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Healthy Cooking: Learn to Roast Vegetables

You don't have to be a professional chef to master cooking methods that will give you the skills needed to prepare healthier meals. As I mentioned in the first blog post in this series, a good step towards healthy eating is to reduce or eliminate added oils in your cooking. All too often, I’ve found that when cooking with oils, many tend to over use and it becomes a habit to add more oil than needed. Unfortunately, this can add a lot of extra calories to your foods. Using a variety of cooking techniques allows you to achieve flavor without the addition of olive, canola and vegetable oils.

Roasting is one of these cooking methods that I use often with vegetables to get a deeper, robust flavor. With roasting, high heat and a long cooking time allows vegetables to stay juicy on the inside while getting a lightly caramelized exterior that intensifies the flavor. A variety of vegetables such as broccoli, beets, carrots, pumpkin, turnips, parsnips, cauliflower, asparagus, squash and peppers can all be roasted without using oil. Often, I moisten the vegetables by adding a small amount of vegetable stock or wine to the bottom of the pan and, if needed, use more vegetable stock to dress the vegetables after they are cooled. The cooking time and heat will need to be adjusted depending on the size and type of vegetable you will be roasting. Check your recipe for specifics.

One of my favorite vegetables to roast is portobello mushrooms. These large brown mushrooms have a dense, almost meat-like texture when cooked. They lend themselves well to roasting and you don’t need a drop of oil – so you’ve already eliminated those extra calories!

I like to add a simple homemade apricot-soy sauce to the mushroom before roasting for added flavor. To make this simple and tasty sauce, soak 5 – 6 dried apricots in boiling water, covered for 15 – 20 minutes, until they soften. Then process them in a blender or food processor with ¼ cup of the soaking water, until they are smooth. Add ½ cup of low-sodium soy sauce to the blended apricots and one tablespoon of chopped fresh ginger and process again until smooth and completely mixed. Voilà – you have a delicious Asian-style sauce and condiment!

You’ll have extra apricot-soy sauce that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can use this as a zesty condiment to steamed vegetables or as a marinade for chicken or tofu.

To prepare the portobello mushroom, cut off the bottom end of the stem, about a half inch, leaving most of the stem intact. Brush off any dirt on the mushroom. Place the mushroom cap-side down on an ungreased cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Spoon about two tablespoons of the apricot-soy sauce into the cap of the mushroom, making sure to add only enough so that the sauce doesn’t spill over the sides and onto the sheet pan. The sauce will soak into the underside gills as the mushroom roasts. The moisture will draw out of the portobello as it cooks and it starts to soften, giving the mushroom its meaty texture. Roast the mushroom about 15 to 20 minutes until it softens. Remove from the oven and let the mushroom rest and cool before cutting. This savory, slow-cooked mushroom is delicious sliced and added to a salad, served whole as an entrée with a side of brown rice and Creamy Sesame Greens, or added to a rice noodle bowl.

If you prefer not to use the apricot-soy sauce, spray the portobello with water or stock prior to placing it in the oven to roast. Roasting is one of many ways that you can prepare foods that not only taste delicious but also help to maintain the nutrients and vitamins in the foods you are cooking. Using this oil-free, healthy cooking technique with vegetables elicits profound and robust flavors.

Go ahead and try roasting a mushroom and let me know what you think. Here’s to healthy eating!