Five ways to get the most out of your vegetables

Judith Wills / 17 April 2014

Diet and wellbeing blogger Judith Wills shares her top tips for preparing vegetables, allowing us to get more taste, nutrition and enjoyment from them.

The dizziness I described last week caused by labyrinthitis is significantly better already, thank goodness – it can last for many weeks, and indeed did last time I had it.

I cooked the mutton shanks as promised in the same blog, but, not as promised, forgot to take a photo so you've just got the recipe. The good news is that in any case it isn't much of a dish to look at – just lamb shanks and some reddish brownish sauce, so you haven't missed much on that score. HOWEVER, Husband said it was 'truly delicious' and virtually licked the plate. I think that is the first time he has ever used the word 'truly' to describe any of my food (well maybe once he said 'truly disgusting', if I recall, but honestly that wasn't my fault other than that I should never have gone near a Fanny Cradock recipe).

Anyway, there is one promise I can keep, and that is to give you my top five ways to enjoy your vegetables and have a 42% higher chance of staying alive than those who don't (if you manage to consume seven portions of veg and fruit a day, that is*).

The point being, that if you don't enjoy your vegetables, or at least find them OK, you won't eat them. An interesting point to mention is that we are actually eater fewer fruit and veg, rather than more – despite the huge amount of evidence linking consumption with better health. Nine years ago we managed 4.4 portions daily, on average – now it's gone down to just 4 **. So you can see how important it is to eat up and enjoy your greens. But there are plenty more ways to prepare, cook and serve your veggies other than simply two boiled varieties on a plate with some meat.

  • Make them the star turn on your plate. Once or twice a week have a veggie main course – if you choose well (Nigel Slater's veggie based recipes are always hugely reliable and tasty and figure large in all of his books) they can be superbly pretty and more-ish. One of my favourites is a cheesy lasagne filled with Mediterranean vegetables and lentils. Or a butternut squash and spinach curry is fantastic. Or aubergines, halved lengthways, filled with a tomato, onion, rice, herb and spice stuffing and baked until tender.
  • Enhance the flavour of pies such as cottage pie, shepherd's pie, chicken pie and do the same with Bolognese or plain mince, by stuffing in loads of chopped or sliced vegetables such as carrots, peas, celery, leeks, tomatoes – anything you fancy, really. Bonus – it brings down the cost of the dish too, and the calorie content.
  • Roast vegetables rather than boiling them. This makes them tastier and conserves more nutrients (when you boil you throw most of the C and B vitamins away in the water). You can roast all root vegetabes – sweet potatoes and beetroots being especially nice – even swede and celeriac. You can also roast fennel, cauliflower (cauli haters will be converted) and many more – red onions being a favourite of mine.
  • Don't be frightened of raw vegetables – but if you're serving them raw make sure they are very fresh and crisp and not too long in the tooth. Crudites (vegetables cut into strips) are an ideal lunch – try carrot, radish, cucumber, celery with a hummus or butterbean dip, or with Greek yogurt laced with crushed garlic and a tad of wine vinegar and seasoning. Or try a home-made coleslaw with a difference (I gave you the recipe a few weeks ago). Totally yummy.
  • Go for bright colours – research shows our appetite is enhanced if we have a colourful plate of food in front of us. A dish of different coloured sweet peppers, sliced and stir-fried with onion and a dash of sweet paprika then topped with a poached egg looks tempting and really tastes good.

Mutton shanks in a red wine sauce

Serves 2

A good alternative to Easter roast leg of lamb with around 2½ portions of veggies in it per serving!

  • 2 mutton shanks (or lamb shanks if you can't get mutton)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 red onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 medium stick celery, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
  • Garlic cloves – at least 2 – I used 8!
  • 1 mild fresh red chilli, chopped
  • 1 heaped dessertspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 2 tsp dried
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary or 2 tsp dried
  • 200 ml robust red wine
  • 250 ml lamb stock
  • 1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 level tbsp flour

Start this at least 4 hours before you want to eat – it's easy but it takes a long while to develop its lovely flavours and become very tender. Preheat the oven to 150c.

1. Heat a little of the oil in a large frying pan and brown the shanks all over, on high heat. Remove to an ovenproof/flameproof casserole into which the shanks will fit snugly.

2. Add the rest of the oil to the pan, turn the heat down to medium low and cook the onions, celery and carrots for 8 minutes to soften and take up a very little bit of colour. Peel and crush the garlic and add to the pan with the chilli and paprika and stir for a minute. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well and bring to a simmmer. Tip everything carefully into the casserole dish with the shanks. The liquid should come around two-thirds of the way up the shanks. Put the casserole on a hot hob until the liquid simmers again.

3. Put the lid on the casserole and transfer to the oven. Cook for 3-3½ hours. Twice during cooking time, remove from the oven, stir the liquid and turn each shank over.

4. When the 3-3½ hours is up, remove 1 ladleful of the liquid into a small bowl and stir in the flour then return this mix to the pot and stir it in thoroughly. Cook for a further half hour by which time the meat should be very tender and coming away from the bone easily and the sauce thickened.

5. Serve each shank with plenty of the sauce, some green veg and new or mashed potato.

* Oyebode O, Gordon-Dseagu V, Walker A, Mindell J. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer, and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

** The Department of the Environment's Food Statistics Pocketbook

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