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Creative Recipes for Getting More Vegetables in Your Diet

Summer is upon us and soon our neighborhood gardens will be overflowing with a bountiful vegetable harvest. The produce aisle at the Co-op is chock-full of seasonal fruits and vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow. The Madison-area farmers’ markets are bustling with new items showing up each week to delight the palate. We know vegetables are good for us, so what better time to explore new and creative ways to incorporate even more of them into our diets! I am excited to have this opportunity to share with you a few of my favorite tips, tricks and recipes. I also recently sat down with pastry chef Cara Moseley and Jennie Capellaro, owner of the Green Owl Café—Madison’s only vegetarian restaurant—to get a couple of their best veggie-packed recipes for you! Try a few of these suggestions and recipes out for yourself; you are bound to find one or two new favorite ways to enjoy delicious, nutritious VEGETABLES!  

But first, let’s review why we should eat more vegetables in the first place…

The United States of… Poor Health?
Current surveys indicate that over two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese. A staggering 18% of our nation’s children are overweight and that percentage grows each year. Each year, more and more Americans are exercising less, eating unhealthy, processed foods and are getting more overweight. The ripple effect of this trend can be seen in the growing epidemic of diabetes in this country. Right now, there are over 26 million men, women and children in America dealing with diabetes. The long-term complications of diabetes include heart disease, stroke, hypertension, blindness, kidney disease, neuropathy (diminished nervous system function) and even amputation.  Other leading causes of death in the United States, such as coronary heart disease, high cholesterol and cancers of the colon, stomach, pancreas, bladder and prostate have all been shown to have a strong correlation with low consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Let’s face it, we have become a nation of overfed and undernourished people. These diseases cost us billions of dollars per year, not to mention pain, suffering and the loss of human potential. Yet these same diseases are virtually unknown in about three quarters of the world’s populations—even among the older persons.

So what gives? Could there be some group of super-humans who are genetically immune to disease? Researchers don’t think so. Genetics don’t appear to be a significant factor, because when these same people are exposed to Western-style diets, they quickly develop the same diseases common to Westerners. It seems the exceptional health and long life of these populations can be attributed to the low-calorie, plant-based, whole foods diets theyconsume.
As an alternative health practitioner and Wellness Buyer at the Co-op, I meet tons of folks seeking better health through supplements. Many folks have heard about this product or that product highlighted on television for its amazing ability to help them. Most folks who have met me could tell you that after I give them what they came for, I frequently walk them over to the Produce aisle to explain the unsurpassed healing benefits of the various fruits and vegetables they can easily incorporate into their diets. There are some great supplements out there, but they are intended to supplement the diet. There is no substitute for good nutrition.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician who specializes in nutritional medicine, suggests that our state of health is a direct result of the amount of nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods in our diet. In his book, Eat to Live, Dr. Fuhrman provides hard data from numerous scientific studies to support his theory that Health = Nutrients/Calories. He shares numerous case studies of actual patients who have recovered from disease by following this basic principle and who now live vibrant, healthy lives. His advice can be summarized as this:

To achieve optimal health and ideal weight, eat a plant-based diet rich in foods with a high nutrient-to-calorie ratio.

Which foods offer the highest nutrient-to-calorie ratio, you ask? You guessed it: VEGETABLES! So without further ado, here are some of the best ways I know to get more veggies in your diet.

Techniques, Tips and Recipes

My number one, most favorite way to get tons of nutrient-rich greens into my diet each day is my morning ritual of making a green smoothie! “Green smoothies” are a little different than smoothies you may be familiar with made with fruit juices, yogurt, protein powder, powdered greens or other ingredients. The green smoothies I’m talking about are made by blending fresh fruits, fresh greens and little else. Greens are the leafy parts of the plant. Greens combine well with fruit and do not cause digestive upset. Some of my favorite greens to use in smoothies are kale, beet tops, chard, spinach, carrot tops, and collards. Because we are using whole fresh fruits rather than concentrated juices, the overall calories are reduced, providing a higher nutrient-to-calorie ratio. The flavors are virtually unlimited as you can combine an endless variety of fruits and greens to discover your favorites. Green smoothies are especially great for veggie-phobic individuals, because they taste… well, like fruit! (If you were blindfolded and didn’t see the color, you wouldn’t even know there were greens in it! Really! I’ve tested this on out on many unsuspecting souls—including my kids—and my smoothies were a hit every time!) I follow a simple formula: 60% whole fruits to 40% greens, add pure water. I like to keep it light and simple. There are a few additions I like to add from time to time, such as 2 tablespoons of hulled hemp or ground flaxseeds for extra fiber, protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. Avocado can be substituted for banana, and both add a rich, creamy texture.

