How To Cook Vegetables
Vegetables are bright, colorful, and packed with nutrients our bodies need. But how do we cook them to ensure they’re delicious?
And yet, many people have trouble cooking with them. Why should we learn tips on how to cook delicious vegetables.?
Traditional recipes typically boil and overcook vegetables, often keeping them as separate sides rather than components meant to be combined, much like butter. Vegetables have so much more flavor and potential than we give them credit for. With these tips, you’re sure to sway any picky eater who insists that bell peppers are disgusting. They’re not, just trust in this guide and you will soon know the wonders of cooking a delicious bell pepper and more!
Following the outline in Veganomicon (which we highly recommend for your bookshelf!), we will begin with grilling then move into roasting, and steaming, but also sautéing and braising.
If the grill can bring out flavors in the meat, be assured that the same can be done for vegetables.
Whether you are putting together vegetable skewers or you want to throw a whole pepper onto the grill, we rank the red bell pepper as #1 proceeded by yellow and orange. Their color indicates the length of time spent on the vine, thus possessing a more rich flavor than green bells (which we also love, but we get that it’s not everyone’s thing).
In Veganomican, they recommend blanching your peppers, meaning you boil them in water for a minute or two before brushing with oil and grilling.
Personally, I have not tried this method when making skewers (we’ll get to that), but I know the powers of blanching and will be trying this out the next time we grill whole peppers.
After blanching for one-two minutes, drain them and allow them to cool. You may cut them in half or leave them whole and then brush with oil.
When grilling, the skin of the pepper should be touching the grill. Cook them until the skin is very charred. Depending on the heat of your grill it could be between 8 and 15 minutes. From experience, I don’t recommend putting them directly over the flame. I enjoy a slower cook, but you do want that charred goodness. Flip the bell pepper once one side has charred.
This method can also be applied to jalapeños and serranos as well if you’re feeling feisty.
I am specifically avoiding asparagus in this topic because I simply prefer cabbage. And I like my asparagus to be charred on a cast-iron skillet over the stove. Also, I firmly believe that cabbage is an underdog and deserves some love.
When preparing cabbage for the grill, I slice the cabbage in thick, one to one and a half inch discs.
Then, brush each side of the cabbage in olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you want to go wild, squeeze half of a lime and add a dash of cumin as well.
Depending on your equipment, you can cook the cabbage discs on a vegetable tray for the grill, or wrap each disc in tin foil.
Cook the cabbage until they begin to char, same deal as the bell peppers. It depends on the flame and temperature.
What I find to be special about the tin foil wrapped discs is that the cabbage not only chars, it steams them. I think the flavor is more contained that way, but that is just my opinion. When cooking them this way, you’ll know a side is done when the foil has also darkened.
Once both sides have charred, remove from the grill and allow them to cool. You can slice them up and make a char-grilled slaw or just have them on the side.
When it comes to grilling, this is where I disagree with the Veganomicon. They recommend pulling the husk, but not fully removing it, and then soaking the corn in a large pot of water for about 30 minutes. Then they recommend oiling each side and sprinkling with salt and closing the husk back up.
I believe that corn tastes just as delicious when you throw them straight on the grill in their husks, no prep needed. However, this is dependent on the quality of your corn. Sometimes you get a bad ear in the bunch that is dry and shriveling. That’s no good. To see if your ear of corn is going to be ripe and sweet, pull back the husk just a bit to see what the kernels look like, give it a smell. It should smell subtly sweet and the kernels should not be dry.
Whichever method you choose, cook the whole ears (in the husk) on the grill and turn often for about 20 minutes. The husks will crisp up and darken, but don’t worry. You want the heat to get through to crisp the corn. The kernels should be soft, releasing moisture when pressed.
If you didn’t prep your corn before grilling, you can then remove the husk and sprinkle with salt/pepper or dab a bit of oil. But trust me, good corn grilled well without any add-ons is just very sweet and delicious. It doesn’t take a whole lot to make a vegetable take good. See where we’re going with this?
I will be honest, portobellos are hit or miss for me. That is because they need to be cooked really well in order for them to spectacular.
I’m talking about big portobellos caps. When buying them, they should not be slimy or smell like spoiled mud. That’s when you know a mushroom is starting to go. Fresh mushrooms are firm.
When preparing, rinse and dry the caps and then you can either toss them in oil, salt, and pepper, or you can quickly marinate them in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic. I like to marinate them for 5-7 minutes because you don’t want them to get too soggy.
