After work, the gym, or driving kids around, you probably don’t feel like washing, chopping and cooking vegetables.
The answer (I think) is batch cooking one or two days a week, after a trip to the grocery store or farmer’s market, or after your box of rescued produce arrives on your doorstep (I get mine from Hungry Harvest ).
I had to master the skill of batch cooking on the food challenge I completed in March and April of this year: living healthily on $10 a day and no more than 30 minutes of food prep time per day. I couldn’t afford convenience foods on my budget, and I had to use the fastest methods to cook my Hungry Harvest haul for the week.
I asked on social media which vegetables people would like me to cover here, and the responses included cabbage, eggplant, peppers, asparagus, and broccoli — great lineup!
I use three main easy ways to cook these vegetables. For batch cooking, I’ll have all three going at the same time. (For instance for my Hungry Harvest box shown above, I’d oven roast the eggplant, steam the broccoli and sauté the bok choi all at once.)
- Oven roasting. Basically you coat the cut vegetables with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast on a nonstick roasting pan, baking parchment or aluminum foil (at 375-450 degrees depending on the vegetable).
- Sautéing. This involves a large skillet with a lid on the stovetop, and again a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Steaming. This can be done in the microwave or stovetop with a little bit of water and a lid.
What I’m aiming at here is to end up with relatively plain vegetables that I can later combine with different foods and seasonings throughout the week. If you’re looking for more specific, interesting recipes for vegetables, that’s great too, and I recommend the recipe library that Hungry Harvest is assembling here .
But meanwhile, here is my quick and easy guide to batch cooking cabbage, eggplant, peppers, asparagus and broccoli …
I love to sauté a whole head of cabbage and use it all week as a rice/pasta substitute.
You’ll need a large, sharp knife to make quick work of a head of cabbage. I use this vegetable knife from IKEA and I finally learned that I actually have to sharpen my knives regularly 🙂 .
Then it goes into the sauté pan with a few spoonfuls of olive oil and generous shakes of salt and pepper, in my case Szechuan Pepper-Salt from Penzeys Spices. I also add a splash of water. As you may have noticed, I’m not into measuring, like my Lithuanian grandmother — extra time-saving!
I sautéed this batch for 15 minutes, stirring twice during the process. I had the lid on in the beginning and then took it off near the end to get a little more of a browning effect. Done.
On to eggplant. My goal is to oven-roast eggplant slices until they’re tender and creamy on the inside, but have a robust, almost meaty texture on the outside. To achieve this, I follow the advice of a master, Yotam Ottolenghi. (Just ignore the part about the anchovy sauce if you find that scary 🙂 )
I cut up the eggplant with my big IKEA knife in slices at least half an inch thick. I’ve often made the mistake of slicing it too thin, with a rather leathery result (but still tasty when revived with a good sauce).
Coat with sea salt and a little olive oil (you can easily overdo it with the olive oil at 120 calories per tablespoon, since the eggplant will soak it up; you just need to coat the slices). Roast on a nonstick pan or baking parchment at 450 degrees for about 35 minutes.
I love these with Rao’s pasta sauces (featuring high-quality whole-foods ingredients) and maybe even a little melted cheese for an eggplant parmigiana without the breading or frying :). I think they’re also amazing with ground lamb, fresh mint and Greek yogurt. Or how about a little hoisin sauce and Thai basil?
Moving quickly on (I’m in fast batch-cooking mode!) to peppers. I generally cut them in half, remove the stems/seeds, and roast them in the oven (or in my little convection/toaster oven), on a nonstick roasting pan or aluminum foil. A very thin coating of olive oil is nice, but not even necessary. They go a lot faster than the eggplant: 15 minutes at 400 degrees should do it. Take them out when they start to smell cooked and you can see a browned spot here and there. With batch cooking in general, err on the side of undercooking because you’ll be heating them up again for meals and you don’t want them to get mushy.
Of course I could also have sautéed the peppers along with the onions here. But keeping them separate makes them more versatile as I vary the flavors of my dishes throughout the week. To serve these peppers I just cut them up as needed, with a knife or even with kitchen scissors!
Now to asparagus. The challenge here is that the stem part is tougher than the tips, and it takes longer to cook. Also, overcooked asparagus can be a stringy, mushy mess.
When I was growing up, my mom steamed asparagus standing up in a little water in what I called “the asparagus pot,” since I had no idea it was actually a stovetop coffeepot . It’s effective because the stems are closer to the heat, so they cook faster. If you have a pot like this, it may be worth a try. But I really love oven-roasted asparagus, so that’s what I always do.
I cut off the toughest, woody part of the stem, and then cut up the rest. The trick is to roast the stems for a little while at 400 degrees (maybe 10 minutes) before adding the tips and roasting another 10 minutes or so.
These are already a great side dish on their own, with salt and pepper, and maybe a squeeze of lemon. In my case, this is rarely batch cooking, because I tend to eat them all on the same day 🙂
And finally broccoli. This is another vegetable with a woody-stem problem. I attack the stems with a medium-sized knife in a quick-and-dirty way, cutting off the tough outer coating and leaving chunks of the inner stem to cook along with the florets. Or just throw away the stems, or buy the crowns or florets already cut up.
Broccoli can easily be oven roasted. (But cauliflower is even better for oven roasting, in my opinion!) Just be sure to cut it up in pieces that are roughly the same size, or some will be burned or mushy while some are still crunchy. Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper as always, then roast at 400 degrees; check it often.
You can also sauté broccoli in a little oil — in this case it’s important to cut it up pretty small, because large chunks will be overcooked where they touch the pan and undercooked on top. Use relatively high heat and stir often or even constantly (stir-fry style).
But I think the most versatile way to batch-cook broccoli is to steam it. This can be done on the stovetop or in a glass dish in the microwave. Either way, cut up your broccoli and add about half an inch of water. Now microwave or boil it (with a lid on the pot) to the level of tenderness you prefer. Watch the pot, or microwave for just a minute or two at a time, because it will only take a few minutes. Notice how it smells, and do a taste test. Stop when it’s slightly less tender than you want it, because it will continue to cook. Or run it quickly under cold water to stop the cooking process.
So now I have a fridge (and freezer) full of batch cooked vegetables, which I can use as foundations or side dishes for meals, throw in salads or soups, or enjoy with fun sauces or dips.
It’s noon, time for lunch! Hope you found this useful — let me know! And see you next week!