3 nutritious and delicious vegetable recipes by Pete Evans
I’m a beach boy gone country and, if I didn’t already love vegetables enough before I started working the farm, I have a newfound appreciation after a few good seasons of growing our own. As a chef, I like nothing more than using fresh, seasonal vegies, grown as close as possible to home — and nothing gets closer than your own backyard.
Anything fibrous, green and leafy that grows above the ground is a daily staple because these vegies are nutrient heavyweights.
On the journey of learning how to grow vegies that go plot to plate, I’ve found a few of my favourites each season that I’ve dubbed “very good” vegies. These are vegies that grow well with good soil, organic fertiliser, water and fresh air. In the kitchen, they are also easy to cook with, can be used in lots of recipes and hit it for six when it comes to nutrients and flavour.
At the farm we have eight square vegie beds, which have some protection from the elements and are fed with their own rainwater tank. It means we’ve always got a supply of “very good” vegies on hand to cook with and I want to share some recipes inspired by what we’re growing in our patch this winter.
Anything fibrous, green and leafy that grows above the ground is a daily staple because these vegies are nutrient heavyweights. We eat lots of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale because they are fibrous cruciferous vegetables. What’s so special about this family of vegetables is that studies have shown they may be capable of killing cancer cells.
Broccoli has always been one of my favourites. I like it raw or lightly steamed because it’s at its best from a nutrition perspective. It’s one of those vegies I like to really eat a lot of when it’s in season: broccoli contains so much vitamin C that eating more of it is a great way to boost your defences for winter.
Full of antioxidants, broccoli helps to reduce inflammation in the body. Most importantly, it’s rich in sulforaphane, a sulfur compound that scientific research confirms may reduce the severity of many chronic illnesses. One study found that eating four serves of broccoli a day could help protect men from prostate cancer. The same compound activates antioxidant defence pathways in the body, which halts the immune system’s decline and protects against the stress that causes ageing.
Sulforaphane also helps to significantly improve blood pressure and kidney function and stabilise blood sugar levels, which is very important for those who have insulin resistance, pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Like its cruciferous cousin, cauliflower is another garden favourite that’s rich in sulforaphane. It’s also high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that lower oxidative stress and fight free radicals. It’s an excellent source of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin responsible for keeping the skeletal structure healthy and preventing bone conditions such as osteoporosis.
Studies have also proved sulforaphane protects the tissues of the retinal area from oxidative stress that can result in blindness, cataracts, macular degeneration and more.
Cabbage is another pretty cool customer. What I love about cabbage is that it’s cost-efficient and really versatile. You can literally make anything out of a cabbage leaf. Boil a whole leaf tender and use as the base for a tasty turmeric cabbage roll or slice it up finely to add bulk and density to a stir-fry or stew.
Cabbage is also one of my favourite vegies because it forms the basis of a really good ferment. I love sauerkraut because it’s a side dish that delivers a tangy, tarty kick and because it’s just so good for you. When it comes to sauerkraut, cabbage is very much the star of the show.
Creating cultured vegetables is like raising your own little family — you get really attached to not only the outcome but also the process.
To make sauerkraut at home, rub salt and culture in and pop it in a jar to ferment for a week. I like to use a mix of white and red cabbage but you can play around to find your favourite flavours. You can also add other vegetables, such as carrots, and medicinal spices, such as turmeric, to really boost its health benefits.
I encourage everyone to give fermentation a go. Creating cultured vegetables is like raising your own little family — you get really attached to not only the outcome but also the process. It’s fascinating.
Finally, no winter vegie patch at our place would be complete without kale. It might cop a bit of flak for being a “trendy vegie” but the reality is it’s so full of nutrients it’s an important one to put on your plate.
Not only is it low carb, kale contains more iron per kilojoule than red meat and has 10 times more vitamin C than spinach. It’s also a good source of vitamins K and A.
Fibrous vegetables such as the four mentioned have also been proven to assist in weight management, glycaemic control and satiety. They contain very little sugar and starch and so don’t spike blood sugar levels. Instead, they give the body a slow, sustained energy release.
Some fibrous vegetables, such as leeks, are known for being a good source of prebiotics (the food for probiotics), which contribute to the growth of beneficial organisms in the intestines and are key in creating a balanced, healthy digestive system.
An upward spiral
The other tool I use to transform vegies into all sorts of delicious accompaniments is a spiraliser. You can spiralise most firm-fleshed vegies. I love making spirals out of unusual vegies like kohlrabi, parsnip and pumpkin during the winter months to use in vegetable noodle bowls and broths.
The other vegie I really love to spiralise is green papaya. When papaya is green (unripe) it’s at its healthiest for us to consume, as the sugars haven’t yet concentrated, which is why the flesh is still rock-hard. It’s often used in Asian-inspired dishes. My favourite way to use and eat it is to grate it, combine it with lime juice, salt, ginger or chilli and some coriander — you can also use lemongrass or garlic, whatever you love — then leave it to ferment for a week. Check out the recipe that follows. It’s my favourite side dish to serve alongside barbecue seafood or chicken but is equally great next to a Vietnamese pho.
