Bookmark this list of low-maintenance veggies, with tips to prep them – you’ll have no excuses to skip vegetables again.
Want to have fresh vegetables every night but find them a hassle to prepare? I used to think that too, until I figured out that there were easy to prepare vegetables that can be cooked in a jiffy, and others that require more tender loving care (read: time). Once I created a list of “fast-to-cook” vegetables, I started picking only those to cook when I know I’m facing a time crunch.
Here’s a list of vegetables ranked according to the amount of time they require during preparation before they can be cooked. At the end of the article, I’ll offer some tips when it comes to cooking vegetables.
These are ready in a jiffy. All you need to do is give them a quick rinse, and then proceed to chop.
- Baby corn
- Bittergourd (you’d have to remove the seeds of this one, but all it needs is a scrape with a spoon)
- Beansprouts (but they can require TLC if you are fussy about the tail ends and need to snap them off)
I categorised these vegetables this way as they can be easy to prepare vegetables, but may require a bit more time because of some additional steps you may need to take.
- Onion: These are a bit more time consuming because its skin can be hard to peel off, plus all that tearing gets in the way. A trick to prevent tearing is to breathe in using your mouth instead of your nose when slicing them up.
- Celery: These could be fast-prep vegetables, but if you’ve got some “old” celery on hand, its fibres can be quite stringy. This requires some time for removal. You can easily do that by holding a stem with both hands (the concave of the stem facing up), and giving it a quick snap by bringing your hands downwards and together. Each break will reveal the fibres and you can then easily pull them off.
- Broccoli: These take a bit of time as well because the outer layer of the stems can be a bit tough at times, and may need to be stripped off first.
Vegetables that require tender loving care
I find that these vegetables require a lot more effort because they’re leafy or root vegetables, and may have quite a bit of soil still stuck on them. As a result, they require multiple rounds of rinsing, which can get messy and is just a bit more tedious. The root vegetables and pumpkin also need to have their skins removed for some dishes, which make preparing them a little more time-consuming.
- Bok choy
- Chye sim
- Kai Lan
- Sweet potato
Even though I’ve categorised the vegetables based on the amount of time required to prep them for cooking, don’t be put off by the vegetables that require more effort. After all, the leafy ones (that take a bit more time), if dark-greenish, tend to have more iron and folate. At the end of the day, all vegetables provide you with different profiles of nutrients. So, the greater the variety of vegetables you consume, the more the types of nutrients you get! Vegetables are also high in fibre, which help you prevent chronic diseases.
My suggestion is to choose easy to prepare vegetables for weekdays and “slow-prep” vegetables for weekends. If you want to know how you can spend less time cooking in the kitchen, read this post. Or, you could distribute the job of food preparation amongst different members of the family and make an event of it. Set up an assembly line and get your family members to help out with rinsing, chopping, and cooking! I remember helping my grandma peel potatoes, or pick the ends off beansprouts (yes, she was fussy about them). It just speeds things up.
Tips on cooking vegetables
1. Separate leaves from stems
When stir-frying, always add stems to the wok first because they take more time to cook. After they’re about 50% cooked do you toss in the leaves. That way, by the time the leaves are cooked, your stems are cooked too!
2. Certain vegetables may require blanching/microwaving before hand
This is especially the case if you’re stir-frying. Some vegetables take a long time to cook through when stir-frying, because there isn’t much moisture in the pan. Without pre-blanching or microwaving these vegetables, they end up having an unappetizing yellowish-brown tinge by the time you’re done wok-tossing. These vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, and long beans. The thicker leaves of cabbage may require this treatment too, unless you cut the slices up really finely.
3. Some vegetables tolerate stewing very well
They would be softer vegetables like onion, carrot, melons, pumpkin, eggplant, capsicum, cauliflower, celery, leek and tomato. You don’t have to worry about them being overcooked…because it’s a stew! The more you cook it, the more flavourful your stew becomes. Did you know that to make a good vegetable stock, all you need to do is boil some onions, carrots, celery, and garlic?
4. Other vegetables roast well!
They would be onion (make sure to roast them in chunks), carrot, capsicum, eggplant, pumpkin, broccoli, baby corn, zucchini, asparagus, and kale. All you have to do is toss them in some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then, throw them into the oven while you prepare other dishes. For variety in taste and texture, I like to roast a few types of vegetables at once. Then, you can simply flavour them with some herbs or a squeeze of lemon juice once they’re out.
Vegetables can be intimidating for some people to prepare because they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and have vastly different flavours and textures. However, after cooking them once or twice, and getting a feel of how to treat them, you’ll figure out cooking methods or flavourings that suit them best. I urge you to challenge yourself and cook one different vegetable on the lists above each time that you’re preparing a meal. If you really dislike certain vegetables, there is no other way to “know thy enemy”—who knows, you may become a convert after a few tries!
Yan Yin Phoi is an accredited practising dietitian and the founder of The Thoughtful Dietitian.