Vegetables are something you generally love, or hate to eat. Either way, you have to eat them to maintain optimum health. Either way, you want to get the most nutrition you can from them, or why bother eating them? One way to maximize plant foods’ nutritional value is to consume all the nutrients they came to you with by eating them raw, minimally cooking them, and by rescuing nutrients lost in cooking. Another way is to eat them in a way to maximize your absorption of as many nutrients as possible, such as eating fats with vegetables rich in the fat soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K; or acidic foods with foods rich in calcium. And a third way is to eat more parts of the same plants, utilizing parts that would normally be overlooked. All of these techniques would be very useful in an emergency situation when the selection of available vegetable foods would be sharply diminished, and the need for their nutrition more critical. You can also use them now, to get the most for your vegetable dollars.
Salads often combine several nutrient conserving techniques: raw or minimally cooked foods, and combining fats with foods rich in fat soluble vitamins. For those with impaired absorption, minimally cooking vegetables aids in nutrient uptake and leftovers are easily combined in prepared salads, saving money. Salads are also an easy way to eat more ‘parts’ of many vegetables by utilizing their sprouted seeds, or their shoots and leaves. And as I have come to learn, a good flavorful salad dressing covers a multitude of surprise ingredients as well as often adding a little acidic twang that helps with absorbing calcium in the salad ingredients.
You may already be familiar with alfalfa sprouts, and have possibly tried radish, onion, or pea sprouts; but shoots and leaves? Well, you already eat shoots (broccoli, asparagus) and leaves (lettuces and other greens) so why not increase your choices by adding in bean, beet, carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, pea, pumpkin, radish, young squash, or sweet potato leaves? (Carrot leaves have a strong taste, so use them sparingly until you decide how much of them you wish to include in your food.) If some of your diners are do not like ‘new’ foods, they can be shredded in with the usual iceberg lettuce to ease them into the menu as ‘mixed greens’. Or you can try my mother’s technique – just eat the new foods with obvious relish in front of the first timers to make them so curious they will try them.
Stir-frying is another minimal cooking technique which maximizes vegetable nutrition for the same reasons as salads (minimal cooking, addition of fat). It’s also another way to sneak in ‘weird’ vegetable parts to the menu. Sprouts are often used (bean sprouts are common) and any of the above ‘shoots and leaves’ would be good additions. Much good nutrition can be ‘disguised’ by chopping up the newer foods in a stir fry. A sauce can be added if you want to merge any new flavors a bit. Casseroles also are naturals for sneaking nutritious foods into the menu for the same reasons, but use care with the sauces as they tend to be over-processed (cream of whatever soup, for example) and/or high in fats and salt.
Make your own sauces instead.
Soups utilize even more nutrition-boosting possibilities, by adding utilization of the vegetable cooking liquids. With some harder foods, cooking aids in absorption of nutrition by softening the fiber of the plant. Carrots and tomatoes are two foods that actually have increased nutrient uptake when cooked.
Even if you steam them soft, some water is used, and soups use this vegetable broth efficiently and tastily. You can also use vegetable cooking water in sauces and gravies. Since many modern canned vegetables are canned immediately from the field and basically ‘cooked’ in the can, even canned vegetables nutrients can be rescued by using the can-juices in cooking. Plus they store very nicely.
OK, convinced? Ready for recipes? Me too!
SWEET POTATP GREENS
I just ate some raw last night and they were delicious! The leaves taste like a combination of raw snow peas and green beans (very mild) and the leaf stems had a nice juicy crunch like raw green beans. The stems between the leaf stem attachments were more fibrous, so you would save it to add to vegetable stock to squeeze out the last bit of goodness. Best of all, I picked my leaves off the sweet potato I sprouted as a houseplant! You could conceivably grow these greens indoors in an apartment, and nobody would even recognize them as edible (well, except us). And the prunings would keep the vines in check a bit. There are quite a few recipes for sweet potato greens from the Asian and Pacific Rim countries. Never again will I have cause to gripe about the vines trying to take over the garden. I’ll be too busy harvesting them.
