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Manuel's Top Five: Easy Recipes for Yummy Veggies

By L.K. Regan

Last week, our nutrition expert Manuel Villacorta of MV Nutrition, MS, RD, CSSD, one of the leading nutritionists in the San Francisco Bay Area, creator of the RealJock Healthy Weight-Loss Programs, and founder of the interactive weight-management web site Nutrition for You, gave us a list of his top five vegetarian sources of protein. This week, he's going to give us a quick cooking class. Recipe time!

Let's be honest. There are things that we all know are good for us, but we just don't feel like, or don't get around to, eating. For many of us, that's vegetables. So this week, we asked Villacorta if he could come up with a few recipes to make those healthy but often-avoided veggies into delectable treats—or at least regulars in a busy guy's diet. After a week in the test kitchen, he's giving us five ways to cook up some seriously healthy vegetables.

Nine Servings, Every Day
There's no other way to say this: We all need to eat more vegetables. As Villacorta says, "We need about nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. But the hard ones to get into our diet are the vegetables. I know what clients tell me all the time: 'I don't have time to wash, peel, cut and cook them!' Or, 'I buy them and they sit in my fridge and I have to throw them away!' Or, 'Steamed vegetables all the time gets boring.'" Any of that sound familiar? Those are all problems that face a guy on the run who wants to get all his servings into his diet, but feels like he just can't. Villacorta points out, "Nutritionists always tell people to eat more vegetables—but how? If you don't know how to prepare them, you aren't going to eat them."

Why don't we just tell you to eat salad? Well, Villacorta says, "We want to eat both raw and cooked vegetables. It is as important to eat them both ways. For example, look at tomatoes. When raw they are a fabulous sources of Vitamin C, an antioxidant. But unless you cook them, you don't activate lycopine, which is a potent antioxidant, and especially so for men—it's a prostate cancer-fighting chemical. And, you need a little fat, like olive oil, to help you absorb the lycopine. So even though you kill most of the vitamin C by cooking tomatoes, you get something else." What's all that worth? As so often, Villacorta counsels balance. "You can do salads, of course—and you need a little fat to help you absorb those nutrients; a little olive oil dressing or some nuts. But you also need to cook some food—getting all your vegetables in salad form isn't ultimately the solution." So for today, let's talk other things than salad, that are delicious, won't make you bored, and will let you cook at home even on a busy schedule.

Five Recipes

  1. Roasted vegetables: This is a dish you can make in a huge batch on the weekend, and eat throughout the week. You will need a roasting pan, and a large quantity of fresh eggplants, zucchini, bell peppers, red onion, and brussel sprouts. Cut the veggies in big chunks—not little pieces, and they don't need to be pretty or uniform. Set oven to a high temperature—about 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Smear or spray your roasting pan with oil. For this, Manuel uses a little spray bottle with a pump, that he fills with olive oil (like those travel spray bottles they sell at drugstores). Place the vegetables in a single layer in the pan. Sprinkle a little salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. Pour a little drizzle of olive oil over the top. Toss it all around and make sure it's in a single layer. Put the pan on the middle rack of the oven for about 15 minutes; take it out, stir the veggies around (again ending with them in a single layer), and return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes. Cook to taste—a little less for crunchy, a little longer for soft (but in that case reduce the heat a little toward the end so they don't burn). Eat while warm, but refrigerate the leftovers. Throughout the week you can put them in soups, omelettes, lasagna, pasta sauce, stew—or just reheat and eat plain.

  2. Raw vegetable snack: Ok, we know this isn't cooked—but it isn't salad, either, and it's pretty delicious. Buy a container of Greek yogurt; mix with a tablespoon or two of honey mustard and use as a vegetable dip. "You'll get probiotics and protein," Villacorta says, "and it's low calorie and delicious." For a less sweet version, use garlic powder in place of mustard. Bell peppers, broccoli and carrots are all great dipping implements for this one.

  3. Cream of Cauliflower: Raw cauliflower raw is good for you, but cooked has a different spectrum of beneficial chemicals. The problem, Villacorta says, is "People don't like it." That's succinct. Here's a simple solution. Roast two heads of cauliflower, just as you did the vegetables above: cut it in big chunks, spray it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and roast it in a hot oven. Once it's cooked, either eat as is, or make a cream. "Sauté lots of garlic and onions in a tablespoon of olive oil until they're a little brown," Villacorta explains. "Pour into a blender and add the cauliflower, plus vegetable broth. Blend to liquify. Pour that mixture back into a pot, add salt to taste, and it's ready to go." Villacorta tells us he serves this to people at his home all the time, and they always love it. A cup of it along with a healthy dinner will go a long way toward getting your veggie servings on track.

  4. Frittatas: A frittata is sort of like a baked omelette. Use whole eggs or egg whites, or even mix whole eggs with whites. Choose a vegetable—either the roasted ones described above, or you can steam some zucchini, or mushrooms, or spinach, or tomatoes. Mix veggies and eggs together and add a little cheese. Pour into a baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until firm, or cook stovetop in a frying pan at low heat.

  5. Stir fry: "If you use vegetable or chicken broth in place of oil," Villacorta says, "stir fry can be back on the menu." Pour some broth into a wok, toss in the vegetables, and season as you like. Villacorta uses soy sauce for an Asian flavor, or oregano for Italian. Either way, he says, "I always add some garlic—it's so healthy and delicious." He also says that in a stir fry, fresh herbs go a long way—fresh basil or parsley for Italian, or fresh cilantro for Asian flavor. "The presence of fresh herbs will hugely enhance the flavor," he says. As with the roasted veggies and the soup, you can make this in advance and save it. During the week, just briefly reheat and pour over chicken or rice.
Armed with these recipes, we hope you're ready to fire up the kitchen!