Thursday, April 28, 2011
Kitchen basics: vegetables aren't all braindead
The current line of thinking in activist circles is that we eat too much meat and not enough vegetable, or at the very least, not enough plant matter. To which I can certainly agree; look at your average plate at most restaurant, and you'll see a large amount of what's on it taken over by two groups: meat and starch. This certainly affects our perception of what we eat at home, as we tend to focus a lot of the food items around a large piece of meat (and accompanying fat), which dings the grocery budget by quite a bit, and a large helping of rice/potato/pasta/bread or combo thereof.
For a restaurant, there is a simple logic to this: people love their meat, so that's the star of the plate and what draws the customers in, and starches and cheap and filling, making sure that the customer feels full; the vegetables on the other hand, tend to be mostly used as decoration (like that piece of tomato on the classic diner breakfast) or as a flavor bit, just to give the illusion that we are eating some veggies. That bit of salad on the plate is alright, but not particularly nutritious. That's why many salad offerings in most restaurants have cheese, croutons or bits of meat added in, to convince our programmed minds that we have a "real meal."
Truth is, there's not a lot of plants on the offering because of the costs: most vegetables have to be fresh, so they must be bought and used withing a few days of purchase, and most people are drawn in by the meat, which also dings the budget... you get where this is going.
So, what vegetables should be part of the kitchen staples then? To keep with the running heme, the ones that will be the most adaptable, and will provide the most bang for your buck by keeping well and making you want to eat them while they are fresh. And will make you want to save them if they start to go on the blink.
Making a habit of getting fresh tomatoes when possible gives you a few more choices of preparations; this is where the variety of fruits becomes important. There is quite a bit of difference between Roma, beefsteak and simple vine-grown, and they are not all used for the same purpose, as they all have different characteristics. Roma are going to be firmer and fleshier, mostly used for sauces and for cooking; beefsteak are going to be large, lumpy and flavorful, perfect for sandwiches and to complement burgers; vine-grown would most likely be used for salads, but they can well be used instead of other varieties. These are but examples, so just be aware that there are several varieties and go from there.
Corn and peas:
In the event that you should keep stuff around, then frozen is a good option. They are more likely to have been picked when ripe, and if you can swing it, look for those brands who are flash frozen (withing a couple of hours from harvesting.) Otherwise, lemons and lime can always come in handy, even if its just to give and extra kick to your bar.
Of those that are available most of the year, bananas are a good go-to, especially for the breakfast smoothies, or those of you that can handle some baking. Along with apples like Cortland, they make handy snacks. Try to stay away from such varieties like Macintosh, Red or Yellow Delicious and the like, as they don't have good shelf live and don't hand the qualities that you want if you want something that can be cooked as well as eaten as is.
Did I miss something? Feel free to comment and add your suggestions. Remember, its your plate, its your fridge, so eat it, don't waste it.