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How to cook these vegetables perfectly—regardless of how much time you have (or don't)

By Alice Zaslavsky 5 min read
Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Here’s a handy reference for fool-proof, people-pleasing, perfect vegetables all the time—anytime.

Before I start, a few things that hold true for any type of vegetable:

Some vegetables prefer low and slow, others like getting hot and heavy, and some are best with just a lick of heat and a flick of the pan.

No matter the cooking method, or the veg, chop it into similarly sized pieces to prevent uneven cooking. The less cooking time you have, the smaller you should cut—even a grater on its largest teeth might be a good option if you’re planning a purée, building a sauce or blitzing a soup. A shorter cooking time is also a way of minimising nutrient loss, as is avoiding too much time bobbing about in water that is to be discarded.

A note on ovens: My oven is fan-forced (and super hot!) so you may need to adjust cooking times to suit your own oven.

From asparagus to zucchini, here's how to cook your vegetables perfectly, no matter how much (or little) time you have.

Asparagus

In a hurry: Snap ends + blanch, 2–4 minutes

Light and bright: Split + soften

Set and forget: Snap ends + roast. On a foiled tray, 200°C for 8–10 minutes

Flavour bomb: Split + roast 

Bok choy

How to cook bok choy perfectly

In a hurry: Chunks + stir-fry

Light and bright: Leaves + soften

Set and forget: Halves + steam, 5–7 minutes, until stalks are tender

Flavour bomb: Halves + chargrill

Beetroot

How to cook beetroot perfectly

In a hurry: Thinly sliced + raw

Light and bright: Grate + simmer

Set and forget: Whole + roast. Toss with salt + oil, then wrap in foil, 200°C, 45–60 minutes

Flavour bomb: Boil + blitz + bake 

Bonus recipe: Blender beetroot brownie (BBB)

Broccolini, broccoli

How to cook broccoli perfectly

In a hurry: Florets + blanch, 1–2 minutes, then refresh in iced water to stay bright. Thinly slice/shred + raw, dress with zesty vinaigrette

Light and bright: Florets + steam, 3–6 minutes

Set and forget: Chunky/florets + roast. Toss with salt + oil; preheat tray along with oven, 200°C, 20–25 minutes for broccoli; 10–15 minutes for broccolini

Flavour bomb: Char + roast

Brussels sprouts

How to cook brussels sprouts perfectly

In a hurry: Raw + shredded

Light and bright: Shred + sauté, 4–5 minutes until tender

Set and forget: Halves + roast. Preheat tray along with oven, 200°C; roast for 10–20 minutes cut side down, depending on marinade

Flavour bomb: Halves + roast

Capsicum

How to cook capsicum perfectly

In a hurry: Slice raw through salad (especially Greek!)

Light and bright: Whole + char

Set and forget: Chunks + roast + blitz

Flavour bomb: Stuff + bake

Carrot

How to cook carrot perfectly

In a hurry: Grate + raw, salad or slaw

Light and bright: Chunks + steam, 5–10 minutes, depending on thickness

Set and forget: Halves + roast. Toss with salt + oil; preheat tray along with oven, 190°C, 25–30 minutes

Flavour bomb: Grate + bake

Cauliflower

How to cook cauliflower perfectly

In a hurry: Raw, blitz into cauli rice

Light and bright: Florets + steam, 4–6 minutes, until fork-tender

Set and forget: Florets + roast. Toss with salt + oil, 220°C, 15–20 minutes

Flavour bomb: Florets + batter

Corn

How to cook corn perfectly

In a hurry: Raw, fresh sweetcorn, shaved off the cob and straight into your salad

Light and bright: Cobs + boil, 5–7 minutes

Set and forget: Kernels + simmer. 2:1 Corn:Stock, 20–25 minutes; blitz half to purée, stir in cream or crème fraiche

Flavour bomb: In husk + BBQ

Blender beetroot brownie

Blender beetroot brownie recipe

Eggplant

How to cook eggplant perfectly

In a hurry: Cubes + sauté. Salt for 15 minutes, squeeze out moisture. Heat oil in pan, toss eggplant over medium heat until tender; 10-15 minutes