When grilling, keep them off of direct flame but close enough to high heat that they can get a good char. Start with the head of the cap face down on the grill and cook until it chars, about 8 minutes or less or more! This depends on the size of your cap, its thickness, and the grill temperature. But 8 minutes is a good middle of the road to at least check on the portobellos’ status. Flip and repeat until both sides are charred. They will shrink in the cooking process, and that’s totally normal.
I prefer my portobellos on the more well-done side and brushing with a little more marinate during the grilling process, but that’s just my tastes. This is a good vegetable to experiment with.
An easy way to get all your vegetable needs on the grill and perfect for feeding many folks at your cook out.
I recommend sticking with onions, bell peppers (yes, green ones too), zucchini, squash, and tentatively whole mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.
Prepare the onions, bell peppers, zucchini, and squash by chopping them into large chunks, thick enough that if you skewer them they won’t break, but not so large that it weighs down your skewer and makes them difficult to handle.
For onions, I recommend cutting off the bottom, placing the flat part on the cutting board and then cutting the onion in four large quarters. Pull apart layers of the onion in sizable chunks.
That method works similarly for bell peppers, they should be in large square or triangular shaped chunks.
For squash and zucchini, they can be cut into 3/4″ or 1″ thick round disks.
I like to marinate my vegetables for skewers either in a simple olive oil, balsamic, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder marinade or with a mix of rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice, and ground ginger. Follow our recipes for more detailed marinades.
You don’t want to marinate mushrooms like you would these other vegetables because they will soft too much. Same with tomatoes, it’s just unnecessary.
After the vegetables have marinated for at least 30 minutes, I begin skewering them and then I will quickly toss mushrooms and tomatoes in the marinade before skewering.
When grilling, keep in mind that tomatoes cook very quickly, about 2-3 minutes. If you’re skewering with tomatoes, remember to keep an eye on your vegetables while cooking. Otherwise, cook the vegetables for 7-10 minutes, rotating to ensure you get a nice char all around.
For roasting vegetables to perfection, you want to have a variety of deep baking pans and/or casserole dishes.
I am a firm believer that you can roast anything. It’s an easy way to prepare a meal or side when you have other tasks you need to take care of.
Roasted asparagus is my preferred method of preparation because it brings out its best flavor and texture.
To get started, preheat the oven to 400°F or 204℃.
Remove the bottom stems, these are the rough and often thickest part of the asparagus.
Drizzle and coat with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. You can also add garlic cloves peeled and minced, or peeled and left whole. I also like to toss in whole cherry tomatoes. If desired, splash with balsamic vinegar.
Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Tips should be crisp and the stems browned.
Green Beans are roasted very similarly to asparagus but do not require as much time or compliments. They are incredibly delicious all on their own!
Preheat the oven to 400°F or 204℃.
Trim the ends off the green beans. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and toss with salt and black pepper.
I’m a sucker for roasted garlic and cherry tomatoes, so if you want to jazz up your green beans you can add those as well.
Roast the green beans for 12 to 15 minutes and serve as they are!
Preparing butternut squash requires a bit of extra work and the right tools. I recommend using a serrated knife and a vegetable peeler for these two proposed options. But first, preheat your oven to 400°F or 204℃.
Option 1: Using a serrated knife, cut the bottom and top off of the squash. From here, you can cut the squash directly in half, longways. With this roasting option, you leave the skin on.
Using a spoon, remove the seeds and stringiness from the center of the squash. Coat lightly with olive oil and rub with salt and pepper. Place the squash halves on a baking sheet, skin side down. Use a pairing knife to cut slashes, or score, into the “meaty” part of the squash and roast for 15 minutes and then flip. Roast for another 15-25 minutes. The squash should be soft, tender, and lightly charred.
Option 2: Using a serrated knife, cut the bottom of the squash off first. Stand the squash up and peel the skin using a vegetable peel, revealing the orange-yellowishness of the squash. Cut the top of the squash off and begin cutting the squash in thick, round slices.
From there, the squash can be cut into large dices. Coat the squash pieces in olive oil, toss in salt and black pepper, and spread out onto a baking tray or roasting pan. Roast for 30-45 minutes, checking on it and stirring halfway through. The squash pieces should be soft, tender and can be easily pricked through with a fork.
