SELECTION: Proper selection of vegetables can maximize nutrient content and minimize exposure to pesticides and chemical fertilizers. When possible, buy in-season, fresh produce from local organic farmers.
- Qualities to look for include compact, tightly closed heads and tips, green, fresh-looking tops and leaves, crispness, firmness, brightness of color, smooth skins, and heaviness in relation to size. Choose corn still in its husk to preserve nutrients and taste. The casings on onions and garlic should be dry and papery.
- Qualities to be avoided are discoloration, bruises, limpness, wax, wilted tops or leaves.
WASHING AND PREPARING: Scrub non-organic vegetables with a non-toxic soap solution to remove chemicals. Before preparation and cooking, rinse whole vegetables quickly under water to preserve nutrients. Avoid soaking vegetables in water, which decreases water-soluble vitamin and mineral content. Leafy vegetables should be completely dried after rinsing because water left on the leaves can dissolve the vitamin C and mineral content. Because increased surface area exposure to oxygen leads to increased nutrient loss, any chopping of vegetables should be done immediately before cooking (or eating if raw). During vegetable preparation, remember that the outer parts of leafy vegetables contain higher concentrations of nutrients than the tender inner leaves. Leafy portions are more nutrient-dense than stalks and leaf midribs.
STORAGE: Proper storage ensures optimal vitamin and mineral content.
- Fresh vegetables should be purchased in smaller quantities two or three times a week rather than in larger amounts once a week. Store leafy vegetables for short periods of time in the refrigerator. Hard squash store well for several weeks on the counter. Potatoes and sweet potatoes should be stored at room temperature or cooler and out of the light (a paper bag works well) to prevent sprouting and turning green. Store root vegetables in the refrigerator crisper section.
- Options when time and resources are available, include freezing or canning. These methods can be used to take advantage of lower seasonal organic produce prices. Be sure to label all stored food with the date, contents, and any special processing techniques used on that batch. Keep track of which methods work best.
- Freeze only very ripe, unblemished vegetables. All vegetables except bell peppers and tomatoes must be blanched to destroy the enzymes that could cause decomposition. To blanch: steam chopped vegetables for the allotted time specific for the particular vegetable (consult a cookbook for specific directions and times—usually no more than 3–4 minutes). Cool the vegetables quickly under running water and package immediately. Seal out as much air as possible. Blanched frozen vegetables will keep for six months at 5°F.
- Canning requires more equipment and time. However, with this method the quality and nutrient content can be preserved at a high level for as long as one year (as long as jars are kept in a cool, dark place). The process consists of heating the vegetable in glass jars for a particular period of time. This destroys spoilage-creating bacteria, molds, etc., and seals out air thus preventing entry of new microbes from the environment. For particulars about the canning process consult a canning book.
COOKING: Baking can be used for hard squash, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. For most other vegetables, steaming is the ideal method. Use as little water as possible (about 1/2 cup), and a steaming rack inside a tightly covered pot to minimize nutrient loss. After bringing the water to a boil, take the vegetable(s) out of the refrigerator, wash briefly, and add to the pot. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until tender but not soft. Make use of the water left in the pot as a soup stock, to cook rice, or to feed a pet. Cook frozen vegetables directly without thawing. When steaming vegetables that have different cooking times, stagger their addition to the pot. Or put the slowest cooking on the bottom closest to the heat and the fastest ones on the top.
HEALTH BENEFITS of VEGETABLES:
- Fiber is needed for intestinal health. It’s helpful in the prevention of constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, and colon cancer. It’s also helpful in regulating blood lipids and cholesterol, as well as for stabilizing blood sugar. Most vegetables are rich sources of fiber.
- Vitamins & Minerals are abundant in vegetables. Here are some examples:
o Vitamin A/carotenes: Sweet potatoes, spinach, hard squash, carrots, greens (mustard, turnip, collard, dandelion), kale
o Vitamin K: Spinach, sweet potatoes, beets, bean sprouts, broccoli
o B2/Riboflavin: Spinach, sweet potatoes, beets, bean sprouts, broccoli
o B3/Niacin: Mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus, bean sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes, corn, broccoli, mustard and collard greens
o B6/Pyridoxine: Potatoes, corn, carrots, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, sweet potatoes
o Folic acid: Spinach, asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, collards
o Vitamin C: Tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, collard/mustard/turnip greens, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, peppers
o Calcium: Broccoli, collard/mustard/turnip/beet greens, kale, bok choy, dandelion greens, spinach
o Potassium: Tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, pumpkin & hard squash, parsnips, brussel sprouts, bok choy, Jerusalem artichokes
o Magnesium: Broccoli, potatoes, spinach, parsnips, collard greens
o Iron: Broccoli, spinach, potatoes