healthy-xmas

At this time of year there are lots of wonderful root vegetables in season, that can add plenty of colour and taste to your plate, not to mention the nutrients they provide.

Seasonal vegetables are a very traditional part of Christmas dinner, and with so many different varieties to choose from, you’ll find something to suit everyone for your Christmas dinner.

xmas_vegCarrots, parsnip, swede and Brussels sprouts are all Christmas staples, with roasted parsnips being the ideal accompaniment to your Christmas dinner.

Carrots can be roasted or boiled, but lightly steaming them keeps their flavour, colour and nutrition in top form. If you do boil your vegetables, save the water and add to the gravy so that any vitamins that have leached into the water will still be present in the gravy. It will also make your gravy more flavoursome.

If you want to cook the perfect greens this season, here’s how…..

  • Avoid loss of vitamins and minerals and retain all those flavours, by preparing just before serving and use a very sharp knife. Eat vegetables such as crisp white or red cabbages but wash well first.
  • Roasting is ideal for root vegetables. It can also bring out the natural sweetness of greens. You can add many other ingredients too like honey, olives, pine nuts, Rosemary and other herbs to make an easy one-dish meal.
  • Still the most popular way of cooking festive vegetables, boiling is a quick and easy method. To minimize nutrient loss just add enough water to cover the vegetable and take care not to overcook.
  • A simple method most commonly used in oriental dishes, stir-frying uses much less oil than shallow frying when you use a nonstick wok and spray your oil to coat it. Cooking quickly over a medium heat means colour, flavour and texture are retained and few nutrients lost. Chop vegetables into similar shapes and sizes so that cooking is even. Add harder veggies first to wok and finish off with those that need little cooking time.
  • Steaming is a very healthy cooking method, as fewer vital nutrients are lost in the cooking water. It also helps retain the fresh, vibrant colour of greens. For best results, use a steamer or pan with a tight-fitting lid and make sure the vegetables sit above the minimum amount of water.

Christmas dinner isn’t the only way to boost your vegetable intake on Christmas day. If you’re having people over, serve a selection of dips made with low-fat yoghurt and cucumber, avocado and tomato, or puréed sweet peppers. Serve with vegetable sticks made from raw carrots and celery. Think of the savings too – when you swap 50g of cheese dip and 50g tortillas for 50g of butternut dip and 80g of vegetable crudités – you can save yourself 440 calories and 36g of fat!

So if you find the holidays and your waist line challenging – – think colour first and fill up half your buffet plate with low-cal salads and vegetables such as carrots, celery etc. Then into one quarter of your plate select some filling protein-rich food that isnt battered or fried – chicken drumsticks (with the skin removed), cold turkey or roast meat, or prawns. In the remaining quarter of your plate have some tasty seasonal potatoes.

Don’t forget to make a warming winter vegetable soup for a quick and easy starter option. Soup is also a great option for the days after Christmas when you have all those leftovers to use up, and want something a bit lighter to eat.
Table of nutritional values

Nutrition per portion (80g) Calories Fat (g) Sat fat (g) Sugars (g) Fibre (g) Salt (g) Other
Brussels Sprouts 28 1.0 0.2 2.4 2.5 0.004 High in Vitamin C (60mg)
High in Folate (110ug)
Source of Potassium (310mg)
High in carotene (320 ug)
Beetroot 29 0.1 0 5.6 1.5 0.01 High in folate (120ug)
Swede 9 0.1 0 1.8 0.6 0.03 Source of vitamin C (20mg)
Source of carotene (132ug)

Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are members of the Brassica family and therefore closely related to broccoli and cabbage. They resemble miniature cabbages, with diameters of about 1 inch. They grow in bunches of 20 to 40 on the stem of a plant that grows as high as three feet tall. Perfectly cooked Brussels sprouts have a crisp, dense texture and a slightly sweet, bright and “green” taste.

When buying Brussels sprouts, choose those that are firm, compact and vivid green. They should be free of yellowed or wilted leaves and should not be puffy or soft in texture. Choose sprouts of similar size to ensure that they cook evenly.

To prepare sprouts, cut away the outside leaves and rinse in a colander. There’s no need to cut a cross in the bottom. Small Brussels sprouts are good steamed, then tossed in garlic butter, or fried with chestnuts or a little lean back bacon or ham.

Unwashed and untrimmed Brussels sprouts can be stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator where they can be kept for 10 days. To freeze Brussels sprouts, blanch them first for between three to five minutes.

Here are a couple of yummy serving suggestions:

  • Braise Brussels sprouts in water infused with your favorite herbs and spices or lemon juice.
  • Combine quartered cooked Brussels sprouts with sliced red onions, walnuts and your favourite mild tasting cheese such as a goat’s cheese or feta. Toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for delicious side dish.

Swede

Swede is slightly larger than the turnip and with a rough skin that is partly tan and partly purple. The swede’s rough appearance hides its fine texture and distinctive, sweet tasting flesh.

When roast or mashed, swede makes a simple and tasty side dish. It can also be used to add extra nutrition to stews as it is a source of beta carotene and vitamin C. It can also be mashed in with potato to add extra colour and flavour.

When buying swede, choose those that are firm, solid and heavy. The skin should be free of major damage but the rigid scars around the top are natural. Smaller swede are generally sweeter and milder.

To cook swede, peel if before use. As the skin is quite thick and uneven it may be easier to quarter the swede and cut off the skin with a knife, rather than using a peeler.

Roasting will concentrate the swede’s flavour, whereas boiling will dilute it. Cut swede into cubes and cook until tender

Did you know?

In Scotland swede is known as neeps and is served mashed alongside haggis as part of the traditional supper on Burns Night.

Beetroot

Many people don’t like beetroot, having only experienced crinkle-cut slices steeped in overpowering vinegar. This is a shame because fresh beetroot is very different in terms of flavour (sweet, slightly earthy), texture (smooth and velvety) and colour (dark red/purple, or an appealingly lurid pink when combined with yoghurt in a salad).

These attributes make it a key ingredient in salads. Fresh beetroot juice has a subtle taste and is particularly good with a sharper ingredient such as orange or apple juice.

Beetroot is high in folate, a vitamin that is essential for the nervous system and proper functioning of the brain. Beetroot has long been used for medicinal purposes, primarily for disorders of the liver, given their stimulating effects on the liver’s detoxification process.

When buying beetroot, it should be firm with a smooth, undamaged surface. Smaller roots are more tender – avoid any larger than about 6cm in diameter as they may have tough, woody cores.

To store beetroot, cut off the leaves and store in an unsealed plastic bag in the fridge. They will keep this way for a couple of weeks. To use in cooking, tender baby roots can be grated raw in salads whereas more mature beetroot can be boiled (better suited to smaller, younger beetroot) or wrapped in foil and baked (better for larger, older roots).

To preserve the beetroot’s colour and nutrients, rinse and brush clean but do not remove the skin or root until after cooking. Cook until a skewer easily penetrates to the core (anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours boiling or 1½ to 2½ hours baking at 180°C). You may want to wear rubber gloves when cutting and handling beetroot as the strong colour can leave a stubborn stain.

The leaves can be cooked like spinach – steam uncovered in a pan with a small amount of boiling water.