There are many different ways to cook vegetables, each resulting in their own specific result — whether you’re going for the dry heat of an oven or the quickness of the microwave.
Overcooking will destroy color, crispness (texture) and some nutrients of the vegetable. Do not add baking soda to retain color because this will destroy nutrients.
Before you get cooking, keep in mind how many nutrients might be lost depending on the method you choose. So, plan your meal, and your cooking method, accordingly.
Microwave: Microwaving is one of the easiest ways-and can be a nutritious way-to prepare fresh vegetables. There will always be some loss of water-soluble nutrients, like the B vitamins and vitamin C, because these nutrients are sensitive to heat. However the less water you use, the more nutrients you save. Microwaving cooks foods faster than most other methods. Follow the manufacture’s directions for best results.
Steam: Steaming is a good method for cooking fresh or frozen vegetables. Try this method for vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, carrots, spinach and summer squash. Use a vegetable steamer or colander to hold vegetables above the water. Place steamer in pot with a little boiling water and cover. Cook until the vegetables are just tender-crisp to preserve color and vitamins.
Steaming under pressure (pressure cooking) can be useful for cooking roots (beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips), tubers (white potatoes, sweet potatoes, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes) and dried legumes (peas and beans) that usually require a longer cooking time. Overcooking can easily occur so it is important to follow directions.
Stir-fry: Stir-frying is quick, easy and preserves the crisp texture and bright color of vegetables. Heat wok or heavy skillet, add just enough oil to lightly coat bottom of pan or use a small amount of some other liquid, such as a low sodium broth. Add small pieces of vegetables and stir constantly while cooking. Cook until the vegetables are bright, glossy and tender-crisp. Do not over-cook.
Pan: Panning is a method of cooking with very little water or with the steam formed by the vegetable’s own juices. The vegetable is shredded or cut into small pieces and placed in a heavy pan with a small amount of cooking oil, that is, just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. A tight-fitting lid is used to hold in the steam. Five to 8 minutes is all that is required to cook the vegetables tender-crisp.
Some vegetables suited for panning include shredded cabbage, carrots, sliced summer squash, thinly-sliced green beans and most leafy greens.
Bake: Baking is done in an oven with dry heat. This is an excellent method to keep vitamins, minerals and flavors in the vegetables. Some vegetables suited to this method include potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and onions. Simply wash thoroughly, prick skins and place vegetables on a baking sheet in the oven.
Boil: Vegetables are cooked in a minimum amount of hot liquid, usually water. A general guideline is about one cup of liquid for four servings. The liquid left after cooking can be used as a sauce base, in soups or gravies.
Bring liquid to a full boil, add the prepared vegetables, cover and return to boiling. Reduce heat and complete cooking at a gentle boil. Vegetables cook as rapidly at a gentle boil as at a rapid boil because the temperature is 212 degrees Fahrenheit in both cases.
Additional Methods: Vegetables can be cooked by broiling, grilling, braising, pan-frying and deep-fat frying.
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.