Vegetables for beginners: how to deliciously maximise your veggie intake

Written by MJ Portenski Sili | 4 February, 2021

Join me as I take you on my journey of vegetables. Growing up in New Zealand, summer evenings were family BBQs surrounded by singing, food and a lot of love. I believe this is where my passion for hosting was ignited, as my fondest memories always involved food.

With access to the freshest produce the land and sea could offer, my plate however reflected none of this. Sausages, bread and Wattie’s tomato sauce. Sometimes fresh just doesn’t cut it when your broccoli has been steamed within an inch of its life, as you desperately try to feed it to the dog under the table. A memory we are all too familiar with.

Navigating my way through my 20’s with little experience in the kitchen, I took the opportunity to observe my housemates, wine in hand, while they would search around an empty fridge, transforming nothing into tasty dishes. The inspiration began to grow as I was exposed to a whole new world of food. My housemate would say to me, “As long as you have garlic, chilli and ginger, you’re sorted!”

I am zero or 100% when it comes to life. I won’t go for a run, unless I’m running a marathon. I won’t give advice, unless I’m a qualified professional and won’t introduce more vegetables into my diet, unless I become vegetarian.

It was an experiment. Internally for my own health and externally as a social challenge. I was bored and uninspired about food and so four weeks into the eight week challenge I did back in 2019, I gave up meat to focus on fuelling myself with nutrients, colour, flavour, texture and the unknown world of vegetables.

I am inviting you to my dinner table, as we discover this new world. Whether you avoid the kitchen due to fear of a fire or love to cook and entertain family and friends, I hope there is one thing you can take away from this – whether it inspires you, sparks excitement or educates you on the many different and fun ways we can prepare, cook, spice, serve and, most importantly, enjoy vegetables.

Let us begin with the seven essentials.

Seven vegetables you’ll always find in my basket

  1. Avocado: I can eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner. An absolute legend of a vegetable. Homemade avo on sourdough with goats cheese, dukkah and tomato relish, beats spending $58 at a cafe. Purchase a variety of ripe to underripe to keep it fresh.
  2. Kumara/sweet potato: roast, mash or fried. I love to slice lengthways, top with olive oil and a mix of panko bread crumbs, parmesan, fresh herbs, garlic and S&P for a crunchy roasted alternative to the usual chicken or red meat.
  3. Baby spinach or rocket: make it loose leaf when you can and store in a container with paper towel to keep fresh. Add to roasted vegetables for peppery, crunchy goodness, and top with pine nuts, feta cheese and lemon.
  4. Zucchini: so versatile and, trust me, you will learn to love it! Top with olive oil, paprika and turmeric. Cut lengthways for the BBQ or chopped smaller for roasting.
  5. Red onion: raw or roasted, the sweet and sharp flavour adds dimension to your other veggie heroes.
  6. Broccolini: give them a quick steam and keep them green. Add butter, S&P and even some haloumi and toasted almonds for a side salad.
  7. Mushrooms: my all-time favourite! I always roast whole with rosemary, thyme, garlic and olive oil.

My top tip for maximum enjoyment

TEXTURE, TEXTURE, TEXTURE

Crunchy, smooth, roasted, fresh, boiled, steamed, raw. Create variety in your dishes through different cooking or non-cooking methods. It is just as important as flavour!

Seven fresh and versatile herbs and spices

  1. Paprika
  2. Turmeric
  3. Chilli: dried, whole and oil
  4. Italian parsley: fresh
  5. Basil: fresh or dried
  6. Thyme: fresh or dried
  7. Rosemary: fresh to dried
  8. Can’t there be an 8? Coriander just crashed the party

My top tip for maximum enjoyment

EXPERIMENT

Combine herbs and spices. First time? Start by keeping your warm tones (paprika, turmeric, cumin, gram masala) together and earth tones (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary) together for a balanced dish. Chilli can be added to everything!

Seven tasty additions that are always accessible

  1. Cherry tomatoes (I personally love the colourful ones)
  2. Marinated goats cheese: you can use the oil too (an alternative is marinated feta)
  3. Nuts: walnuts, pine nuts, almonds
  4. Oils: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil
  5. Israeli couscous
  6. Basil pesto
  7. Dukkah

My top tip for maximum enjoyment

LAYERING = FLAVOUR

Where possible use marinated cheeses, roasted and toasted nuts, flavoured stock and wine.


MJ Portenski Sili

As the owner of a successful hairdressing salon, MJ's relationship with her clients is what inspired her to pursue a future in Naturopathy. Currently in her second year of studies at Endeavour, her commitment to life-long learning has inspired her to become an empathetic and approachable practitioner.

In her spare time, MJ is a passionate about cooking (particularly with vegetables). She loves to inspire friends and family by hosting gatherings with great good, music, laughter and wine.

Read more by MJ Portenski Sili

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