Operation Veggie Sneak

After watching Food, Inc. and reading Michael Pollan, I am resolved to try eating more vegetables and less meat. Although I’ve been toying with the idea of going raw/vegan (Ani Phyo has some delicious-sounding recipes), I know I’d miss sushi too much. And egg, too. But I keep reminding myself it’s a necessary evil—for good health and well-being.

So what are some ways to get more veggies in one’s diet?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What veggies do you like or not mind too much? How are they prepared?
  • If the veggie prep is unhealthy, how can you make them healthier?
  • Why do you want to make this change? What do you hope to achieve by eating more vegetables?
  • What steps are you planning to take to make this happen?

Is there anything veggie-like that I like?
Contrary to popular belief (and what I usually tell myself), I’m not 100% adverse to vegetables.

I happen to like certain kinds of veggies. I like dipping crunchy veggies such as carrots, jicama, celery, radish, cucumbers into guacamole, hummus, or spinach dip. Depending on my mood, I might even enjoy red, yellow, or orange peppers (but not green bell peppers so much). For instance, I love fire-roasted red peppers on a fresh baguette or bagel schmeared with Boursin.

I also don’t mind noshing on Anaheim peppers or cucumbers dipped in Korean red pepper paste (go chu jang) or wrapping rice with perilla leaves and a dab of go chu jang with the Korean bacon (ssam gyup ssal) or kalbi. To the wrap, add kimchee sauteed in the bacon grease from the ssam gyup ssal, and it’s pure heaven. Yum!

As for kimchee, I like certain kinds—stuffed pickle kimchee (oi so-baek), cubed daikon radish kimchee (ggak doo ghee), mustard green kimchee (ggat kimchee), dried radish kimchee (moo mah laeng-ee). The key thing about kimchee, at least for me, is that it has to be ripe/fermented enough while having a good crunch. Underripe is bleah to me, and overripe can get pretty pungent—but it’s tasty when made into kimchee chigae (hot pot/stew). Kimchee can also be used in bin dae dduk (Korean bean pancakes) or mandoo (Korean potstickers). Yum-yum-YUM!

I like shabu-shabu—cooking veggies and meat in a hot pot bit by bit, and enjoying the bits by dipping them into various sauces, and at the end making a congee/porridge with the broth (or using the broth for noodles).

I like Vietnamese fresh spring rolls and pho (noodle soup with fresh bean sprouts, mint, basil, lime, hot peppers). I also like Thai-inspired basil chicken in lettuce wraps.

Certain salads aren’t too bad—spinach salad with bacon and egg in a garlic/lemony vinaigrette; arugula with pear, goat cheese, and candied pecans and raspberry vinaigrette; basil/tomato/fresh buffalo mozzarella with a dash of balsamic; my pasta limone salad, which has artichoke hearts and a medley of bell peppers and cherry/grape tomatoes. A good cabbage salad or slaw goes well with pulled pork or seared ahi tuna. (It’s all about how you dress it.)

I’ve recently discovered that I enjoy Japanese kabocha squash, especially when it’s roasted in the oven or made into soup. It reminds me of sweet potatoes, which I also like. I found out that in Korea, steamed sweet potatoes are considered a good diet food.

Speaking of squash, I remember I do like my autumn curried butternut squash soup, or sauteed butternut squash that I had at an Afghani restaurant. It had a lovely yogurt and meat sauce and was flavored with cumin, cardamon, and cinnamon (I think).

The other day I saw a bit of America’s Test Kitchen showing how to make mashed root vegetables (parsnips and potatoes with chives and cream/butter) to go along with a slow/low-temp cooked meat. I’m sure, one can mash some parsnips, potatoes, and/or cauliflower into a lovely, palatable mash. Perhaps also make a side of mushroom gravy to keep it company.

Sometimes I use frozen veggies and make fried rice, which isn’t too bad. Unfortunately, the Princess isn’t a fan of bokum-bop (Korean fried rice), so I rarely make it. HB likes omo-rice, which is bokum-bop in an omelet. A nice way to finish off leftovers.

I’ve also been successful in sneaking in some veggies into my sandwiches—using baby spinach or arugula instead of lettuce. Perhaps the challenge would be to increase the proportion of veggies to meat—like how Subway tends to give a token bit of meat with a bunch of veggies.

Now the ultimate way of sneaking in vegetables is adding them into fruit smoothies (like spinach or kale), or into tomato sauce (add garden veggies like zucchini, squash, carrots, cauliflower, peppers), or making desserts like carrot cake or zucchini bread or pumpkin pie. (I’m all for dessert.)

Caveats/Barriers to Change
Whatever vegetable preparation I choose, I need to be mindful about the sodium, fat, and sugar. (But, Mom! That’s what makes things taste good.) Although some of the Korean food items sounded pretty good, I have to be careful of the salt content. Also, too much BBQ isn’t good for one’s health, and frying often cancels out whatever is good, so I’ll need to concentrate on the healthier methods like broiling, poaching, or steaming.

A number of the dishes I listed above is labor intensive, which makes it hard to do regularly, so I’ll have to set those meals aside for weekends or when I am inspired to slave over the stove and cutting board. Also, I’m dealing with ingredients that have a limited shelf-life and need to make sure to plan meals ahead that use the same ingredients.

Why I am doing this?
To torture myself and my loved ones, and to show that I love them and want them to lead healthier lives. Because cancer or complications from high blood pressure or diabetes is not a fun way to die.

On the positive side—I know I feel more energized after eating healthily, and veggies have antioxidants that slow down the aging process. Always a good thing.

Next steps
First off, I think I need to plan my meals better. Rather than make meat the center of the meal, make the vegetable the focal point. Like Iron Chef—pick a theme ingredient (vegetable) and cook around it for the week. My friend, Ellen, joined a co-op which delivers fresh produce from local growers every other week. She said it forced her to figure out ways to be creative with vegetables which she’s rarely/never had.

However, if it’s likely that you’ll have a mutiny on your hands for feeding the family beets for a week—like me—then make the theme more broad. Perhaps focus on a cuisine like Thai, Indian, Italian, Russian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, or Korean, or a genre like picnic foods, soups, dips, sandwiches, comfort foods, wraps, or finger foods.

As with anytime change is involved, it will take time. Perhaps you’ll fall off the wagon a few times. But the most important thing is to get back on and keep trying. “It’s for your own good,” says Mama Sophia.

(Updated 2/19/16)

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