Veggie Inspiration – Top Hacks for Everyday meals

I love reading magazines full of beautiful recipes and dining out on beautiful dishes.

But neither does much to help me eat the five serves of veggies I need a day!

And I’m not alone. Most of us in Australia (93%) are missing out on our veggies!

It’s a shame, because not only are veggies full of great nutrition, fibre and phytonutrients, they are naturally low in energy to help balance out the kilojoules from all that dining out and gourmet cooking. They also help balance out the budget.

Happily, I have three tips that keep me on track.

  • I buy my veggies from someone who loves their vegetables
  • I have my three easy ‘go-to’ hacks for creating salads, sides and soups that wow!
  • I make enough for dinner to eat veggie dishes for lunch too

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The Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets work for me. They’re close and convenient.

And my favourite shop, is Farm Fresh!

I can park out the back, nick in and be back at work within a lunch break.

I always come away feeling well connected with my community and inspired to cook!

I think it’s Mohamad, Farm Fresh’s ‘fruit charmer’ who calls out encouragement to passers-by and praises the wonder of the season’s offerings.

It could also be the banter with fellow shoppers like Bruno, a supplier to Canberra’s restaurants, but today shopping for ‘the boss’ – his wife!

But it’s also the variety and quality on offer, well displayed and well cared for.

I often don’t know what I will be taking home until I see it, but I do know it is destined to become a salad, side or soup!

We are wonderfully in between seasons so salads still work beautifully.

I start with a base of leafy greens and then build up layers, working towards the most colourful and enticing on top.

I keep some emergency ingredients in the freezer like roasted pumpkin and frozen baby peas to add if I’m caught short. I also have have tinned chickpeas, corn kernels and baby beetroot on hand in the cupboard.

My ‘star’ ingredients on top always add:

  • Plenty of colour – like capsicums, tomatoes and red onion
  • Something tasty and salty like feta or blue cheese, olives, baby capers, anchovies or sun-dried  tomatoes.
  • Contrasting textures and shapes like creamy avocado, crunchy blanched snow peas or asparagus and always but always, toasted seeds or nuts.

If I don’t add the dressing, the salad will last until the next day to take any leftovers for work.

By the way, my go-to dressing is a mix of equal parts of mustard 2 tsp (I like Dijon or wholegrain) and something sweet like brown sugar or honey (2 tsp) then about three times as much balsamic vinegar (3 Tbsp). I add a good splash of oil (1 Tbsp) and mix well.

To make it a main meal salad I just add a protein food like tinned legumes or a quickly pan-fried or oven baked piece of fish, chicken or meat.

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Sliced often works best, perhaps marinated, smoked or warm. I like warm thai beef or tandoori chicken, smoked salmon/trout/ham/chicken, boiled eggs, cubed or crumbed cheese, prawns or other seafood or warm marinated tofu.

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Some good bread on the side or a base of tasty grains like quick couscous or cooked wild rice, barley or quinoa from the freezer ready to go, completes the meal.

Then there’s the very versatile and deliciously caramelised roasted vegetables that work well as a side dish, on top of fish, chicken or steak.

But it’s also good with cheese on top of pizza base or pita or Turkish bread or stirred through pasta. Almost anything, except high water salad veg like cucumber or leafy greens, roasts well. I love mushrooms, eggplant, capsicum and tomato. But cauliflower, zucchini and broccoli work well too. I always like to add a tin of drained chickpeas.

And I like to eat it with a dollop of Greek yogurt, made into raita if I have time with red onion, garam Marsala, a pinch of chilli, sugar and salt to taste and any mix of fresh chopped coriander, mint or dill.

I just chop the vegetables into bite sized pieces, stir through a little oil and some spices and roast them until tender and charred.  I like to use cumin seeds (or ground) but smoky paprika or sumac works well too. I cook plenty and freeze batches.

But the cooler weather also welcomes in soups. I’ve been using Annette Sym’s recipe for years. It works well with any vegetable from tomato through zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli to carrots or pumpkin.

It freezes beautifully and is my favourite quick winter lunch or dinner, with some extra leftover cooked veggies, chickpeas and again, Greek yogurt or raita. With crusty bread of toast it’s perfect.

I often serve small portions as an early course at dinner parties or lunches and it’s even been popular as a canapé served in small dishes or shot glasses.

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It’s hard not to plug the ultimate instant veggie dish – Kimchi! It takes an hour or two to prepare but it lasts for months.

Great as a side, on top of oven poached fish or stirred through cooked pasta with grated cheese – so many ways!

Cooking vegetables this way means food waste is small, because anything I don’t use gets frozen after being blanched or steamed.

Ready-to-go veg from the freezer is perfect to add body to soups or to add to quick fried curry paste and stirred through with mango chutney and Greek yogurt to become a delicious rustic pie topped with a sheet of puff pastry from the freezer.

As I write I am struck by how easy veggie salads, sides and soups can be – flexible and versatile.

But also, how important it is to be inspired by someone who knows and loves their veg.

Thank you so much Mohamad!

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