As a rule of thumb, vegetables should be roasted at 400°F or 204℃. This method is perfect for root vegetables, hearty members of the cabbage family and even preparing components for other dishes like our kale pesto and butternut squash soup.
Generally, roasted vegetables don’t require much. A bit of olive oil, salt, and black pepper can take you a long way with vegetables cooked for the appropriate amount of time.
Time is also dependent on how much you are roasting together and in what type of pan or tray. Our recipe for Easy Oven-roasted Vegetables is a good place to get started.
Contrary to most assumptions, you do not actually need a steamer basket to have beautiful and flavorful steamed vegetables. A large pot with a lid will serve you well, but if you have a steamer basket that is also a plus! Also, if you have a rice cooker with a steamer basket, that comes in handy as well.
To prepare any kind of vegetable for steaming in a pot, fill a large (soup) pot with about 2 to 3 inches of cold water.
If you have a steamer basket, add that to the pot, bring the water to a boil, add veggies, and top with the lid.
If you don’t have a steamer basket, bring the water to a boil and then add the vegetables to the boiling water and cover with a lid.
Now, this may sound like boiling, but we assure you it is not! Once the water is boiling and you’ve added the vegetables, they will only need somewhere between 8-15 minutes of steam time (depending on what you are cooking).
For instance, thick asparagus may take up to 14 minutes, where as this florets of cauliflower and broccoli or de-stemmed green beans will only take 8-12 minutes.
Whether you are steaming those veggies or some dark, leafy greens such as collards or kale, any of these would be well paired with a sprinkle of salt or with a mustard, tahini, or even spicy peanut sauce!
Sautéing & Braising Vegetables
From personal experience, roasting and grilling aren’t always accessible options if you live in a small apartment or have an electric oven with an inaccurate temperature.
That’s where sautéing and braising comes in because no matter what you’re working with at home, it’s very easy to heat up a pan.
Like with all vegetables, the time it takes to cook something is dependent on its size and makeup.
One easy example is that potatoes and carrots take longer to cook than onions and peppers.
So when you are sautéing an array of vegetables into one dish, consider a hierarchy of “time it takes to cook all these things.”
If I were to make a vegetable breakfast hash with greens, I would first heat oil in a pan on high or medium-high and let the oil heat up. Then, diced potatoes would be added first and cooked until the skin begins to crisp about 5-8 minutes.
If I were to add squash or tempeh, I would add those halfway through the potatoes’ cook time.
Next, I would add garlic, onions, and bell pepper and sauté for 4-6 minutes, reduce the heat to medium. Add seasonings and a splash of apple cider vingar.
As soon as the vinegar is added and steam begins to rise from the added liquid, I would then add kale onto that steam and let it wilt for 2 minutes.
And voila! That is how you sauté with a variety of vegetables that have different cook times. Those rules can be applied to any dish that requires sautéing, much like our recipes for Veggie Fajitas and Fueled-up Grits & Greens.
Simply put, braising vegetables involves “moist heat” cooking meaning that the vegetables are cooked in liquid.
Different from boiling or simmering, braising is intended for the use of flavorful cooking liquids like stock or broth, or wine.
Root vegetables are traditionally perfect for braising and the method I have included here is intended for stove top cooking. You can also braise vegetables using a dutch oven or roasting pan in the oven.
For root vegetables, peel and trim the ends off and cut thicker pieces in halves or quarters.
To braise, heat olive oil in a sautéing pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the vegetables and cook for about 3-4 minutes, giving them a good toss. Flip and cook for another 2 minutes, making sure that you scrape up the “brown bits” being formed at the bottom of the pan, that is where the bonus flavor comes in.
Then, add broth and other seasonings (i.e. fennel, thyme, bay leaves), cover the pan with a lid, and simmer until the liquid has almost completely evaporated.
This method can also be applied to cabbage, kale, collards, and other hearty greens.
We recommend when applying these methods that you work with fresh vegetables to achieve the best flavors.
However, as you’ll see in our Kitchen Guide, we do have suggestions for the ideal frozen and canned produce that is helpful to have around.
And cooking is an acquired skill, so don’t beat yourself up if you made a mistake or if something didn’t turn out quite as you imagined. The only way to become a better home cook is to keep trying!
But we hope that these cooking basics will help you build a deliciously healthy relationship with vegetables!
Adapted from The Vegonomicon V, 2007 by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
Thanks to the authors of Vegonomicon for their helpful guides and recipes. Find your copy on Amazon or at your local bookstore.