Orange Power Smoothie

  • 2 large oranges, peeled

  • 1 tangerine

  • 1/2 c. blueberries

  • 3-4 leaves beet tops

  • 1 cup spinach

  • 2 Tbs. hulled hemp seeds

  • 1 c. water

Mango Madness

  • 1 ripe, medium banana (or avocado)

  • 1/2 to one whole fresh mango (I leave the skin on, but remove the pit)

  • 1 c. spinach

  • Several leaves of kale

  • 1 cup water

  • Optional: 2 tsp. ground flaxseed

Directions for both recipes: Wash, peel (when appropriate), remove pits, seeds, rough stems, etc. and chop all fruits and greens into small sections. This helps the blender not get bogged down. I have a blender that couldblend lightbulbs smooth, so I just throw all the ingredients in there and let it rip. If your blender is not particularly robust, add the ingredients slowly, a little at a time with the water, until all ingredients are blended smooth. If you like green smoothies as much as I do, you may want to eventually invest in a powerful blender like a Blendtec or Vita-Mix. I like to take my time drinking my smoothie, so I pour the whole thing into a glass bottle and take it to work to enjoy over the next hour or so. The nutritional value and flavor is best when consumed within a few hours of making them. For delicious recipes and to learn about the interesting research behind the “green smoothie movement,” see resources at the end of the article.

Baked spaghetti squash is s delicious pasta substitute. Zucchini and eggplant can also be made into “pasta” with a spiral slicer, mandolin slicer, or just whittling away at it with a vegetable peeler. My favorite is Napa cabbage. I like to quickly sauté in olive oil and top with my favorite pasta sauce.

Napa Cabbage Pasta

  • 1/2 large Napa cabbage, sliced thin

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/2 onion cut into thin slices

  • Italian seasoning to taste

  • (Top with your favorite sauce)

Directions: Heat cast iron or non-stick wok to medium-high heat with olive oil. Once pan is hot, combine ingredients stirring constantly until just the edges of cabbage are golden brown. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, warm up your favorite pasta sauce. Arrange veggie pasta attractively on plate and top with warm Marinara sauce. Optional: sprinkle with Parmesan cheese or vegan cheese substitute. Serve.

You can dehydrate your own kale chips with a dehydrator, or use your oven on the lowest setting. And they make a healthy alternative to potato or tortilla chips! You can make them using many different seasoning blends. Try my favorite below.

Nacho Kale Chips

  • 1 bunch kale

  • 1 cup cashews, soak for a few hours

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast

  • 1 tsp. salt

  • 1 tsp. cumin

  • 1 tsp. chili powder

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

Directions: Remove hard stalks from kale and set aside in a mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients to blender and process until smooth, adding a little bit of water or more lemon juice if needed. Pour sauce over kale and mix until evenly coated. Arrange coated kale onto parchment paper and dehydrate on low for about 10 hours, turning once about halfway through. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use the lowest setting on your oven. Or if you just can’t wait and need these tasty treats right away… you can bake at 300ºF for 30 minutes. Again, flip them over halfway through baking time. Let them cool on baking sheet and store in airtight container (although these are so tasty, they usually disappear rather quickly).

There is nothing quite as warm and satisfying as homemade soup! Cara, pastry chef extraordinaire of the Green Owl Café, tells me soups are one of her favorite ways to include plenty of veggies in a meal. An expert in vegetarian cooking, she should know. I especially liked a method she described to me that covertly adds veggies to soup.  She simply uses a blender to puree the vegetables, once cooked, to make delicious “creamy” soups (this technique can also be utilized for pasta sauces). Almost any vegetable can be used: potatoes, celery, kale, onions, garlic, spinach, etc. It is a great way to use up odds and ends of veggies too, so nothing has to go to waste. Cara suggests making up extra and keeping it in the refrigerator. Just warm up and serve for a quick, veggie-rich meal anytime! It tastes even better the second or third day!

