Fruits and Veggies
From the wonderful people who brought you PeTA.
It's sad, but true....we aren't really carnivores. In fact, a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is loaded with necessary vitamins, minerals, and fiber....an essential part of good health. Cheesy as that may sound, its a dark and lonely place inside your colon, and unless you want to spend your later years hooked up to one of many expensive machines, you'd do well to consume your fair share. Not to mention knowing alot about them is a good conversation starter for that cute vegetarian you've been eyeing.
Generally speaking, many of us look at cooking with fruits and vegetables as parallel, but not intersecting, endeavors: vegetables with salt and meat, and fruits with sugar. Fact is, plenty of incredible dishes throw that convention to the wind. Just try stuffing a bird with onions, apples, pecans, herbs, and raisins or eat a slice of sweet carrot cake and see what I mean.
I'll go over some truly basic stuff about Vegetables, Fruits, and then some Important Items you ought to consider.
What to pick
As a general rule, the richer the colors(particularly green and red) that represent the vegetables, the more loaded they are with essential nutrients such as Beta-Carotene and various minerals. That doesn't mean that a salad of iceberg lettuce is bad for you, but it does mean that it's mostly water and not much else. Look for spinach, red lettuce, and spring greens as a better option. For side dishes, I happen to be a huge fan of broccoli and carrots that follow this premise.
The source of the vegetable ought to be important to you. Always, organic should be your first choice.......remember the CIA experiments with LSD? Agent Orange? EPA saying the dust from the WTC collapse is fairly harmless? DDT? Enough said, stay away from chemically sprayed stuff when you can, even if they say its ok. Next level is, always buy American before foreign. Wait, you say......you just said not to trust the US govt standards........? Ah, yes, and you trust Mexico more? Have you BEEN to Mexico?
Now I'm assuming a bit that we've been talking about fresh vegetables. Well, yes, that is always your first choice. Another reason why I'm a big fan of prewashed bags of salad found at every grocery store......because it's the easiest, fastest way to get your daily helpings of rabbit food. Short of that, the next best option is frozen. Yes, they are picked and frozen at the peak of freshness(insert any catchy commercial jingle here) and ready for you almost as good as they started, or ended, their life(do carrots scream when you kill them?). The last choice, although most convenient, is canned vegetables. Does the canning process destroy a fair amount of the nutritional value? Yes, but there is still plenty left over, and a can of vegetables is better than none at all.
Regardless, the fact is that the most nutritional value that you can get is from raw vegetables(again, my plug for salads). Not to turn the other cheek to the incredible discovery of fire, we all still love to cook our vegetables. So, like a good relationship, we'll make a compromise: only partially cook, parboil, al-dente, etc your veggies. It leaves most with a resilient crunchy texture, but not cold and raw. And in my humble opinion, only ice cream, beer, your ex, white wine, and dead things should be cold.
I prefer to lightly steam my vegetables. Easily done by placing them in a microwave-safe dish and, with a little water in the bottom, heating them on high for just a minute or two. From there, just a little salt, pepper, butter, and/or sauce will make them a perfect side dish.
Although fresh vegetables don't grow quite the same bacteria as meats do while listfully awaiting your consumption, its still a good idea to eat them within a certain limitation of freshness. If you can clean them ahead of time and store them appropriately, that may help extend their shelf life. Still, the longer you leave them in the frig, the more the nutrients are lost. I wouldn't keep them in the frig for more than a week or so. Then again, I wouldn't eat that leftover Chinese food from last month that you've still got.......
What to pick
The same tenets for vegetables hold true for fruits: rich colors represent a bounty of nutrients. Also, I avoid fruits grown in South American countries.....they aren't bound by the same regulations as US companies for pesticide use. I also have a rule of thumb: if I'm not willing to travel without an automatic weapon in a particular country, I sure as heck am not going to eat their produce. But that's just me.
Most fruits you'll eat, you'll eat raw, if for no other reason that the sugars in fruit represent a great taste without any cooking. However, almost any fruit benefits from a little heat in a pan, maybe some butter, a little sugar, some spices and maybe liquor. Throw that onto some ice cream or on custard and you've got dessert.
Same deal here as for vegetables, except you'll leave more fruits out at room temperature so that they can develop their sugars. What I mean by this is the more complex sugars or starches that exist in fruit will break down to simpler sugars as the fruit sits out. Put it in the frig and you'll slow that chemical process. If the fruit sucks to begin with, leaving it out won't improve the flavor......you can dress up the pig, but it's still a pig.
C. IMPORTANT ITEMS
For all fruits and vegetables, we have usually the option to either peel the outside or clean the skin. My philosophy is simple: if the item is meant to be peeled, like a banana or a lemon, then peel it. If it's meant to be cleaned, like grapes or carrots, then just wash it. Unless you're like my friend Tony, who eats lemons whole, skin and all. Then again, he's had a bad divorce and is working through some issues.
There are plenty of good cleansers out there that are specifically designed for fruits and vegetables. I've read some studies that show any washing is better than none, but plain detergent can actually add bad stuff, like...uh, detergent. The best cleansers out there are made of saponified oils, modified corn starch, and alcohol. Look for local manufacturers in any health food store, or buy FiT fruit and vegetable wash online.
As mentioned earlier, buying organic is your best bet. Also, buy at your local farmer's market if you've got one nearby.......don't complain about cruddy grapes from Chile, then not support your own American farmer. Its either that or FarmAid will come out with another album and God knows what pain that will inflict on the world.