Are veggie haters born or made? The answer seems to be both. Some of us have negative veggie experiences from our childhood that come back to haunt us as adults. Maybe you were forced to eat vegetables, or had to plow through a stack of green beans to get to dessert. Maybe you were served overcooked, mushy vegetables. “If veggies are only served in ways that don’t match your personal flavor preferences, they won’t seem exciting,” explains Karen Collins, MS, RD, nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research. So if you love spicy food, you won’t like veggies served plain; or if you love simple, earthy flavors, veggies covered with a rich sauce won’t be appealing. 

When my children were young, they struggled with eating some vegetables that were on their dinner plates.  I, also, know that many parents struggle to get their kids to eat their vegetables – it’s a never-ending battle in many households in America. Nagging and taking away dessert are often futile remedies. What can help is, if a parent can involve their children in food preparation and find healthy ways to make vegetables taste good. 

Deep frying or adding butter and cheese make everything taste so good.  The real challenge is how to make vegetables taste good without it, if you are trying to make your meals more healthy. Cooking vegetables with the right herbs can make a difference, such as oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, coriander, dill and garlic. Adding chopped nuts to vegetable dishes is another way to bring more flavor and nutrition into the meal. Using cooking techniques other than boiling in water, such as roasting and grilling, are ways to improve the taste of vegetables without adding a lot of fat.

Prep veggies, like carrots, asparagus and peppers, place in foil, mist with extra virgin olive oil, drizzle with a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar or another flavored vinegar or with a low-fat dressing, sprinkle with herbs like thyme, rosemary and cracked black pepper and place the package on the grill. Some take as little as 10 minutes to become tender. Or use the same seasonings on vegetable kabobs, alternating  vegetables of your choice with cherry tomatoes and onion slices.

You can roast just about anything, but vegetables especially benefit from the high, dry heat of the oven. Their flavor becomes concentrated and their natural sugars caramelize, transforming them into richly satisfying sides. For every 2 pounds of vegetables, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil prior to roasting. Spread in a single layer, with space in between the pieces or they’ll just steam instead. You can roast different veggies together if their cooking times are similar.

The recipes below are ones I have made, adjusting ingredients, cooking techniques and utilizing Italian flavors to make these dishes just right. These are vegetable side dishes that my family likes and enjoys at our family dinners.  

Mashed Potatoes With Kale

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
  • Salt
  • 1 pound (1 large bunch) kale, either curly or cavolo nero, with the ribs removed and the leaves washed
  • 1-1/4 cups low-fat milk
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Cover the potatoes with water in a saucepan, add 1/2 tablespoon of salt and the garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover partially and cook until tender about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain off the water, return the potatoes with the garlic to the pan and mash with a potato masher.

While the potatoes are cooking bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and add the kale. Cook the kale for 4 to 6 minutes (after the water returns to the boil) until the leaves are tender but still bright green. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop into small pieces and add the olive oil.

Stir the chopped kale into the hot mashed potatoes along with the milk.  Add salt to taste and freshly ground pepper.

Tip: This is a good dish to make ahead and reheat for dinner.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Oven-roasted Vegetables with Rosemary, Bay Leaves and Garlic

 The process of roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables and intensifies their natural flavors

Ingredients

  • Sea salt
  • 1 lb red or Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 lb butternut squash, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 2 medium red onions, cut into eighths
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and cut into chunks
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 sprigs of bay leaves

Directions

In a large baking pan sprayed with olive oil cooking spray place potatoes, squash, onions and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Toss to coat, then roast for 20 minutes.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the remaining ingredients to the baking pan.

Roast for another 20 minutes, turning the vegetables occasionally until tender and edges slightly brown. Salt and pepper to taste.