Delicious daily detox
Whether it’s cauliflower, kale or kohlrabi you love, I’m encouraging everyone to get together their own list of “very good” vegies with each new season. The idea is to select the ones that taste great but also support better health. That’s because eating the right kinds of vegetables is one of the most powerful ways you can help yourself to detoxify each day.
Also, by choosing fresh, organic vegetables (or better still, growing your own), you are selecting produce that is higher in nutrients while minimising your exposure to GMOs and pesticides. I try to eat at least one serving of these vegies with each of my meals and aim for as many servings of fibrous and green vegetables a day as I can muster.
Cook with love and laughter,
Broccoli & Sesame Salad
- 200g broccoli, broken into florets, stems reserved
- 1 bunch (about 180g) broccolini
- 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 2 handfuls rocket
- 1 small handful mint leaves, torn
- 80g (½ cup) almonds (activated if possible), toasted & chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
- 65g (¼cup) hulled tahini
- 3 tbsp apple-cider vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- To make the dressing, combine the tahini, vinegar and garlic with 3 tablespoons of water in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
- Thinly slice the broccoli stems lengthways using a mandolin, or peel thinly with a vegetable peeler, and place in a bowl. Slice the broccolini lengthways, chop into 2cm pieces and combine with the sliced broccoli stems. Add the broccoli florets, spring onion, rocket, mint and half the almonds. Pour on the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and gently toss to combine.
- Arrange the salad in a serving bowl, drizzle on the dressing and sprinkle over the remaining almonds and the sesame seeds.
- Tip: Serve with some fermented veg tossed through the salad.
Cultured Green Papaya
Makes: a 1.5L jar
- 2 green papayas (about 800g each), peeled & deseeded
- 3 tsp sea salt
- 1 long red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
- 1½ tbsp finely grated ginger
- 2 tbsp finely chopped coriander
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 1 small cabbage leaf, washed
- You will need a 1.5-litre preserving jar with an airlock lid for this recipe. Wash the jar and all the utensils you will be using in very hot water or run them through a hot rinse cycle in the dishwasher.
- Shred the papaya in a food processor with a grater attachment, or grate by hand, then place in a large glass or stainless steel bowl. Sprinkle over the salt, chilli, ginger, coriander and lime juice. Mix well and massage with your hands for 5 mins to release some liquid.
- Fill the prepared jar with the papaya mixture, pressing down well with a large spoon or potato masher to remove any air pockets. Pour in all the liquid from the bowl and leave 2cm of room free at the top. The papaya should be completely submerged in the liquid; add some filtered water if necessary.
- Take the cabbage leaf, fold it up and place it on top of the papaya mix, then add a small glass weight (a shot glass is ideal) to keep everything submerged. Close the lid, then wrap a tea towel around the side of the jar to block out the light. Store in a dark place with a temperature of 16–23°C for 5–7 days. (Place the jar in a cooler to maintain a more consistent temperature.) Different vegetables have different culturing times and the warmer it is the shorter the time needed. The longer you leave the jar, the higher the level of good bacteria and the tangier the flavour.
- Chill before eating.
- Note: Once opened, the cultured papaya will last for up to two months in the fridge when kept submerged in the liquid. Unopened, it will keep for up to nine months in the fridge.
Wild Mushroom “Risotto” With Chestnuts & Truffle Oil
- 1 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms
- 600g cauliflower, roughly chopped
- 3 tbsp coconut oil or good-quality animal fat
- 150g king brown or oyster mushrooms, sliced
- 150g Swiss brown mushrooms, sliced
- 200g pine, slippery jack or portobello mushrooms, sliced
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tsp finely chopped thyme
- 125mL (½ cup) dry white wine
- 300ml chicken bone broth or vegetable stock
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus extra to serve
- 4 peeled chestnuts, finely sliced & toasted
- Truffle-infused olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil, to serve
- Soak the porcini mushrooms in 100mL of water for 10 mins. Drain, reserving the mushroom water.
- To make the cauliflower rice, place the cauliflower in the bowl of a food processor and pulse into tiny, fine pieces that look like rice.
- Melt 1 tablespoon of the oil or fat in a saucepan over medium–high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for 2 mins, season with salt and pepper and remove from the pan.
- Wipe the pan clean, add the remaining coconut oil or fat and the onion and sauté for 5 mins until the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic, thyme and reserved porcini mushrooms and sauté for 30 secs. Pour in the wine and cook until completely reduced, 5–10 mins.
- Add the cauliflower rice, broth or stock and reserved mushroom water to the pan, return the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5–7 mins until the cauliflower rice is cooked through. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and parsley and season with salt and pepper.
- To finish, divide the risotto between four serving plates, scatter over the chestnuts and extra parsley and drizzle with the truffle or extra-virgin olive oil.
- Note: To prepare the chestnuts, score the top and bottom of each one with a knife and place on a baking tray. Roast in an oven preheated to 180°C for 10–12 mins until the skins split. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 10 mins to steam. Peel away the hard outer layer and discard. Finely slice the chestnuts, transfer to a greased baking tray, drizzle over a little olive oil and toast in the oven at 180°C for 5–6 mins until golden. Season with a little salt.
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