Maintaining a balanced diet is the first casualty of a busy lifestyle. I often wonder what on earth we women did when we left the home and went out to work. (Please, no spam about this. I am ancient enough to have been a part of that movement and I will bore you to death with stories should you dare spam me about this. It was an exciting, exhilarating time for women. But now? We rock the cradle, clean the house AND run a business.)
It is especially difficult if you are vegetarian (and, like me, do not eat eggs). Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But, yes, there was a time that I struggled to eat 5 veggies and 2 fruits a day. It is hilarious what I would call a veggie, just to make the numbers match. A bunch of parsley whizzed into a sauce? Add 1 veggie. A bunch of coriander magic’d into an Indian chutney? Add another veggie. You would think eating vegetarian would make it easier, but, well, a meal of rice and dal and maybe a veggie curry does not make the math.
I took to asking my local coffee shop for one of their wonderful rolls for lunch – and can you add lettuce and tomato to that? Maybe some grilled zucchini or lettuce on the side? If I can just add another veggie or two – that would be something! It did help.
But what has helped the most is taking the time to make my own lunches, and preparing much of the dinner meal early in the day. This has meant that I no longer need to eat from sheer hunger in the middle of a busy day and as a result, buy meals that are not so conducive to healthy living.
The side benefit of eating really really well – little processed food, fresh ingredients, no meat etc – is more energy and a clearer mind.
There is a lot of evidence now that a vegetarian diet (and that means no meat and no fish) reduces risk of several degenerative diseases and conditions. It also makes you feel a lot different. When I finally gave up my occasional piece of fish, and then, later, eggs, I felt lighter. Yes, lighter. It is not surprising – vegetarian diets are a lot more lighter on your digestive system – but to feel that physically? Amazing. And then my whole house felt different. Easier, lighter, more beautiful.
Not that I want you to change your diet. My diet is my choice. Your diet is your choice. If you do change, do it gradually, and seek advice. Balancing all nutritional needs takes a bit of re-education if you are used to getting most of them from one source. I am not qualified to talk about balanced nutritional needs, but whether you are vegetarian or not, we can all do well to eat more veggies.
Spring is wonderful when it is almost here. Sunny days, 1 layer of clothing removed. Sitting on the balcony to do my paperwork. The heater off at night. The markets full of “end of winter” AND “beginning of spring” vegetables. In celebration of the transition, here are some vegetable hints. Eat well, my friend.
Choose your vegetables carefully – big is not necessarily better. Fresh is always best, seasonal ensures maximum flavour and nutrition, and value for money.
Cook your vegetables creatively – BBQ, grill, braise, boil, microwave, roast, sauté, steam, stirfry. Roast cauliflower tossed in olive oil and salt. Steam brussels sprouts and toss in a tiny bit of cream and nutmeg. Braise cucumbers in butter. Roast sweet potato, split and serve with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar! Roast baby fennel.
Don’t be afraid to mash veggies up, add some spices and use as a dip. Carrot and Moroccan spices, for example. Grated carrot, thick yoghurt and cumin. Cucumber, yoghurt and dill. Pumpkin with hot spices. Broad Beans with Herbs. Yum.
Experiment outside of the traditional greens. For example, grate carrots or raw beetroots, toss with dill or cumin seed, and mix with yoghurt. Add salt and a touch of white pepper (optional). Roast some onions and toss with diced tomato. Add sprinklings of nuts and seeds to salads. Cube some tofu, dry sauté it and add to a salad. Add goat cheese, curd or thick thick yoghurt to slices of red tomato and drizzle with olive oil.
Add herbs to your salads. Mint and lettuce. Roasted capsicums and capers with garlic dressing. Warm spinach with toasted pinenuts, parmesan and black pepper. Any freshly grilled vegetable sprinkled with parsley, or tarragon, new potatoes tossed with parsley.
Steam carrots and parsnips and mash with a little butter or olive oil. Slice potatoes and onions and layer in an ovenproof dish, add some milk or cream and bake uncovered for 1.5 hrs. Or slice zucchini and tomato and layer them, top with breadcrumbs, a pinch of sugar, salt, pepper and dobs of butter, and bake for 30 – 60 mins. Or use tomatoes and sweet onions.
Stirfry broccoli florets with bok choy leaves. Add some sliced Chinese Cabbage. Some chilli. Finish with bean sprouts and Chinese mushroom sauce. Make sweet corn and spring onion fritters.
Use herbs, spices and oils
Toss snow peas in brown butter and fried sage leaves. Roast parsnips with fresh thyme fronds. Take new potatoes and toss in a saucepan with ghee or olive oil, sprinkle liberally with a curry powder and some salt. Cook over low heat, tossing occasionally, until the potatoes are cooked. Add a pinch of cumin to mashed potatoes. Make a basil and beetroot salad.
If oil is not a problem for you, you can experiment wonderfully with different oils – walnut oil in dressings, mustard oil with wilted greens or drizzled over a thick creamed vegetable soup, olive oil over vegetables ready for baking, grapeseed oil with fruity salads. Splurge on a bottle of the VERY BEST olive oil for the occasional and very simple use in ways that do not involve cooking – over soups, in simple dressings, over cooked pasta, …
Throw it on, or in ….
Throw grated, chopped, cubed or chunked vegetables on a pasta base. French beans, garlic, olive oil and pasta? Yum. Grated carrot, grated raw beetroot, a bit of cream, salt and white pepper? Yum. Mushrooms and a touch of balsamic. Steamed asparagus, baby beans and parmesan. Tomatoes and basil. Broad Beans. Yum. Experiment.
Make (or buy) a pizza base. Add grated, chopped, cubed or chunked vegetables. Cheese. Bake. Yum. zucchini, olives and parmesan. Potatoes, rosemary and sea salt. Haloumi. Feta, olives and oregano – add rocket when it is cooked. Rocket and curd. Tomatoes, garlic and mozzarella.
Make risotto. Add baked pumpkin. Roasted Beetroot. Or some mushrooms. Peas. French beans. Allow greens to wilt in the heat of the rice. Stir in some wine, or cream, or butter, or cheese (or all four – in moderation of course). Broad beans and some butter. Fresh basil and rocket. Black olives and roast pumpkin. Lemon zest, basil, diced tomatoes and butter. Even frozen peas with some mint.
Left over risotto? Add a grated carrot and some cheese, form into patties and heat through in a frying pan.
Use bread. Make bruschetta, sandwiches, toasted sandwiches with cheese, pan bagna (stuffed loaves), jaffles and those wonderful Indian sandwiches that are grilled and SO VERY DELICIOUS. Try grilled eggplant and mozzarella, roast capsicums with olives and fresh basil, grilled onions with sea salt and black pepper, red onions and goat cheese, thick thick yoghurt with anything. Mustard and avocado. Make toasted sandwiches with creative fillings, or use leftovers.
You would think that…
You would thing that, with all of those ideas, I would have had it made. Able to eat 7 veggies at a single sitting. These days I am pretty good. But my Mother was the only person I know who could do about 10 vegetables at one sitting! It came from her country upbringing and a love of food. She sure did know how to do the 5+2 every single day.