For a quick side dish, go out and gather a colander full of sweet potato greens–no tough stems just the tips of the vines. Rinse the leaves and chop them up a bit. Sauté them in a large skillet in hot olive oil. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper as you stir them around. Add a little bit of garlic powder if you like.
When the greens wilt they are ready to eat.
Add the thinly sliced leaves to soups and stew recipes that call for fresh greens. This is a good way to add sweet potato nutrition to a dish. Add the greens toward the end of the cooking time in order to avoid overcooking them.
In some Asian countries sweet potato leaf is steeped in hot water and drunk as an herbal
SWEET POTATO LEAF SALAD
In the Philippines, Sweet Potato Leaves are Talbos ng Camote or Camote Tops. Camote is the Tagalog word for sweet potatoes, and Tops, well, because the leaves grown on top. The leaves are used for soups and salad. .
1 bunch (around 4 oz) Sweet potato (Camote) Tops, washed, cut into bite sized pieces
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1/3 C rice vinegar (I used brown rice vinegar) or even white vinegar
1 T sugar (or more if you prefer a bit sweeter taste)
salt and pepper to taste
Blanch the leaves in boiling water. Drain. Immerse in cold water bath. Drain again.
Mix the rice vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper together.
Arrange the sweet potato leaves on a platter. Top with tomatoes and onions. Drizzle with the vinegar-sugar mixture.
SWEET POTATO LEAF STIR-FRY
Sweet potato leaves, trimmed and washed
2-3 cloves of garlic
Salt to taste
1 tsp. chicken granules
1/4 cup water
Heat oil in wok. When heated, add in garlic, fry until slight golden, add in sweet potato leaves. Stir-fry for a little while, add in salt, water and chicken granules. Stir-fry to blend well and serve hot. Sprinkle the top with some crispy shallots if you want to.
SWEET POTATO LEAVES AFRICAN STYLE
An hour or so before dinner, snip off the desired number of leaves from the living plant, and proceed as follows:
6 cloves garlic or more, minced
4 oz ground turkey, lean ground beef or 1 package tempeh*, crumbled, marinated (optional)
1 med onion, chopped fine
10 roma tomatoes or 2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 can vegetable broth
4 oz tomato paste
a little cayenne, a little black pepper
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp oregano
2 summer squash, diced
sweet potato leaves, lots
Place a small amount of olive oil in a non-stick pan over a medium flame. Add half the garlic and the tempeh* or ground meat. Stir fry until lightly browned. Remove, and set aside.
Add a little more oil, the remaining garlic, and onions. Cover and simmer until the onions are tender. You may need to add a little water or broth if the ingredients get too dry. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable broth, and some hot chili pepper or cayenne. Simmer until the broth is thick.
Add the squash, the tempeh, and the sweet potato leaves. Simmer a final four to five minutes until the squash is tender.
This is great served over rice, millet or pasta. The original version was served over cooked sweet potato tubers cooked with peas. an interesting way of using ALL of the sweet potato plant at once.
IMFINO YEZINANGA (Pumpkin Leaves and Peanuts)
a traditional Zulu Recipe
1/2 lb pumpkin leaves (220g)
6 oz peanuts (groundnuts) (140g)
1 1/2 cups milk (400ml)
Salt and pepper to taste
Thoroughly wash the pumpkin leaves and tear them into relatively small pieces.
Crush the peanuts in a mortar using a pestle but do not grind them into a paste.
Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring to almost boiling.
Add the pumpkin leaves and simmer until the leaves become tender.
Add the crushed peanuts and simmer for a further 12 to 15 minutes.
Add the salt and pepper to taste, stirring well to ensure even distribution..
Serve hot as a vegetable with a stiff maize porridge or meat.
