Vegetables - Eating Without Fear
( Originally Published 1923 )
I am afraid few people realize the food value of vegetables, and though they may realize it, they do all they can, by the way they cook them, to make them mal-nutritious. Some time ago, a doctor recommended that the water in which vegetables were boiled should be consumed, claiming that all the good qualities were in the water. This is, to a large extent, true and excellent soups can be made from the water in which most vegetables have been boiled. But I contend that many people over-cook their vegetables and a case in point is the plebeian cabbage, than which, properly treated there is not a more delicious green.
It is almost impossible to buy a cabbage from a city store with the outside green leaves still on, but those who have gardens of their own or who can possibly get an undenuded cabbage certainly should. The large green leaves are the best part of the vegetable. I have known cooks to cook cabbage for hours and then complain that it is tough. Small wonder; it is, at all events, very indigestible and absolutely valueless as food. Besides which it is very unpleasant to look at.
The cabbage should be cut into quarters and thoroughly' washed. It is then placed in a large saucepan and covered with absolutely boiling water, in which is a heaped table-spoonful of salt and a piece of common washing soda the size of a large pea. It is boiled for about ten minutes, uncovered, drained in a colander and all the water pressed out and then dished up. It should be thoroughly cooked by that time, be a brilliant emerald green, as tender and sweet as Brussels sprouts, most digestible and nutritious. Cooking it without a lid to the saucepan prevents the very obnoxious smell that lets all the neighbors know that Irish Turkey is being prepared.
Brussels Sprouts are cooked in exactly the same way but they are only thoroughly drained without being pressed, as pressing might break them and each sprout should be a perfect little cabbage in itself. They too should be brilliant green. Cooked this way the taste is absolutely different from when they are boiled and boiled until they turn a nasty pinky-yellow, not only unpleasant to the eye and taste but really detrimental to the health.
String beans or French beans are also often over-cooked and thereby destroyed. String beans are much nicer if sliced longways of the bean. They are more tender than if broken, or cut across. The strings are of course taken off first and then the bean is slit into two or three lengths according to its size. They are then placed in boiling water with salt and soda as already directed and boiled for not more than ten minutes. They should be skimmed two or three times when the scum rises. They are then drained quite dry and served with butter. These also are bright green, tender and delicious. To boil them longer destroys the color, toughens the bean and makes it indigestible.
Spinach should be well washed in at least six waters and then put into a dry iron saucepan without any water. There is quite sufficient left on the leaves from the last washing, and to add more only impairs the flavor of this delicious vegetable. Salt is sprinkled over the leaves and a little bit of soda is added and the pan is covered to keep the steam in. In ten minutes the spinach is cooked when it is drained, pressed and served either "en branche," or chopped fine with either hard-boiled eggs cut in slices, or a poached egg. The French mix gravy with it but it destroys the color which should be a rich, clear dark green, not brown as I have sometimes seen it.
A vegetable that is little known in the Eastern States is turnip-tops which are excellent, nutritious and delicious. They go exceedingly well with roast shoulder of lamb. Only the young tops are used, just like beet tops, but they are more tender than the latter and have a slightly bitter flavor, which is most appetizing.
Jerusalem artichokes when they can be obtained are wonderful. The artichoke which looks like a round potato covered with bumps, is peeled just like a potato and immediately dropped into cold water, otherwise it will turn black. This however does not impair the flavor. It is then boiled in salted water, drained and served covered with thick white melted butter (see page 134). It has a curious sweet taste which goes exceedingly well with roast sirloin of beef.
Cauliflower is another vegetable that one often gets over-cooked. To start with, a cauliflower should always be cooked whole, with the green outside leaves still on, but trimmed flush with the top of the flower. The stump should be cut as close to the base of the leaves as possible and then split in four with point of a knife, as far up as can be reached without cutting the flower apart, so as to let the water penetrate the stalk. It should be covered with boiling water in which is a tablespoonful of salt and a tiny piece of soda, and it takes about fifteen minutes to boil in an uncovered saucepan, unless it be very large when it may require a few minutes longer. Then when it is served the flower is brilliant ivory white and the leaves emerald green. The stump is not eaten and if that is not soft it does not matter. Cream sauce should not be served with it unless the flower be discolored, but this will not happen if the dish be not overcooked.
Cauliflower au gratin is cooked in exactly the same way and then a melted butter sauce, in which is plenty of grated cheese, is poured over it. It makes a very nice savory. It is a great pity to break up a cauliflower, because it is one of the vegetables that is as beautiful on the table as it is in the garden, and it certainly is one of the most delicious and also digestible, if cooked as suggested.
Scotch Kale is cooked just like cabbage, and it should be equally well drained. It is inclined to be tough and is not as digestible as cabbage. When cooked it should be a rich dark green. It is very good as "Bubble-and Squeak," i. e., chopped up with boiled potatoes and fried in bacon fat. "Toad-in-the-Hole" is cold corned beef cut in slices laid in a pie dish and covered with bubble-and-squeak with a top crust of mashed potatoes, and then baked in the oven.
I can recall no green vegetable that takes more than fifteen minutes to boil and most of them require less. It is much better for one to eat them a triflle under-done than over-done.