How’s it hanging in your kitchen lately? It’s been busy over here; I taught my first in-person private cooking class since March of 2020 this past weekend; we’ve been working on getting everything prepared for the August oven-free meal prep class, which is right around the corner; and most notably, after two full years of dragging my feet, I officially launched my YouTube channel this past week! The enthusiastic response to it gave me such a boost, so if you were one of the folks who subscribed/liked/commented/watched, thank you! And if you haven’t checked it out yet, you can take a peek at my What I Eat in a Day video here.
In the video, I recipe test a Veggie-Loaded Taco Topping, which is basically just your standard chili powder and ground cumin-heavy ground taco meat, but with the addition of tons of zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers, and onions. The veggies in the recipe only add to my enjoyment of the dish—a real win in my book! And this specific recipe got me thinking more generally about my philosophy around working veggies into my diet.
Growing up, one of my favorite foods was broccoli, the majority of the recipes I write are plant-based, and I went to a mostly vegetarian culinary school, so to say I’m a veggie enthusiast would be an understatement. I think vegetables can and should stand on their own, but I’m also no stranger to working them into dishes in unexpected ways. (I’m not a huge fan of the phrase “sneaky veggies” because I don’t think food should be a place for deceit of any kind. I prefer to think of a less-than detectable veggie as an unexpected and discrete little nutrient booster.)
Basically, my philosophy when it comes to veggies can be summed up in three little words: more is more.
Whether you’re chowing down on raw carrots as a snack, enjoying a decadent tomato-forward Caprese salad, or blending frozen spinach into your smoothie, it’s all veggie-forward gravy in my opinion. That said, I do shy away from vegetable replacement foods (cauliflower everything, am I right?)—mainly because they tend to be steeped in diet culture, which I do my best to avoid. Have I enjoyed a cauliflower pizza crust-or-two in my day? Yes. But did I have an honest-to-goodness NY style slice made with actual wheat flour and loaded with melty mozz for dinner Friday and the leftovers for lunch the past two days? Also yes! I don’t let veggies replace any of my favorite foods. I tend to think of them as delicious, nutritious goodies that can both stand on their own and be added to many dishes to up that nutrient quotient.
So let’s talk about some of my favorite easy and unexpected ways to work more veggies into everyday meals:
As mentioned above, because it’s relatively neutral tasting and has a great texture, diced zucchini and/or summer squash work extremely well when cooked into any dish with ground meat (or a ground meat replacement)— think things like taco meat, larb, and sloppy Joes. Just sear the zucchini/squash to cook off some of its water then proceed with whatever recipe you’re making as written.
Most of us know that spinach is pretty much undetectable when blended into smoothies, but don’t forget that it also works great pureed into already-green soups. It would be a great addition to this one! As I mentioned, more is more in my mind, so an already veggie-centric soup can only benefit from a little extra spinach!
And while we’re talking about blended goodies, there’s an often-overlooked smoothie-appropriate vegetable: cauliflower! If you have a sensitive tummy, try steaming cauliflower florets, then freezing them before adding a couple pieces to your next blended masterpiece.
Cauliflower is a little loaded these days—it’s become the king of veggie replacement foods in the last couple years. BUT! It shouldn’t be discounted as a veggie supplement. Try working some cauliflower rice into your next pasta bake! Just sear it in a little oil on the stove until most of its water is cooked off, then mix it in what your sauce of choice before baking your pasta. There’s an entire head of cauliflower in this penne Alfredo bake I made for a client last week.
Kale! She had her moment in the sun a few years ago and honestly, I’m a little tired of a basic kale salad at the moment. But I do like to cook kale into most of my soups and stews. Once it’s tender and cooked down, I find it much more enjoyable. We’re having chili for dinner tonight and I plan to add an entire bunch of kale to it!
And don’t forget that a handful of kale (and/or spinach, for that matter) can add some veggie bulk to your next pesto. Follow the pesto instructions as written, then add a handful of greens along with whatever herb you’re centering and proceed with the recipe as written. Or you can make a kale-only pesto like this one!
The possibilities are endless and I’m 100% positive I missed one of your favorite ways to enjoy unexpected veggies. If that’s the case, I’d love to know what untraditional ways you work veggies into recipes in your own kitchen! You can shoot me a note by responding directly to this email, or if you think of it the next time you post a photo, feel free to tag or DM me over on Instagram!
Before I go, a quick reminder that if you’d like to cook along with me and Abigail as we make our veggie-loaded taco salad this weekend, you can sign up for our meal prep class here. Okay, that about covers it! I hope you have an excellent, well-fed week ahead.
With love and a tip of my chef’s hat,