppers) with lemon, rosemary, and olive oil marinade will enhance the flavor and add color to your next meal.

Currently, the vegetable has also taken over the meal, and could also be served as the main course or entrée. Vegetarian cookbooks, such as, the classic Moosewood series, showcase the vegetable in many roles as part of the meal, particularly, the main course. A pairing of one or more vegetables with other ingredients adds variety and versatility to the meal. Some examples are: Moussaka (a traditional Greek dish with ground lamb or beef layered with sliced eggplant and a béchamel sauce); Zucchini lasagna ( where the zucchini is sliced lengthwise, roasted first and serves as the pasta in this exquisite dish with ricotta cheese and a mushroom tomato sauce). Currently, the Thanksgiving issue of Cooking Light is showcasing a lasagna made with roasted butternut squash that is layered between the lasagna noodles flavored with garlic and a bechamel sauce. Suggestions are endless, and one must keep an open mind when it comes to recipe ideas.

Lastly, the vegetable could also serve as a dessert. Carrot cake has long been a traditional dessert when it gained popularity in the early 1970's. Shredded zucchini has also been incorporated into sweet dessert type breads. Pumpkin also makes its presence at Thanksgiving in pies, cakes, and muffins.

The combination of vegetables is endless. Thought has to be given to it, and creativity has to take over. Some of the recipes that are included at the end of this article will help showcase the fact that vegetables can be much more than basic nutrition. Vegetables can be delicious and help create inventive meals that satisfy the imagination as well as your need for just "meat and potatoes."


Carrot Cupcakes
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

2/3 cup sugar 1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup finely grated carrots 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg


½ cup (2 oz.) 1/3-less fat cream cheese
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened
1 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon lemon extract
2-3 drops yellow color
3 tablespoon flaked coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners. Set aside.

2. To prepare cupcakes: Beat sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla, and egg with mixer at medium speed, until well blended. Add carrots and pineapple; beat well. Sift together flour with the next five ingredients; add to sugar mixture and beat well.

3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove and place cupcakes on a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

4. To prepare frosting: beat the cream cheese, butter and lemon extract with mixer at medium speed, just until blended. Gradually add powdered sugar---beat just until blended. Add yellow color gradually until desired color is reached. Spread frosting over cupcakes; sprinkle with flaked coconut.

Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, October, 2001

Healthy French Fries (Accompaniment)

1 ½ pounds baking potatoes
chili powder
2 teaspoons olive oil
Kosher salt to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Place a shallow baking pan (jelly roll pan, 10 x 15 inches) in oven while preheating.

2. Peel potatoes; cut potatoes lengthwise into ½-inch slices; then cut each slice lengthwise into ½ inch strips. Place potatoes in a large bowl, sprinkle liberally with chili powder, and toss. Add olive oil and toss again. Place in a single layer on hot baking sheet.

3. Bake 20 minutes. Turn potatoes with a spatula and continue baking 20 minutes longer, or until crisp and brown. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

Adapted from 365 Delicious Low Fat Recipes by Phyllis Kohn, 1995, Harper Collins Publishers

Zucchini Lasagna (Main Dish)

2 tsp. olive oil 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 cup chopped onion ½ cup plain dried bread crumbs
2 teaspoons minced garlic 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
32 oz. tomato sauce ½ tsp. garlic salt
1 cup sliced mushrooms 1 ½ cups(12 oz.) part-skimmed ricotta cheese
1 tbsp. dried basil, crumbled ½ cup minced leaf parsley
5 medium-size zucchini (1 ½ lbs.), sliced ½ cup grated Romano cheese
lengthwise, ½ inch thick ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over moderate heat.

2. Add the onion, garlic and mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes or until soft.

3. Add the tomato sauce and basil and bring to a boil.

4. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 3 cups. Remove from heat and set aside.

5. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil.

6. Place the zucchini slices in a single layer on the baking sheet. Brush the top sides with the 1 egg white, then sprinkle the bread crumbs, garlic salt, and pepper evenly over the slices.

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the zucchini is golden and crisp tender when pierced with a fork.

8. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

9. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

10. In a medium size bowl combine the ricotta cheese, egg white, parsley, and three tablespoons of the Romano cheese.

11. Grease a 11 x 7 x 2 inch baking dish.

12. Spread 1 cup of the tomato-basil-mushroom sauce evenly in the dish.

13. Arrange half of the zucchini on top of the sauce in a single layer, trimming the layers to fit if necessary.

14. Spread the ricotta-Romano mixture over the zucchini.

15. Sprinkle ½ cup of the mozzarella cheese over the top; spoon ½ cup of tomato sauce over the mozzarella.

16. Place the remaining zucchini in a single layer over the top. Spread the remaining sauce evenly over the zucchini; then the mozzarella and remaining Romano cheese.

17. Place the dish on a baking dish in case the lasagna bubbles over.

18. Bake for 35-45 minutes until the cheese bubbles and the lasagna is hot in the center.

19. Remove from oven and cool 15 minutes before cutting.

Adapted from Living Longer Cookbook, 1992, The Reader's Digest Association

Roasted Vegetables (Accompaniment)

2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large purple onion, cut into wedges
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 bell peppers, cut into 1-inch chunks (2 different colors)

Italian Dressing

4 tsp. olive oil 3 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary
½ cup lemon juice 1 tbsp. minced fresh oregano
6 garlic cloves, minced 1 tsp. salt

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Parboil potatoes and carrots in boiling water to cover for 2 minutes. Drain well. In a large bowl, combine the parboiled vegetables with the balance of the vegetables.

2. To make the Dressing, whisk together all the ingredients.

3. Toss the vegetables with the dressing. Place the vegetables in a single layer on a large un-oiled baking tray and bake, stirring every 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Adapted from: Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, 1996, Clarkson Potter Publishers

* Dr. Conforti is a faculty member in the Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise Department at Virginia Tech.

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