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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 19, 2010

TASTE
Minding your fruits and veggies

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By Kaui Philpotts
Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Asparagus and mushrooms are a popular stir-fry combination.

KENT NISHIMURA | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Photos by KENT NISHIMURA | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Fresh vegetables offer a bounty of nutrients. Try them steamed, boiled, stir-fried or roasted.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Roasted cherry tomatoes are great on bread or in pasta and can be preserved in olive oil.

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I'll admit it: I love fruit and veggies.

I love fruit a tiny bit more, simply because I have a nasty sweet tooth and constantly have to watch my more evil instincts.

I eat both because I'm basically vain and hate the idea of being sick and not being able to do all the terrific things there are to do in this lifetime. So for me, eating fruits and vegetables will help me stay in the game a little while longer.

I have the added advantage of having been raised in the country before the era of fast food chains and harried two-parent work schedules. Adults and children today have a tougher time, and it shows in our overall health.

Getting the fruits and vegetables you need in your diet is not all the humbug and work you might think. Even the plate lunch is getting the message. Thanks to younger, more health-conscious food service entrepreneurs, there are now green salads on some plate lunches. I see people drinking more water instead of sugary "juices" and sodas.

But the intent of this article is not to preach about the benefits of fruits and veggies. You already know that. It's to give a reality check on how little we are actually talking about here and how very simple it is to make small changes that pay off big.

FIVE A DAY

How much are we talking about?

Five servings a day simply means adding a small banana, half a papaya, or four strawberries to your breakfast. Each counts as one serving.

Have a salad every day. We're talking only a cup of lettuce and all the other good things you can add to it to give you even more fruits or veggies. I love adding strawberries and blueberries to a salad for a change.

A half cup of most other vegetables counts as a serving. That's not a whole lot. Check serving sizes and nutritional values at www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov.

One of the most tasty and economical meals you can make is a leftovers salad. Fried chicken and corn from last night? The other half of your breakfast papaya? A handful of pistachio or cashew nuts? Throw them all into a bowl of tossed greens and top with your favorite bottled dressing, or a quick olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, and you have dinner.

VITAMINS

Ideally, you should get your nutrients from food because whole foods contain many substances, in addition to vitamins that can help protect you from cardiovascular and other diseases, as well as certain cancers.

Both raw and cooked fruits and vegetables work.

Juices can be good for you, but you are better off with the whole fruit, both calorie-wise (juice can have a lot of sugar) and because you get added fiber in your diet.

Fresh usually beats frozen (unless those "fresh" veggies sit all week in your refrigerator and lose nutrients).

Canned should be your last choice because of the added sugar and salt. But if it's all you have, use it.

Go for a colorful plate. Colors matter and indicate variety.

STEAMING

Steaming your vegetables is the healthiest way to cook them since no fat is added.

Many people, including myself, use steaming bags, similar to zippered plastic storage bags. They steam vegetables in the microwave quickly and perfectly. They are super-convenient.

Your other choice is a steamer basket set in a pot of boiling water.

ROASTING

Roasting is my favorite way of cooking vegetables these days because the flavors are so much more intense.

I roast on a baking sheet in a very hot oven with a small amount of oil, salt and pepper. It may not be as fat-free as steaming, but you can minimize the problem by using a good fat such as olive oil and limiting the amount.

The little time it takes to do this makes it ideal for busy households.

I roast everything from tubs of cherry tomatoes and spears of asparagus to squash, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and carrots. All it takes is about 20 minutes, more or less, in a 400-degree oven.

Eat up, and enjoy!

These two recipes were inspired by Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.

ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES

Make more than you need and save the rest in a jar. Pour in olive oil and refrigerate. Great on slices of toasted baguettes rubbed with garlic, or tossed into cooked whole wheat pasta.

• 2 tubs of cherry tomatoes, kept whole

• Good-quality olive oil

• Sea salt (I love flaky Maldon sea salt)

• Black pepper to taste

• 8-10 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet with sides. Drizzle a tablespoon or more olive oil over the tomatoes. With clean hands, toss the tomatoes so they are well coated. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft. Remove and sprinkle and toss with the fresh basil. Delicious!

ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

• 1 1/4 pounds Brussels sprouts

• 2-3 tablespoons olive oil

• Sea salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim the ends of the Brussels sprouts. In the baking pan or a bowl, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on the baking sheet and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, turning with a spatula at least once during cooking. Check seasonings and serve.

Serves 6.

STIR-FRY

You can stir-fry in a wok or large, heavy frying pan. Limit the amount of oil you use to fry with and instead add water or chicken broth when the veggies look as if they might run dry and burn. Stir-frying is quick, easy and tasty. There is no need to purchase stir-fry sauces. Add a little chopped garlic, sesame oil or oyster sauce for more intense flavor. Combine any veggies you like: try onions, green beans, bok choy.

There are many variations of this asparagus and shiitake stir-fry from Keo's restaurant preparations to Martha Stewart Living-endorsed recipes. Keo's adds red chiles, Martha adds sesame seeds. Use fresh or dried, soaked shiitakes.

Another option is the wonderful, fresh locally grown mushrooms now sold in Island farmers markets and even Costco.

ASPARAGUS AND SHIITAKE MUSHROOM STIR-FRY

• 1 tablespoon sesame oil

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 clove garlic, chopped

• 1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces, without ends

• 4 or more fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced

• 3 tablespoons oyster sauce

• 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, optional

In a wok or frying pan, heat the sesame oil (be careful not to burn) and olive oil. Briefly saute the garlic. Add the asparagus, then the mushrooms. Stir-fry for a minute or two. You want the veggies to remain crisp, but cooked. Add the oyster sauce and taste to see if you want to add a little salt. Add the sesame seeds and toss. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

BOILING

As tasteless as this sounds, I have found a recipe from my friends at Canal House Cooking (www.thecanalhouse.com) that is truly better than the sum of its parts. It is perfect right now for summer vegetables try Yukon Gold potatoes, corn on the cob and fresh green beans. You can even add peas, if you like.

The first time I tried this my husband and I ate it right out of the bowl in ecstacy.

CORN, STRING BEAN AND POTATO SUCCOTASH SALAD

• Salt

• 4 thin-skinned, waxy potatoes

• 4 ears of corn, shucked

• 1/4 pound string beans, trimmed (I love French beans)

• 1 shallot or 1/4 small onion, finely chopped

• Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

• 1/3 cup good olive oil

• Pepper

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the potatoes over medium-high heat. While they are cooking add the corn to the pot and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the corn and let it cool.

Next, add the string beans to the pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Scoop out the string beans with a slotted spoon or thongs and plunge them into a bowl of iced water to stop their cooking and keep their color.

Drain the potatoes when they are done, about 20 minutes depending on their size. Pierce with a fork to tell if done.

Cut the corn off the cob in a large salad bowl. Cut the potatoes into slices or chunks and add them to the bowl with the corn. Drain the green beans and put them into the bowl. Add the shallots or onion, parsley and olive oil. Season with salt and lots of pepper. Toss and adjust seasoning to your taste, adding more salt, pepper or olive oil. It's delicious warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.