Friday, February 27, 2009

Five Food Groups Series - Number 1

Vegetables & Legumes

Drizzle olive oil over chick-peas, rocket and roast pumpkin for a hearty summer salad! Get the morning off to a great start with a zesty carrot, celery and coriander juice. Or throw some skewers of colourful fresh veggies basted with chilli on the barbecue!

There are simply endless ways to enjoy vegetables. Packed full of valuable nutrients, they form an essential part of a healthy diet. And the good news is they can be absolutely delicious - particularly when in season and prepared the right way.

Why is this group good for me?

Vegetables are full of fibre, which is good for your digestive tract. They also provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals essential for normal growth and health.

If you're watching your weight, fresh vegetables are great for both meals and snacks – as some of them contain few kilojoules.

Vegetables are also versatile, easy to prepare, and add colour and flavour to any meal - perfect if you're catering for a hungry family. Try to cook vegetables as lightly as you can and as close to serving time as possible to get the full nutritional benefits.

What is a serve?

Try to have at least 5 serves of vegetables or legumes a day. A serve is generally ½ cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw or salad vegetables. Some other examples of a serve include:

* 1 medium potato
* 1 medium carrot
* 1 cup of fresh bean sprouts or leafy vegetables
* 2 florets of broccoli
* 3 sticks of celery
* 3-4 button mushrooms

Fresh Food Tips

By cooking vegetables in different ways, you can explore all sorts of varied flavours and textures.

Steaming is fantastic for retaining colour, taste and nutrients - ideal for delicate vegetables that can be enjoyed firm and slightly crunchy, such as broccoli, asparagus, carrots, zucchini or squash. Also great for potatoes, pumpkin or yams. Serve steamed asparagus or broccoli topped with sunflower seeds and slivered almonds for some extra taste and crunch.

Boiling is useful for those times when you can't steam your veggies, but it results in the greatest vitamin losses. Be careful not to overcook - so the veggies retain their flavour. After boiling, drain the water into an airtight container and freeze as a healthy, natural vegetable stock to use in soups, casseroles or stir fries.

Blanching is used to soften the edges on vegetables or to remove their skins prior to freezing or grilling. Blanched snowpeas and fresh green beans are fantastic in salads, especially combined with other soft textures such as goat's cheese or roast pumpkin. Blanch vegetables by steaming or boiling for 1 minute and then plunging into cold water. Drain after a couple of minutes cooling.

Roasting works to intensify the flavours and natural sugars within vegetables so they become caramelised. Oven-roasted tomatoes can be made by halving Roma tomatoes, brushing them with garlic, mixed herbs, olive oil and some cracked pepper, and cooking them in a slow oven for an hour. Roasted tomatoes are great served for breakfast with fresh bread and ricotta cheese. Other vegetables that roast well include small whole potatoes, chunks of peeled sweet potato or pumpkin, whole carrots, small whole beetroot (peel after roasting) and peeled and halved parsnips.

Stir-frying is another quick and healthy way to prepare fresh vegetables as it uses very little oil, and helps retain their natural crispness and taste. Stir-fried vegetables are delicious served with rice or noodles and topped with coriander and sunflower seeds.

Barbequed vegetables are quick, easy and quite unique in flavour. Sweet potato slices on the barbeque give an interesting edge to steak and sausages. Simply slice a sweet potato into thin circular slices, place on the grill, and cook until crispy and brown on the outside, and soft on the inside.

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