The Sweeter Side of Vegetables

Pushing peas around the dinner plate and sneaking Brussels sprouts to the family pet have both been despairing and time-consuming activities at numerous American dinner tables throughout the years. Such traditional behavior could be due to the average American consumer not associating vegetables as a “mouthwatering treat,” but a “boring obligation” to be endured for the sole purpose of obtaining the reward of general health; however, there is a sweeter side of vegetables.

Like eccentric fare including fried spiders, chocolate-dipped insects, deep-fried candy bars and sticks of butter, veggies have become popular dessert options among adventurous American foodies in recent years. Vegetable-based desserts like pumpkin pie, carrot cake and sweet potato casserole are all coveted American-style delights that many look forward to during special events or around the holidays, but there are more inventive ideas for utilizing the sweeter side of vegetables. Examples include caramelized carrot fries instead of traditional deep-fried white potato sticks, or butternut squash glaze on angel food cake instead of the traditional butter cream, fondant or cake icing.

The truth is the vegetable is no longer a secondary side dish laden with some type of butter sauce and any flavorful spices the pantry can offer. Vegetables and all of their frequently overlooked sweet qualities are becoming the “rock star” of dishes at every meal with their colorful, flavorful and exotic appeal.

Like the fruits that most desserts are inspired by, the extensive vegetable family comes highly recommended for the healthful benefits it offers, not only by concerned parents, physicians and nutritionists, but by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well. The USDA food pyramid uses a color-coded system to divide the major food groups, and suitably, green is the color representation for the vegetables category; an appropriate secondary shade which boasts organics and freshness. The USDA recommends one to three servings of veggies per day, though a healthy indulgence in nature’s edible offerings is not frowned upon. For culinary clarity, the Department of Agriculture points out that one serving of non-poisonous plant life is equal to one (1) cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or two (2) cups of raw leafy greens. Of course serving sizes depend on age and gender.

In addition to serving sizes, the USDA suggests emphasizing the consumption of dark-green and orange vegetables; nevertheless, the health benefits of all shades are advantageous and a variety of vegetables from each color category should be consumed regularly.

A large assortment of vegetables is the key to any healthy diet, as they have proven to be essential sources of vitamins and minerals, and supporters of overall well-being. Vegetables are low-calorie and high-nutrient food items that are also rich in fiber, which helps prevent constipation and certain cancers. Vegetables help to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes, and lower the possibility of eye and digestive problems, as well as mellow the effect of blood sugar, which can help keep the appetite in check and assist in maintaining a healthy body weight. Let’s not forget about the enzyme, antioxidant and anti-fungal properties vegetables contain, or their ability to detoxify the body of carcinogens and other toxins.

Not all vegetables provide the same nutrition; that’s why it’s important to explore the contrast of colors in the rainbow of selections.

Red vegetables, similar to beets, radish, tomato and rhubarb, lower blood pressure and reduce LDL cholesterol levels, among other things.
Orange and yellow crops like butternut squash, carrots and sweet corn contain beta-carotene as well as Vitamin C, while additionally working with magnesium and calcium to build healthy bones.
Green veggies, including artichokes, asparagus, zucchini and sugar snap peas, normalize digestion time, support retinal health and boost immune system activity.
Blue and purple produce akin to eggplant, purple cabbage, purple peppers and purple potatoes improve calcium and mineral absorption and limit the activity of cancer cells.
White vegetables such as garlic, onions, cauliflower and turnips balance hormone levels, in addition to activating natural killer B and T cells.

Similar to the rainbow of attractive shades the vegetable family produces, the numerous types of vegetation that blossom from their dynasty are just as diverse. Nature provides life-sustaining nutrition with leafy salad greens (also known as “rabbit food”), flower bud vegetation like broccoli, pod vegetables consisting of edible goodies like okra, and bulb and stem vegetables including zesty, heart-healthy garlic. Tuberous crops like beets, ginger, parsnip and potatoes, which are also referred to as starchy vegetables, in addition to sea veggies featuring seaweed and algae, help to complete the list of plant life that is fit for human consumption.

Soups, stews, goulashes, chutneys and vegetable potlucks are all great examples of the different kinds of palatable delights vegetables can create when blended, though zesty, spicy, earthy, nutty, or sweet-flavored vegetables are equally as delicious on their own. Roasting vegetables is the best way to bring out the sweetness and most robust flavor they have to offer. Steaming or grilling would be secondary alternatives.

When searching for the optimum vegetable, color and weight play an important role as well. Purchase edible plant life that is bright in color and feels heavy in hand. Also, be careful to avoid produce that is blemished, freckled with spots or has fungal mold. Furthermore, always acquire vegetables whole instead of sectioned to preserve the nutrients and fresh taste. Wash thoroughly and use as soon as possible, since certain vegetables have a short shelf life, and health-benefitting properties of consumable plant life declines with time.

It is important to consider geographical location and include ethnic types of vegetables in dessert selections like bok choy (Asian), sweet plantain (tropical), yucca/cassava (Latin), etc., to excite diverse clientele and draw a new audience due to the diverse menu options they’ll have to choose from.

To fully bring the concept of vegetables as a centerpiece to the world of dining, consider themes like “Meatless Monday” in honor of vegetarian and vegan patrons, and promote only vegetable flavors that particular day. Contemplate imaginative visual ways to serve vegetable-based frozen desserts like gelato, sorbetto or ice cream as well. How about initiating a “green campaign” completely based around vegetables presented in non-disposable utensils? For example, serve tomato-flavored gelato inside of a hollowed candied green bell pepper to be eaten with a celery stick for a spoon. Sound ambitious? Perhaps, but the possibilities of what can be done utilizing the sweeter side of vegetables are endless, especially during the time of year when vegetables become more abundant.

During the season of summer when temperatures increase and clothes decrease, most people naturally become more body conscious and tend to seek out healthier eating options aside from the unwholesome comfort foods that were appealing during colder months. With all of the health benefits and flavor profiles that vegetables offer, innovative savory, pastry or frozen desserts chefs have the exciting option to let their creative imagination run wild, particularly with the American palate seeking more exotic and different flavor profiles. Consider merging the concepts of tempura (deep-fried vegetables) with fare-friendly deep-fried anything … tempura vegetable gelato anyone?

Overall, vegetables have always provided that pop of color needed to decorate an entrée or side dish; they have collaborated to produce relishes and salads that are too tempting to the eye to resist, and they’ve added flavor and aroma to foods that would have otherwise been uninteresting without them. To fully exploit and embark on this growing trend of vegetables as the star, garner culinary inspiration using standard practices and embellish on them. For example, who said typical “ice cream store” flavors like vanilla and chocolate were only privy to the soft serve machine? Go out on a limb and contemplate mixing things up with a carrot/sweet pea twist, or a sweet corn and salted caramel gelato combination. The opportunities to create healthful and interesting dishes with vegetables are endless – proving the sweeter side of the many things in life is well worth devouring.

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