Vegetables 101: How to Cook Perfect Greens

Vegetables are chock full of nutritious goodness and a must at every meal, but we all know there are few things as difficult or unpleasant to eat than soggy, overcooked and discoloured vegetables. Unfortunately, vegetables are extremely sensitive to cooking and heating - and can go from very delicious to very slimy in just under a minute.

So if you find that you've been overcooking your veg - and in the process also losing all that goodness and vitamins - here's our little cheat sheet that will hopefully guide you to crisp, vibrant and perfectly cooked greens.

Keep it Simple

If you're just starting out in the kitchen, keeping your vegetable dishes simple is probably the best way to go. Most vegetables are delicious on their own or even raw, and require only the simplest of seasonings. Just a little salt, olive oil and garlic can make kailan, kale and most leafy vegetables sink when cooked on low heat for a little while. Heavy seasonings or chilli tend to overwhelm the delicate flavour of most vegetables and should be left to hardier veggies like okra, pumpkin, or squashes.

Timing is Everything

Whether it's boiling, steaming or sauteing, it's important to watch the clock and colour of your greens closely to prevent overcooking. The veggies should feel crisp and crunchy to the touch and retain their original bright green, orange or yellow hues. They should not be limp or wet.

To prepare broccoli florets, you can try either boiling for 10-15 minutes, steaming for 5-10 minutes, or sauteing them in a stir fry for 5-8 minutes for the perfect texture.

For sliced carrots, either boil for 5-10 minutes, steam for 4-5 minutes, or sauté for 3-4 minutes to retain colour, nutrients and crunch.

Gorgeous quartered purple eggplants need to stay purple, and for that, you might want to stick to either boiling for 5-10 minutes, steaming for 5-6 minutes, or sauteing for 3-4 minutes.

Sliced bell peppers of every traffic light hue look firm but they actually soften very fast on heat. Boil for 4-5 minutes, 2-4 minutes steamed, or sauté (the best way to preserve their sweetness) for 2-3 minutes maximum.

Spinach is notoriously difficult to cook just right and can go limp in seconds. 2-5 minutes boiled (never wait for the green to leach into the water), 5-6 minutes steamed or 3 minutes sauteed in garlic and olive oil should yield firm, delicious, iron rich veggies.

Sliced squashes on the other hand, are hard to overcook and retain their sweetness very well. 5-10 minutes in the stockpot or steamed, and 3-4 minutes in the pan should give you the perfect golden orange slices you need for your salad.

Leafy greens (kailan, bok choy, kale) can be tricky because their stems take longer to cook than their leaves. We would recommend splitting the two, and steaming the stems first for 2-3 minutes before adding the leaves and steaming for another 3 minutes.

Pumpkins that look perfect for Halloween may look appealing but they're not meant for cooking. Choose "sugar pumpkins" or "pie pumpkins" instead which are sweet with smooth textured flesh, and treat it like you would with the squashes to bring out their natural flavours.

You've cooked your veggies, but your work is not done - the next step is to shock your vegetables to prevent them from cooking any further. While this step is optional, it does make for an extra delicious salad or vegetable dish and applies only to steamed or boiled greens. Shocking your vegetables also locks in flavour, texture and colour so you can prep your vegetable dish first and serve hours later without worrying about them going limp and sad.

Firstly, prepare an ice bath by filling a mixing bowl with ice and just enough water to cover it. Add ½ tablespoon of salt. After boiling your vegetable to the desired tenderness, use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables from your pot to the ice bath. Leave for about 1 minute, then remove and plate. And that's about all you need to know to get your veggies right. With greens that delicious, you won't have trouble cleaning out your plate - and getting more than your five servings of vegetables and fruits a day. Here's to health!

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