Easy Batch-Cooked Vegetables 2: Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Winter Squash, Beets and Brussels Sprouts

More vegetables — thanks for all the suggestions! Like last week, I’m offering what I think are the simplest ways to prepare vegetables all at once, so you can easily throw them into a range of meals with different flavors.

I have plenty of practice with this because (1) I’ve been eating mainly whole foods since 2014 (sometimes with “10 a day” fruit/veg goals); (2) a big Hungry Harvest box full of rescued produce appears on my doorstep each week (there are smaller sizes, but I’ve been getting the Full Veggie Harvest just for me); and (3) I did a two-month healthy/cheap/quick food challenge earlier this year that forced me to cook from scratch so I could live on $10 a day.

But originally I learned these skills from a brilliant 1982 book, “The Victory Garden Cookbook.” It appears to be out of print but is available used (whoa, some of those copies are expensive, I should sell mine 🙂 but no!).

The book has a chapter for each of 37 vegetables and describes all the basic ways to prepare them, followed by more complex recipes. Of course today we can just ask the internet what to do with kohlrabi, celeriac or parsnips, so you certainly don’t need to buy the copy that’s selling for $89.18 (!), but I still use mine regularly.

Now let’s get my attention away from Amazon.com (too many boxes on the doorstep already) and turn it toward this week’s vegetables.

Carrot Showdown: Steamed vs. Roasted

My son Zack (hi Z!) requested that I include carrots here. I know he’s still thinking about the simple but super-delicious cooked carrots we enjoyed in Germany when we lived there. Here’s a German recipe that has a few more steps than my usual über-simple methods, but really isn’t too complicated. In typical German style, they say this is “the right way” to cook carrots 🙂 :

Scrub or peel and slice your carrots. Sauté them for a few minutes in melted butter in a saucepan. Add salt, a spoonful of honey, and a little water (they say 50 ml to 750g of carrots, in case you happen to have laboratory equipment in your kitchen), cover the pan, and let them cook gently for 10-15 minutes (depending on the thickness of the slices), until you can stick a fork into them but you still feel “light resistance.” If the pan dries out during cooking, add a little more water. Mix in some fresh chopped parsley and serve with the pan liquid. Yum!

That’s relatively simple, but it still may not fit into your day, your week or your eating plan (I’m doing a #whole30 this month, so no butter or honey). So I made a really stripped-down version this week: just carrots and a little water in a large saucepan. Same idea about the fork and the light resistance, and adding more water if needed. Boiling the carrots in deeper water works too, but you might want to save the water for soup (or just drink it!) because some of the nutrients leach into the water.

Carrots. Water. That is all.

While I was cooking half of my sliced carrots on the stovetop, I roasted the other half, to compare the two methods. I added olive oil, salt and pepper to the roasting ones (always an unfair advantage in a vegetable comparison).

The stovetop carrots were ready in about 10 minutes. But I had to test the roasted carrots two more times before they were tender (in total about 30 minutes at 400 degrees). When they cooled they were SO good, I was eating them like candy. They were almost as sweet as baked ripe plantains.

The plain steamed carrots will be great to add to other dishes all week. But for pure easy deliciousness (though a longer time commitment), I vote for the roasted ones.

Sweet Potatoes, Quick and Dirty

Well, just a little dirty — I rub off the dirt with my hands under running water, and cut off any yucky spots, but I don’t scrub them with a brush. Then I put the whole sweet potatoes in the microwave and hit the baked potato setting. Since sweet potatoes can vary in size, think of the size of a typical baked potato and adjust the “number of potatoes” accordingly.

Microwaved sweet potatoes look a little deflated and rubbery after cooling (definitely not elegant), but you can scoop out the insides and save them in a glass container to use during the week. Or refrigerate them in the skin and scoop out the flesh as you need it to add to a meal.