IFISASHI (4 SERVINGS)
Zambia’s version of the “Greens in Peanut Sauce” found all over Central and Southern Africa, Ifisashi, is usually a vegetarian greens and peanuts dish. However, meat can be added if any is handy. Ifisashi is usually served with Nshima, a sort of cornmeal dumpling or mush. Also served in Chad.
1 to 2 cups raw peanuts, shelled and skins removed
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 or three pounds of collard greens, pumpkin leaves, sweet potato leaves, stems removed, washed,
rinsed, and chopped
salt (to taste)
cooked cabbage (optional)
leftover cooked beef, chicken, or fish (optional)
Grind, chop, or pound peanuts into a fine powder. Bring a few cups of water to a boil in a large pot.
Add the peanuts, tomatoes, and onion. Cook on high heat for several minutes, stirring often.
Reduce heat to medium. Stir in greens. Add salt. Cover. Cook for 15 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Add water if mixture becomes dry and starts to scorch. Continue cooking until greens and peanuts are reduced to a thick sauce. Adjust seasoning and add optional ingredients. Serve hot.
Like most green leafy vegetables, pea shoots – the young tendrils and leaves of the garden pea plant – are incredibly nutrient-dense.
PEA SHOOT SALAD WITH SOY VINAIGRETTE
For the soy vinaigrette, blend 1/2 cup of grapeseed oil, 1 teaspoon of dark sesame oil, 3 tablespoons of unseasoned rice wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Pour over chopped up pea shoots.
PEA SHOOT BUBBLE & SQUEAK
4 Medium Potatoes
100g Pea Shoots (2 Packs)
2 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Peel the potatoes then chop into small cubes. Place the potatoes in a pan of boiling water and cook for 15 minutes or until soft enough to mash. The smaller the potatoes are cut, the quicker they will cook. If you have left over carrots and leeks from a previous meal they would be perfect in this recipe. Alternatively, peel and chop the carrots and leeks into small cubes and blanch them for 10 minutes while the potatoes are cooking.
Finely chop the onion and fry in 1tsp each of butter and olive oil. Once the potato is cooked, mash it until smooth, add the onion, cooked carrot and leek. Chop the pea shoots finely then add to the mash. Mix thoroughly then allow cooling for 5 minutes. This can be served as an alternative to plain potato mash, or fried to make bubble and squeak. Heat the remaining oil and butter in a frying pan.
Take handfuls of the mashed potato mix and make into patties then fry for 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Delicious served with cold meat, slices of ham or grilled sausages.
PEA SHOOT & BACON SOUP
3 Slices Smoked Bacon
1 Medium Potato
1 tbsp Olive Oil
50g Pea Shoots (1 Pack)
1 pint Chicken Stock
1 tbsp Crème Fraiche
Finely chop the onion and fry in 1tbsp olive oil in a saucepan for 5 minutes. Chop the bacon into small pieces and add to the saucepan. Fry for 5 minutes until starting to brown. Peel the potato and chop into a 1cm square dice. Add the potato and the chicken stock to the saucepan. Boil for 10 minutes until the potato is soft. Place the contents of the sauce pan into a blender, and blitz until smooth.
Then add the pea shoots and blend until a smooth, bright green, thick soup consistency is reached. Return to the pan and reheat. Serve in bowls with a swirl of crème fraiche. Delicious with warm soda bread smothered in butter.
TO SIR FRY PEA SHOOTS
1 pound mature pea shoots, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of knife
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
Heat vegetable oil in a wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until surface of oil ripples. Add smashed garlic cloves and dried hot red pepper flakes, then stir-fry until garlic is pale golden. Toss in shoots and stir-fry until wilted and tender, 4 to 5 minutes.
Watermelon rind is good for something besides pickles. Not that they are bad, mind you, but I prefer the fermented taste of a Watermelon Kimchee to a sweet Watermelon pickle. The rind tastes somewhat like a mild Chinese Bitter Melon. Here I tried a Thai recipe. Peel off the hard green skin and use the thick succulent part of the rind.