Light and bright: Slice + roast

Set and forget: Halves, score + roast. Brush with oil + salt, cut side down, 200°C, 35–40 minutes. Scoop out + blitz for a baba ghanoush dip, or glaze with teriyaki, miso or tahini

Flavour bomb: Sticks + fry

Fennel

How to cook fennel perfectly

In a hurry: Raw + shredded (or finely diced), toss through a salad or slaw

Light and bright: Wedges + braise. Colour in a pan, then add stock, orange juice or tomato passata to cover, simmer for 1–15 minutes

Set and forget: Chunks + roast. Toss with salt, oil + parmesan, 180°C, 40–45 minutes

Flavour bomb: Wedges + crumb

Green beans

How to cook green beans perfectly

In a hurry: Top + Blanch, 3–4 minutes. Top + steam, 5–7 minutes

Light and bright: Split + blanch

Set and forget: Top + braise. Sweat some onion or shallot, stir in beans + stock or tomato passata; simmer for 30–40 minutes, until tender

Flavour bomb: Top + sauté

Mushroom

How to cook mushroom perfectly

In a hurry: Buttons + raw, salads, crudités

Light and bright: Buttons/cups/exotics. Slice + sauté. Sweat in minimal oil/butter to start, then add more fat + flavourings, 5–8 minutes until golden

Set and forget: Portobello/field. Whole + roast. 180°C without oil, 15–20 minutes, then stuff with cheese and/or herbs + drizzle with oil; then grill for an extra 3–5 minutes, until topping melts and burnishes

Flavour bomb: Slice + fry

Onions

How to cook onions perfectly

In a hurry: Red/white/salad. Thinly sliced + raw in every salad!

Light and bright: Brown. Dice + sweat. Low heat, oil/ghee/butter, 2 minutes lid off, 5 minutes lid on, then 2 minutes lid off

Set and forget: Brown. Slice + caramelise. Sweat on low heat, oil/ghee/butter, 40–60 minutes; sprinkle with sugar to help it along

Flavour bomb: Slice + bake

Parsnip

How to cook parsnip perfectly

In a hurry: Raw, grate through a salad or slaw

Light and bright: Cubes + boil, just enough liquid to cover, 10–15 minutes until fork-tender, then purée

Set and forget: Sticks + roast. Toss with salt + oil, 200°C, 25–30 minutes

Flavour bomb: Grate + bake

Potato

How to cook potatoes perfectly

In a hurry: Peel + quarter + steam, 10–12 minutes, until fork-tender, then toss with oil or butter + herbs

Light and bright: Whole + boil. Cover with cold well-salted water, bring to a boil, then simmer 20–25 minutes

Set and forget: Peel + half/quarter + parboil + roast. Cover with cold well-salted water, bring to a boil, then simmer vigorously 2 minutes. Preheat tray along with oven, 200°C. Drain spuds, shake, toss with oil + salt, roast 40–50 minutes

Flavour bomb: Boil + mash + fry

Pumpkin (butternut)

How to cook pumpkin perfectly

In a hurry: Pumpkin soup

Light and bright: Halves + roast

Set and forget: Cubes + roast. Toss with salt + oil; preheat tray along with oven, 190°C, 30–40 minutes

Flavour bomb: Cubes/grate + braise

Sweet potato

How to cook sweet potato perfectly

In a hurry: Cubes + simmer

Light and bright: Shredded + fry. Bind with egg, then fry as fritters, 4–5 minutes each side

Set and forget: Whole (small) + roast. Prick with fork or paring knife, then toss with salt + oil, 190°C, 30–40 minutes

Flavour bomb: Slice + bake

Zucchini

How to cook zucchini perfectly

In a hurry: Raw + shaved, dress with zesty vinaigrette/pesto

Light and bright: Chunky slice + grill. Rub with salt, leave for 15 minutes, then grill in hot pan for 2–3 minutes each side and dress

Set and forget: Grate + bake

Flavour bomb: Spiralise


In Praise of Veg book cover

Images and text from In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky, photography by Ben Dearnley. Murdoch Books RRP $59.99

Alice Zaslavsky is a former high school teacher and MasterChef crowd favourite, now food judge, writer and food literacy advocate. Alice is the creator of the digital toolkit Phenomenom which was rolled out to schools to encourage kids to eat more veg.