Unless you have been living in a cave somewhere, you surely know by now that we all need to eat more vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains—and especially vegetables, and potatoes don’t count. As it happens, I grow quite a few vegetables every year, and summertime usually features a fair number of vegetarian meals.
In winter, with less daily pressure from the garden to consume green beans, summer squashes, zucchini, spinach before it bolts, harvest peas, and less opportunity to feast on tomatoes day after day, the vegetable-eating around here takes a notable dip. Beets, rutabagas, carrots, onions, garlic, and apples slumber in the cellar, and green beans, corn, summer squash, and peas in the freezer live in suspended animation. Winter squashes litter the upstairs hallway floor where it is cool and dry and I can keep an eye on them and remember to cook with them.
One problem is the “out of sight, out of mind” thing so I have to be deliberate in my off-season vegetable eating, and a day slides easily by when vegetables lie forgotten.
I actually like vegetables. I have a friend who says, “My favorite vegetable is the one that tastes like sausage.” Another friend’s car sports a bumper sticker that declares, “I’ll grow my own food when I can find bacon seeds.” Yet another friend asked puckishly, “Cheese is a vegetable, isn’t it?” Well, I love sausage, bacon, and cheese as well as the next person, and I don’t entertain any fantasy of living forever if I never allow them to pass my lips.
But for the heck of it I set myself a goal of eating at least a pound of vegetables every day, partly just to honor all those damn vegetables I grow. (I could, I suppose, plant fewer of them…) There are bucket loads of advice out there on how many servings a day to eat: five servings, ten servings, 28 ounces; all have their adherents.
Then there is the problem of how many carrots is a serving. Or how many kale smoothies do you have to ingest? I hate kale smoothies and despite many recipes passed along to me with assurances that they are absolutely delicious, I have found all of them anywhere from loathsome to barely tolerable.
So how much is a pound? One huge beet could do it. Or half a head of iceberg lettuce, if you recall with pleasure from our youths the wedge of iceberg served with salad dressing, which I do not. Lots of cauliflower. To check on it, a kitchen scale is helpful and can be surprising.
I’d rather a variety of vegetables. Thanks goodness for roasted vegetables: a mélange of beets, carrots, onions, garlic, winter squash, Brussels sprouts, and turnips, done in a very hot oven—say 450 degrees for about 15 minutes with olive oil, produces a lot of delicious vegetable food.
In fact, I make more than I need, then drop the leftovers into a tossed salad or add them to a bit of cooked rice or farro with an over-easy egg on top for breakfast, lunch, or supper. Actually, eating vegetables for breakfast is one way to jack up consumption. Melting spinach, chard leaves, kale or any soft green in a little olive oil with garlic, then plopping an egg on it makes a pretty grand breakfast. At lunch, a vegetable-intensive soup based on beans or lentils is another ploy.
For years, one way I had of employing an over-abundance of zucchini was to grate it, and freeze cups full to add to spaghetti sauces, or chili, or soup. It’s a way of sneaking more vegetables into the diet. So is sautéing kale, spinach, chard, etc., and mashing it into potato.
Yeah, but what about the bacon, sausage, and cheese, so beloved? Delicata squashes are pretty good stuffed with them, and the squash when seeds are removed aren’t so awfully deep that you can cram very much into the divot left, so I have to eat a lot of squash along with my savories.
So you’d think with all these gambits it would be a breeze to devour my vegetable supply in daily doses. Hah. The occasional day goes by that finds me in the kitchen before bedtime, peeling another carrot to eat quick to meet my vegetable quota before pulling on the nightgown and brushing teeth.
Sandy Oliver is a food historian who lives, gardens, cooks, and writes on Islesboro.