PHAD PUAK TANG MO MOO KEM (WATERMELON RIND STIR-FRY) Serves: 1
2 tablespoons cured salted pork or sliced bacon
1 teaspoon canola oil, optional
1 clove garlic, crushed and coarsely minced
1 cup melon rind, skin removed and sliced into 1/3 inch width and 2 inch length
2 tablespoons chives, for garnish
Heat a wok on medium-high heat, and stir in salted pork or bacon. Sauté them until crisp and fat is rendered. Remove excess fat to allow only 1 teaspoon on the bottom of the wok. If no fat can be rendered, then add 1 teaspoon canola oil. Sauté in garlic until yellow. Stir in sliced watermelon rind and cook for 1 minute, the aroma of garlic, bacon and melon like should develop before adding 1 tablespoon water. Cook for one more minute and make sure to have about 1 or 2 tablespoon sauce, otherwise add more water. Stir in chives and serve right away. Or use chive for garnish. Serve with warm jasmine rice.
WATERMELON RIND IN CLEAR SOUP (1 to 2 servings)
8 oz. ground pork
9 oz. watermelon rind, cut 1 cm. thick and 1 inch long
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 teaspoons seasoning sauce or soy sauce
1 spring onion
In small bowl put ground pork add 2 teaspoons seasoning sauce, ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon water. Mix well and set aside.
Clean spring onion and cut 1 inch long. Boil the water into medium pot over medium heat. When the water boil add watermelon rind.
Simmer until watermelon rind is tender, spoon the pork mixture into the soup. Add remain seasoning sauce. Continue boil until the pork done, add spring onion and turn off heat.
Though they can have an intense, parsley-like flavor, carrot tops needn’t be discarded in the compost bin. Their bright, springtime flavor makes them a nice addition to soups and broths. They can be sprinkled over couscous, in addition to or replacing parsley, or mixed as an herb in salads and salad dressings. A little goes in a long way in dips and buttery sauces.
Many of the vegetable leaves taste like their fruits, just milder. I enjoy cucumber leaves shredded and wilted into my cucumber salad with sour cream dressing. They add flavor, color, and vitamins to an extremely ‘white’ salad. I also enjoy mixed salads with the beet and radish tops added. When I thin the garden crops these are at their best. I save the green tops from spring onions and dry them. Mixed with dry parsley flakes and the leaves from celery stalks, I have a wonderful ’3 wise men’ style seasoning for my soups, sauces and main dishes.
So do try some ‘secondary harvest’ vegetables to double your nutrition and good eating from the same vegetable parts you might otherwise throw away!
For those who like a chart, here is a good one from the April 2002 issue of Vegetable Production & Marketing News, edited by Frank J. Dainello, Ph.D., and produced by Extension Horticulture,
Texas Cooperative Extension, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas.
I keep a copy on the refrigerator to remind me to expand my culinary horizons.
Vegetable Common Edible Parts Other Edible Parts
Beans, snap pod with seeds leaves
Beans, lima seeds pods, leaves
Beets root leaves
Broccoli flower leaves, flower stem
Carrot root leaves
Cauliflower immature flower stem, leaves
Celery leaf stems leaves, seeds
Corn, sweet seeds young ears, unfurled tassel, young leaves
Cucumber fruit with seeds stem tips and young leaves
Eggplant fruit with seeds leaves edible but not flavorful
Kohlrabi swollen stem leaves
Okra pods with seeds leaves
Onions root young leaves
Parsley tops roots
Peas, English seeds pods, leaves
Peas, Southern seeds, pods young leaves
Pepper pods leaves after cooking, immature seeds
Potatoes, Sweet roots leaves and stem shoots
Radish roots leaves
Squash fruit with seeds, flowers, young leaves
Tomato fruits with seeds leaves contain alkaloids
Turnip roots, leaves ———-
Watermelon fruit — interior pulp and seeds rind of fruit