Creamy Broccoli Soup: Vegan and Gluten-Free

  • 1 large yellow onion (or 2 small or medium sized onions)

  • 5 ribs of celery

  • 3 heads and stalks of broccoli—stalks chopped and reserve the tops

  • 1 bunch of kale chopped

  • 1/2 head of cauliflower diced

  • 8 red potatoes (or so depending on the size) diced

  • 2-4 cloves of garlic- minced

  • 1/2 c. fresh parsley minced fine

  • 3/4 c. nutritional yeast flakes

  • 10 c. or so of water

  • sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions: Dice the onion and celery and one teaspoon of sea salt and cook in sunflower oil (or other high heat oil) in a large stock pot over medium-high heat until the onions look translucent. While that cooks, chop the broccoli stalks (reserving the tops for the end), kale, cauliflower and potatoes then add to the onion mixture and sauté. Meanwhile, bring 10 cups of water to boil in a separate pot (or tea kettle). When water is ready add to the soup pot along with the minced garlic and simmer over medium high until potatoes are tender. Purée with the nutritional yeast using either an immersion blender or regular blender. You may want to save some of the veggie chunks depending how chunky you like your soups. Then add the small broccoli florets (make these bite sized) back to the puréed soup and simmer on a medium flame until the broccoli is tender; then add the fresh parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

This next hearty recipe comes from Jennie Capellaro, owner of the Green Owl Café. Jennie has been professionally making delicious vegetable soups for years, even before she opened the Green Owl in 2009. This recipe for Veggie Patch Chili is a good hearty meal and a great way to get in lots of servings of vegetables. Jennie cooks up soup in big batches, so you’ll want to make this delicious soup for your next large gathering, or you can easily cut the recipe in half/quarter/eighth, as you wish. This recipe yields 15 quarts (almost 4 gallons)!

Veggie Patch Chili

  • 1/4 c. oil

  • 8 c. diced onions (approx. 4 jumbo onions)

  • 4 c. diced carrots (approx. 4 extra large carrots)

  • 4 c. chopped celery (approx. 1/2 bunch)

  • 1/4 c. finely chopped garlic

  • 1/2 c. chili powder

  • 1 #10 can crushed tomatoes (approx. 12 c.)

  • 2 46-oz. containers tomato juice

  • 1 c. tomato paste

  • 10 c. vegetable stock

  • 4 c. diced zucchini and yellow squash  

  • 4 c. diced bell pepper (green, red, or yellow or mixed)

  • 4 c. corn kernels (can use frozen)

  • 6 c. cooked kidney beans (approx. 1/2 a #10 can)

  • 1/4 c. hot sauce (Frank’s hot sauce)

  • 2 Tbs. salt

  • 16 c. chopped fresh spinach

Directions: In large soup pot, sauté onion in oil on medium high heat until soft. Add carrots and celery and sauté for 5 more minutes. Add garlic and chili powder and sauté for another minute or two. Add stock and tomato products. When the pot comes to a boil, turn down heat until soup comes to a simmer. Add zucchini and yellow squash, peppers, corn, and beans. Bring back to a simmer and cook for approximately 45 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add hot sauce and salt. Add fresh spinach and remove from heat. Serve.

You may also like to try making a “raw soup.” For example, you can mix freshly made carrot juice with cucumbers in a blender. Add your favorite spices, such as a slice of fresh ginger, dill, mint or a dash of cinnamon. Blend and serve cold.

I love to use marinated vegetables in all sorts of ways. I’ve marinated mushrooms, broccoli, string beans, asparagus, and the list goes on and on. They are so easy to make and so delicious and versatile. You can make popcorn-like snacks, gorgeous sides or they can serve as the “meat” of the meal.

For snacks, I chop up some of my favorite vegetables and marinate them for a few hours to soften them up and give them extra flavor. (I have included recipes for two of my favorite marinades below). Next I arrange the vegetable pieces on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 350ºF until golden brown. This makes the veggie pieces quite crisp. Cool and serve for a tasty, nutritious snack.

For sides, marinate and grill slender slices of your favorite veggies: carrots, celery, asparagus, sweet potatoes and fennel all work well. I especially like to combine a variety of colors for a beautiful presentation.

