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Ten Tips for Easy Vegetable Preparation

Vegetables Made Quick and Easy

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Updated May 16, 2014

vegetables and cutting board
Photo © Karen Struthers
People on low-carb diets should be, and usually are, eating more vegetables than people eating more "regular" diets. If prep time is what's standing in your way, take note: Including more veggies in your diet can be done easily and quickly.

You can get your veggies on the table in a hurry if you:

1. Have The Right Tools and Know How to Use Them

Get a good chef's knife, learn how to use it, and keep it sharp. When you know you can cut up a big mound of vegetables in just a few minutes, you are much more likely to do it. This one tip has given our family a greater variety and quantity of vegetables.

You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a good knife. The TV show "America's Test Kitchen" reviewed chef's knives and recommended one that was about $25--and it will last the rest of your life. Learn how to use the one you choose by taking classes at a kitchen equipment store, or watching TV shows that give technique guidance.

Tip: Don't try to cut too fast at first. Build up your speed gradually. Soon you will be chopping like a pro.

For some jobs, a food processor is also very helpful. It can shred a zucchini or turn cauliflower into “cauli-rice” in a few seconds.

2. Set Up Your Work Space

Running all over the kitchen is a time-waster. If possible, set up your kitchen so you have a work space for cutting right next to the stove. That way, you can just "chop and drop" as you go. I have a trash can next to me on the floor and a container for scraps for the compost (or garbage disposal) on the counter. A plate or bowl for veggies that aren't ready to be cooked is also helpful.

3. Choose Vegetables that are Easy to Prepare

Vegetables that don't tend to be dirty, aren't tricky to chop, and don't need a lot of extra fuss are your best bets on those evenings when you don't feel like cooking. Asparagus can be rinsed and the ends chopped off in seconds. Cabbage is easy to prep; when you run your knife through it, you get lots of pieces. Zucchini is very easy to chop.

4. Chop Once, Eat Lots

It doesn't take twice the time to chop up twice the vegetables; do it once and eat for several meals. Once in awhile, chop up everything left in your vegetable drawer and sauté it all together in a big pan with olive oil. You can spice it up however you want to. Throw in a bunch of herbs, some garlic or chopped nuts. You can eat it as a side dish, in an omelet or other egg dish, or with dressing as a cooked salad.

5. Or Don't Chop

Roast or grill your veggies with salt, pepper, and a little olive oil. This concentrates the flavors in a wonderful way. It often works best with the vegetables whole or in larger pieces.

6. Order in the Pan

When cooking up a bunch of veggies in a pan, start with the veggies that take the longest to cook and work your way to those that cook up in a flash. Generally, this would mean starting with aromatics such as onion, celery, and carrots, followed by denser options such as broccoli or cauliflower (I sometimes give these two a head-start in the microwave, depending on what else I'm cooking), then peppers, then less-dense veggies such as zucchini and mushrooms, and ending with greens such as spinach and chard.

7. Or Just Cook Quick Ones

It takes almost no time to sauté a little garlic in olive oil (just a few seconds, until aromatic, or it will be bitter) and dump in a sack of already-prepared spinach greens. Add a little lemon juice, and yum. (If you're adventurous, try adding some chopped anchovies to the olive oil. Chances are, no one will be able to identify them, but they will really improve the dish.)

8. Let Someone Else Do the Prep

Who doesn't love that you can buy a bag of greens that someone else has washed and picked through? More and more you can buy already-prepped vegetables at the store. If your mushrooms are already sliced, it takes almost no time to cook them at home.

9. A New Attitude

A few years ago, I decided to try to change my attitude toward chopping vegetables. Whereas I used to see it as an obstacle to get through in order to get dinner on the table, I decided to learn to enjoy it. I can now honestly say that preparing vegetables has become a relaxing part of my day. It can be almost meditative. Put on some music and chop away.

10. Canned or Frozen is Still Good for You

Some vegetables actually have more nutrition when frozen (or even canned) near the field in which they were grown than when carted fresh for thousands of miles. Although I've focused on fresh vegetables because I think they taste better, there is no shame in nuking some frozen broccoli for dinner in a pinch.

Considering organic vegetables? Check out this list of which fruits and vegetables have the most and least pesticides.
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