One should always be cautious with school cafeteria foods. I can still see the horrid scene of steaming piles of mush in metal trays and thinking that I should just eat the side vegetables, the vegetables should be fine. See, it's easy to screw up a moussaka or pasta (oh the sight of the pasta was heartbreaking -- flaccid pieces of penne stuck together and drowning in a pool of "cheese sauce"), so, I thought, okay, let's stick to the vegetables, and I got a plate of broccoli and peas and I had no idea you could screw up simple vegetables. They were of that lifeless dark green, tossed in some cheap butter, unsalted and just..cooked to a soft mush. Urgh, I've used the word "mush" twice already and it's never good to describe food as "mush". But it was. And I was there, struggling to finish this bland mush, thinking to myself, how the f*ck do you screw up vegetables?
How the f*ck do you expect your country to eat their 5-a-days if people are only exposed to such ways of eating vegetables? I had always found it mind-boggling why people kept advertising these smoothie recipes with "hidden" greens because you wouldn't taste them. What the f*ck? I love spinach, why would I want it somewhere where it can't be tasted? And then it all made sense to me as I stared at my pile of mush - I wouldn't like my greens either if people cooked the life out of them and didn't season them. Broccoli, spinach, kale, green beans, brussels sprouts, chard can all be delicious and now I will teach you how not to screw them up (you are welcome, NHS).
1. Know your cooking times
You want to preserve that beautiful fresh crisp green, okay? Overcooking your vegetables not only destroys the nutritional value (so they technically don't make it as one of your 5-a-days anymore), but it just destroys the texture and flavor as well. As a general rule, green leafy vegetables: under 5 minutes (blanched/boiled/stir-fried).
2. Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices make everything taste better. If you don't know what you're doing, then just stick to the herbs and add a ton of it. Mix it up too if you want. I often just chop up lots of mint and basil and spring onions and whatever I have lying around and toss that with some steamed broccoli and it really does wonders. You can also roast certain vegetables with some of the earthier herbs like thyme or rosemary. If you're a bit more adventurous, fry some garlic + ginger + lemongrass in some oil and then add in your greens and cook (only a few minutes, please). Or do oil + chilli + turmeric, olive oil + garlic + parsley. Experiment.
Zest and juice. Any citrus. You can even just roast them all together, slice up some grapefruit or orange or lemon and put them in the oven and afterwards add your broccoli florets and roast until tender (but they must still have a bite to them).
Ok, you can do a cheese bechamel or a caesar sauce or a blue cheese sauce, but I find all of that a bit too overpowering - again, it's like that smoothie idea, why do you want to not taste the vegetables? You can do with some great olive oil or sesame oil or even flavored oils. I often just toss my blanched green beans in excellent olive oil and some fancy Maldon salt flakes and it's just *mwah* . Or you could do with some great butter. Not cheap Tesco-value or I-can't-believe-it's-not-butter (really? Because I can). Good butter. If you want to keep things simple and still delicious you have to invest in good ingredients. Oh and don't just stop at oil and vinegar. You can make a dressing out of tahini and yogurt and nut butters as well.
I actually don't know if this is what you would call it in English, you've probably adopted the French word, but in Italian, we have a lot of vegetables gratinati , which is essentially baking the vegetables with a topping of breadcrumbs, olive oil, minced garlic, chopped parsley and grated parmesan. Really, just mix the ingredients and layer them on top of the vegetables, put them under the grill and they're just buonissimi.
Adding some toasted sesame seeds, chopped hazelnuts and almond flakes is never a bad idea to anything. It makes the whole dish more presentable as you've now got different colors, different textures, different dimensions.
7. Chargrill them
Oh on the BBQ you can grill up some courgettes and fennel bulbs, get those sexy black marks on them and adds that delicious smokiness. Again, depth and dimensions.
Okay and with those 7 tips, here are some actual recipes to inspire you.
Green Beans with Tahini
Brussels Sprouts with Mirin and Soy Sauce
Courgette with Pine Nuts and Parmesan
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with..Everything Nice
Roasted Broccolini with Lemongrass and Peanut Butter