Veggie “steaks” can be made from larger, firm vegetables. I commonly use cauliflower, broccoli or green cabbage. Cut it thick enough to not fall apart, (don’t worry if pieces fall off the edges. You can use them in soup or veggie pop-corn). Marinate as described above and grill until tender and golden on the edges. If I don’t have a grill available, I just throw them in my cast iron skillet with a little coconut or olive oil.  These “steaks” can be enjoyed alone, or work great in “burgers” or sandwiches.

Italian Marinade
Mix olive oil, chopped garlic, fresh or dried Italian herbs and a pinch of sea salt.

Asian Marinade
Mix sesame oil, tamari (soy sauce), sliced ginger and a dash of sugar.

Thai Marinade
Mix together coconut cream, lime juice, chopped garlic, tamari, chopped fresh basil and Thai seasoning blend. Grill, or sauté in coconut oil. I especially enjoy Thai eggplant, sweet potatoes and kale prepared this way.

I have not included measurements because that all depends on how many veggies you are preparing. The process is very flexible and you just need to make enough to coat your vegetables. Play with other herbs and spices to create your own favorite.

I recommend keeping containers of sliced veggies in the refrigerator at all times. It is a lot easier to reach for veggies instead of chips, or other unhealthy snacks, if they are right there, prepared and ready to eat. When you get home from a shopping trip, wash and cut up an assortment of vegetables and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. My kids and I love to cut cute shapes using special cutters, so the veggies are just that much more fun to eat. Having some healthy dips on hand is also helpful.  You can make your own, or find lots of healthy choices at the co-op. Here are a couple of my favorite homemade dips.

Eva’s Raw Vegan “Better Than Ranch” Dip  

  • 1 c. raw cashews, soaked in filtered water for 2 hours and drained (soaking is optional)

  • 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice

  • 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

  • 2 dates soaked in 1 1/2 cups of filtered water and then pitted

  • 1/2 cup date soak water (discard the rest of soak water or add it to a smoothie)

  • 2–4 large cloves garlic

  • 2 Tbs. red onion

  • 1 1/2 Tbs. Herbamare seasoning

  • 1 Tbs. fresh continental parsley, chopped finely

  • 1/2 tsp. fresh dill chopped finely

  • 1 Tbs. green onions chopped finely

Directions: Place all ingredients except the fresh herbs into your blender and puree until smooth and creamy.
If using as a dip, place mixture in an airtight container and chill for about 2 hours to congeal and thicken before serving. If using as a dressing, add about 1/2 cup–1 cup of filtered water to thin out.

Creamy Raw Cashew Dip

  • 1 c. raw cashews soaked for 4 hours (soaking is optional)

  • 1/2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

  • 1 piece chopped fresh ginger

  • 1 hot green chili—seeds and placental skin removed to get rid of the extreme heat

  • 4–5 Tbs. pure water (more or less for desired consistency)

  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro

Directions: Put all of the ingredients except the cilantro and water into a food processor (to maintain a chunky consistency) and pulse. Gradually add in the water until desired consistency is achieved. A thick creamy dip requires only a little water. Scrape the sides of the container, and push chunks to the bottom to mix thoroughly. Add salt, ginger and lemon juice to taste. Once fully blended, remove from blender and fold in chopped cilantro. Serve or store in airtight container. Dip will keep for approximately three days.

Thank you to Jennie and Cara for their yummy recipe contributions. Make sure to drop by and say “hello” and try some of the other many delights at the Green Owl Café. They’ll wash the dishes! You can find out their hours, get directions and view their menu right on their website at They have a great menu, including many vegan and gluten-free options, as well as delicious desserts to reward yourself for eating your vegetables(although, with veggies that taste so good, they are their own reward)! The Green Owl is not only a fantastic gourmet vegetarian restaurant (did I mention it is the only one in town?), they also host a “Raw Night” every second Thursday of the month. On this day, they feature specialties that are completely made with raw, living foods that are so delicious, you’ll want to make it part of your routine to attend. You can always order selections from their regular menu as well!

I hope you all enjoy trying these recipes. Let us know which ones you like the best—or share your own veggie recipe with us on our Facebook page. For more ideas, recipes and information, check out some of my favorite books and resources listed below. Enjoy!

Additional Resources
Books: From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce, by Madison area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC). The Raw Food Detox Diet, by Natalia Rose. Green for Life, by Victoria Botenko. for recipes, research and case studies for smoothie recipes and how-to videos for raw recipes and info