Remove bay leaves before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Vegetables with Basil Dressing

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 small eggplant, sliced into chunks
  • 1 zucchini, cut into chunks
  • 1 yellow summer squash, cut into chunks
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into squares
  • 1 small red onion, sliced and cut into 8 segments
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic  vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Dressing
  • 1/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat olive oil mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

Thread skewers with alternating pieces of eggplant, zucchini, squash, bell pepper and onion. Place skewered vegetables in shallow pan.

Make the marinade for vegetables by blending vinegar, oil and 1/4 cup fresh basil. Pour over vegetables. Let stand 10 minutes, occasionally turning skewers so marinade coats all sides.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Place yogurt, mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon fresh basil and lemon juice in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Transfer to small serving dish.

Grill vegetables, adjusting height of rack to avoid charring, if using an outdoor grill.

Serve vegetables as a side dish, as a sandwich filling in ciabatta rolls or on sliced Italian bread or bruschetta. Pass basil-yogurt dressing to use as a topping.   

Baked Spaghetti Squash

What I like about this spaghetti squash dish is that when it comes out of the oven, it’s ready to serve. It does not need any additional cooking to give it flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small to medium spaghetti squash
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • Kosher or salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

Directions

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and fibers with a spoon. Place on a baking sheet, cut side up, spray lightly with the cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl mix together the paprika, onion powder, Italian seasoning and garlic powder. Sprinkle over squash.

Bake at 350° F for about an hour or until the skin gives easily under pressure and the inside is tender. Remove from the oven and let it cool 10 minutes.

Using a fork, scrape out the squash flesh a little at a time. It will separate into spaghetti-like strands. Place in a serving dish and serve.

Spicy Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Lemon Zest

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds broccoli rabe
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Cook broccoli rabe in water for 4 to 5 minutes until tender and bright green. Drain well in a colander and set aside.

In a large saute pan heat  2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and pepper flakes then toss in the broccoli rabe.

Season with salt and pepper and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, gently tossing it in the pan. Finish with the lemon zest and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves  6

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs

Lemon Vinaigrette

Whisk together:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon small capers

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Wash the head of cauliflower and trim off the outer leaves. With a sharp knife, remove a cone-shaped piece from the core, keeping the head intact.

With your fingers, rub a little olive oil into the bottom of a deep oven-safe baking dish, rub the remainder on all over the cauliflower, working the oil into the crevasses as best you can. Place core-side down in the baking dish and sprinkle with salt and breadcrumbs.

Bake for 1 hour or 1-1/4 hours, until the exterior is brown and crusty and the center soft.  With a spoon, drizzle the vinaigrette over the top of the cauliflower and let it seep slowly.

Crispy Parmesan Broccoli

2 servings

Ingredients 

  • 1/2 lb broccoli, rinsed, dried, and cut into flat sided bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned Panko Crumbs
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs and cheese.

Put the broccoli in a large bowl, add the egg substitute, and toss with your hands to coat.

Sprinkle in the bread crumb and cheese mixture and toss to combine.

Transfer to a baking sheet, flat side down, and roast for 12 minutes.

Italian Green Beans Marinara

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, cleaned and stem ends removed
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Directions
Snap the beans into 2-inch pieces. Blanch lightly salted boiling water for 2 minutes to soften slightly. Drain well.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until softened. Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper.
Simmer uncovered, until tomatoes start to break down. Add the green beans and cook, covered, until tender.
Taste the beans for seasoning and, if desired, add more salt, pepper or oregano. 6-8 Servings

Roasted Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus 

Servings: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 lb thin asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed
  • olive oil spray
  • fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 4 slices (2 oz) thin sliced prosciutto
  • grated Parmesan cheese
Directions

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Lightly spray asparagus spears with olive oil cooking spray. Season with fresh cracked pepper and divide into 4 bundles.

Bundle 1/4 of the asparagus together and wrap a slice of prosciutto around it.  Place on a baking dish seam side down.  
Repeat with the remaining asparagus and prosciutto.
Place in the baking dish and bake 12 minutes or until asparagus is tender crisp. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

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