Winter Squash: Another Microwave Trick

I love all kinds of winter squash, like butternut, acorn, kabocha, and pumpkin, but I always used to struggle to cut them up; I was sure I would eventually chop off a finger. But then someone (I forget who, but thanks!) taught me the microwave trick: (1) “Stab” the squash with a long knife a couple of times into the hollow core to prevent it exploding (don’t let this happen to you). (2) Microwave the whole squash for 2-4 minutes, depending on the size. If it’s irregularly shaped, like a butternut, you might cut off the small end after 2 minutes and continue microwaving the big end for 2 more minutes. (3) Let it cool before handling (again, avoid explosion of hot squash innards), then cut up as desired. Roast it, steam it, add it to a fall stew/vegetarian chili, or cook it in an Instant Pot. I like roasting best, similar to the carrots above.

Superlazy butternut squash, baked with skin on — I scooped it out of the skin like baked potato, or if I was eating alone, picked it up and gnawed on it like slices of watermelon

Beets: The Instant Pot Miracle

Thanks to Leah for suggesting beets! If you like beets, with all their health benefits, I would go so far as to suggest that you get an Instant Pot just for their sake. This combined slow cooker/pressure cooker-without-the-fear-factor is my new favorite solution for foods that usually take a long time to cook, like dry beans, stew meat, bone broth, and large whole beets. (I have this one.)

Another good beet solution, if available where you live — precooked and vacuum-packed!

A few weeks ago, three very large beets appeared in my Hungry Harvest box. Besides being very firm and tough, beets stain everything purple when you’re trying to peel and cut them. Easy Batch-Cooking Kitchen wants none of that.

My Instant Pot instruction book says 20 minutes of pressure cooking for large whole beets (rinsed, with skin still on, and 1 cup of water to create steam). After the pressure went down in the pot (about 30 minutes total), I took them out and let them cool. Then it was easy to slip off the skins, and I cut the beets up into chunks. With butter, salt and pepper they were amazing — tender and sweet. My husband, who usually dislikes beets, said they were very good!

Random beet pieces with my meal

If you have smaller beets, they can be wrapped in a double layer of aluminum foil (or an inner layer of baking parchment and outer layer of foil), and roasted in the oven at 400 degrees until you can slip a knife into them. It may take an hour or more.

If your beets come with their greens still on, you can wash and cook those separately (I cut them up and sauté them for about 20 minutes in a little water or broth in a large pan with a lid). My favorite beets-with-greens are the organic golden beets I sometimes find at Whole Foods.

Sprouts from Brussels

My husband is currently working in Brussels, and I can confirm that yes, people there do eat lots of Brussels sprouts (choux de Bruxelles). And plenty of Belgian endive too. Both of these vegetables have great health benefits, so maybe they (along with all the walking in the pedestrian-friendly city) help balance out the effects of the other very popular local products: Belgian chocolate, Belgian beers, Belgian waffles, and French fries (some say they should be called Belgian fries) with interesting sauces.

French fry sauce lineup in Brussels. Sorry, getting off topic 🙂

Brussels sprouts are like mini-cabbages with lots of concentrated nutrients. Like cabbage, they can turn mushy and unpleasant if overcooked. I avoid cooking them in water for this reason. I just cut them in half (removing any damaged outer leaves, and cutting off the stems if they are large and tough), add a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

These were large Brussels sprouts and some of these stems were quite tough — I should have cut more of them off

The roasted Brussels sprouts can then be microwaved to warm them up as part of your meal (another reason to leave them a bit undercooked while batch cooking). Or you can do all sorts of other creative things with them. Look at the gorgeous photos on this French-language page from Canada about 10 ways to use Brussels sprouts. With bacon and mustard! Swiss cheese! Or peanuts and honey! Most of these recipes start the same way I do: cut them in half, add olive oil, roast at 400 degrees. (It’s not just me 🙂 ). Let me know if you have any great Brussels sprouts discoveries!

I hope you’re now inspired to batch-cook some great fall vegetables and add them to your meals, either just as they are, or in more creative ways (tell me about those!). Next week I’ll write about something completely different: the impact of social connection on health and well-being, which I’m seeing in oddly similar ways in my clients ranging from their 20s to their 80s. See you then!

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