A taste for vegetables: your guide to falling in love

For over a decade, I’ve been preaching that you need to love your vegetables, not just endure them. Veggies, and the fantastic array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals they contain, are crucial for brain health, longevity, and cancer prevention, among their many good deeds. Cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower) contain B vitamins that are critical for methylation, for example, a process through which our brains repair themselves. We all need brain repair!

Learning to embrace vegetables comes down to flavor and creativity.

That’s my way of saying that the odds are you grew up on flavorless, drab vegetables that had
been boiled within an inch of their lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Vegetables can have WONDERFUL flavor, especially when they’re sautéed or roasted.

Many veggies are naturally sweet like carrots or savory like broccoli. Those that tend to have more of a bite can have their bitterness balanced out by creative pairing with other vegetables or fruits. You’ll also notice that nearly all my vegetable dishes have either herbs or spices (or both), as science is showing more and more that these power-packed flavor carriers also carry great brain-boosting properties. Start cooking these recipes and I promise that you and your family will never look at veggies the same way again.

I can (and will) give you a million reasons why you should eat vegetables, but here’s the only one that really matters: they taste great.

Veggies  that are steamed, roasted, baked, and infused with luscious herbs, spices, and oils—will make you sigh with pleasure. This explosion of flavor is more than a luxury; it’s a necessity if you’re intent on eating for maximum health. There’s no way to stay at your peak, brimming with vitality and energy, unless veggies are a huge component of your diet. So many of the antioxidants and phytochemicals critical to both short-term and long-term well-being come from vegetables, and it’s key that you stay constantly connected to the source. 

The only way to do that and not get bored is to bring a kaleidoscope of palate-pleasing veggies into your universe. You start by trying the recipes below, and letting the flavors seduce you (and believe me, that’s easy), knowing that I’ve done the heavy lifting, pairing complementary ingredients into nutrient-dense dishes and capitalizing on their synergistic properties. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts in these recipes. 

As one example, sautéing vegetables in olive oil enhances the body’s ability to absorb their nutrients. Similarly, many herbs and spices influence gene expression. That’s a fancy way of saying that they help give your DNA the go-ahead or a stop signal. When paired with vegetables, which deliver phytochemicals with a host of health benefits, herbs and spices act like the station manager at a train terminal, telling the DNA in the switching station which nutrients coming down the track should be sent where and when, and which should be held in the station until further notice.

Veggies also help ward off some of the known effects of the aging process. Take gluta-
thione, a key antioxidant that controls many metabolic functions. Blood levels of glutathione
decline as we get older, possibly making us more vulnerable to cancer and other health issues. Fortunately, glutathione is abundant in vegetables such as asparagus, avocados, broccoli, garlic, spinach—all of which, not coincidentally, you’ll find in these recipes. As a friend
of mine says with love, if not grammar, “Hey, I want you should feel good!”

Eat the rainbow!

Have you heard this expression? It means look at your plate like a canvas, and include many jewel-toned vegetables and fruits. The deep color bespeaks nutrient-density, rich antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals do everything from protect our bodies from daily wear and tear to combat cancer. Am I succeeding in convincing you that vegetables are a big deal?

Sample and incorporate the different groups:

The cruciferous set - broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, arugula, wasabi, kale & cousins (varietals), mustard greens, collards
The cabbage crew - red and green cabbage, brussels sprouts
The orange gang - carrots, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, orange sweet bell peppers
The red group - beets, tomatoes, red carrots, 
Summer squashes - pattypan, zucchini, yellow crookneck
Mushrooms - shiitake, oyster, portobello
Every kind of lettuce known to man - and other light greens like fennel, celery
Purple players - eggplant, purple cauliflower, purple potatoes  
Asparagus - a grass!
Beans - string beans, Romano beans, cranberry beans
Alliums - onion, garlic, chives, shallots

Two of numerous awesome veggie recipes from my cookbooks & Recipe Box (if I do say so myself :)

Shredded Carrot and Beet Salad

Shredded Carrot and Beet Salad

There is a school of thought — and increasing scientific evidence — that the more vibrant the color, the more nutrition there is to be found in a food. I set out to create the most colorful salad I could, using purple beets, orange carrots, and fresh mint. If I’d had a vegetable crisper instead of a box of crayons as a kid, this salad would have been the result. 

Caulflower Tabbouleh

Caulflower Tabbouleh

Some foods just look like they should be good for the mind. Take cauliflower. Kind of like walnuts, it visually reminds you of the brain. And sure enough, cauliflower is a brain-boosting superstar, filled with B vitamins, omega-3s, phosphorus, and manganese. It helps in liver detoxification, and a happy liver—the body’s vacuum cleaner for toxic metals—makes for a happy brain!

I’M CASTING A LOVE POTION OVER YOU! ONE OF THE VERY BEST THINGS YOU CAN DO FOR YOURSELF IS UP YOUR VEGGIE INTAKE. WHAT COULD BE A BETTER TIME OF YEAR TO DO THAT THAN SUMMERTIME, WHEN FRESH, GLORIOUS PRODUCE ABOUNDS?