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Making the most

Look after your fruit and vegetables and they will look after you.
Here’s some advice to help make preparing and cooking fruit and vegetables simple and stress-free:

Time it right

  • Cut vegetables for cooking into even-size pieces so they cook evenly. Cook them when the rest of the meal is nearly ready so they are fresh and not kept warm or left in cooking water.
  • Serve a variety of vegetables together e.g. carrots, peas, green beans, or cauliflower and broccoli, so that there is something that everyone will like. They can all cook in the same pot, just add the variety that needs least cooking when the others are nearly cooked.
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Ready or not?

The easiest way to tell whether fruit and vegetables are cooked is to pierce them with the tip of a knife, if they are tender - then they are cooked. The amount of cooking depends to a large degree on personal taste. There is no right or wrong way - some people prefer there to be a crunch to their fruit and vegetables whilst other prefer them softer, and you can’t do yourself any harm by eating fruit and vegetables which are ‘underdone’. It is worthwhile experimenting with cooking times until you find the your ideal time for each and you can always try them during cooking.

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Steaming

Steaming is a good way to cook many vegetables – it preserves the flavour, colour and texture, its fast and preserves nutrients that can be lost in boiling. It works best for fresh and frozen vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, spinach and roots like beets, parsnips, peas and beans.

The three golden rules for steaming: The water never should boil dry, should never touch the vegetables and the steam must be able to circulate freely.

If you don't have a steamer, you can fill a pan with vegetables and add about 2 centimetres of water and cover. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. Check now and then to make sure that the water doesn't evaporate. If it gets low, just add a little more.

Be careful: Steam can cause severe burns. Always open a steaming pan away from you and let the steam escape away from your face and hands.

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Microwaving

Microwaving is a very fast and efficient way to prepare vegetables and fruit and like steaming it preserves the flavour, colour, texture and nutrients.

Always cut, slice or chop vegetables into even pieces, so they will cook evenly. It's best to use round, microwave-safe dishes and it is important to remember that food cooks faster around the edge of the dish, so arrange the food accordingly.

If you're cooking vegetables whole and unpeeled, jab them with a fork to allow steam to escape from inside.

It is best to add a few tablespoons of water to the covered dish to create steam. Approximately halfway through the cooking time, give them a stir so that they cook evenly.

Always allow the vegetables to stand for at least one minute after the allotted time as the vegetables will continue to cook and take care: Steam can cause severe burns. Always open a microwave dish away from you and let the steam escape away from your hands and face.

Cooking and standing times vary for each vegetable but the following (based on using full power) will give you an idea. If in doubt, carefully test the vegetable every couple of minutes until cooked…

Vegetable Quantity Cooking Standing
Artichokes 4 (200g each) 12-14 minutes 5 minutes
Asparagus 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 4-7 minutes 1 minute
Beans, green 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 5-7 minutes 2 minutes
Broccoli, cut into florets 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 6-8 minutes 2 minutes
Brussels sprouts 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 8-10 minutes 3 minutes
Cabbage, chopped or shredded 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 5-7 minutes 2 minutes
Carrots, sliced into rounds 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 6-8 minutes 1 minute
Cauliflower, cut into florets 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 6-8 minutes 2 minutes
Corn on the cob 4 ears 8-10 minutes 3 minutes
Aubergine, cubed 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 6-8 minutes 1 minute
Onions, small, whole 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 4-8 minutes 2 minutes
Parsnips, sliced 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 6-8 minutes 2 minutes
Peas, green 500g plus 3 tablespoons water 5-7 minutes 1 minute
Mange Tout 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 4-6 minutes 1 minute
Potatoes, new small, whole 500g (6-8), plus 3 tablespoons water 8-12 minutes 3 minutes
Potatoes, white or sweet whole 4 (200g each) 8-12 minutes 5 minutes
Spinach 500g 4-6 minutes None
Squash, butternut peeled and chopped 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 4-6 minutes None
Courgettes, sliced inch thick 500g plus 2 tablespoons water 4-6 minutes None

Boiling

Boiling is the easiest means of cooking vegetables but does tend to lose some of the nutrients. Vegetables will cook quickly in a few centimetres of water, but you can cook them uncovered in a larger pan. Try simmering vegetables in stock for added flavour. After boiling vegetables the water can be used as a basis for stocks and soups or to add to gravy to improve the flavour.

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Roasting

Not really suitable for greens and peas but a delicious way to prepare potatoes and other root vegetables and squashes.

Peel the vegetable and cut into large even chunks. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C Gas 4. Place a roasting tin in the hot oven with enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the tin. Let it get really hot before adding your vegetable. Be careful to avoid the fat spitting. Put the tray back in the oven and then turn the vegetables every fifteen minutes or so. Depending on the size of your pieces the cooking time will be between 30-50 minutes.

To add even more flavour, about five minutes before the end of cooking try adding finely chopped garlic. You can also drizzle root vegetables with a little runny honey to add sweetness. Once they are cooked serve immediately.

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Sweating

Sweating is a way of cooking vegetables until they are tender but not browned. This is a good first step in making soups or sauces.

Place a little oil or butter into a saucepan and add the finely chopped vegetables, cover and cook over a gentle heat until tender and they have released their juices.

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Stir-Frying

Cut your vegetables into even sized pieces. Pre-heat your wok or frying pan over a very high heat. Add a little oil to cover the surface of the pan and continue to heat until the oil smokes. Add the hardest vegetables first and softest last.
The vegetables should be kept moving in the pan so that they cook in the steam they make and don’t burn, so keep stirring all the time. If the vegetables get a bit dry don’t add more oil, add a little water instead.

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Storing vegetables

Most fruit and vegetables will last longest stored in the fridge. A low temperature slows down the respiration which makes them go off, but you don't want to stop them breathing completely. Don't pack them too tightly together, place them loose in the crisper box or in open bags to allow them to breathe. The worst thing you can do is seal fruit and vegetables in airtight bags.

Keep in the fridge Ripen at room temperature and then keep in the fridge. Store at room temperature
Apricots
Artichokes
Asian pears
Asparagus
Beans
Beansprouts
Beetroot
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Berries including strawberries
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Celery
Cherries
Figs
Fresh herbs
Grapes
Leeks
Lettuce
Mushrooms
Peas
Radishes
Spinach
Spring onions
Sweetcorn.
Avocados
Kiwi fruit
Nectarines
Peaches
Pears
Plums
Apples
Aubergines
Bananas
Basil
Cucumber
Garlic
Ginger
Grapefruit
Lemons
Limes
Oranges
Mangoes
Melons
Onions
Papaya
Peppers
Persimmon
Pineapples
Pomegranates
Potatoes
Squashes
Tomatoes

Mushrooms should be stored refrigerated in a paper bag.

Don’t wash fruit and vegetables before storing. They have a natural protective coating that keeps in moisture and freshness. Washing and scrubbing will damage the coating and make them go off sooner. They will also last longer whole. When shopping, look for greens that have some of the stem intact. Don't buy prepared salad greens or vegetables unless you plan on using them within a day or two. At home, try to only cut up what you need at the time.

Root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and turnips can be bought with their leaves still on - cut off the leaves once you get home to prevent them from going soft.

For greens, cut off elastic bands and damaged leaves before putting them in the fridge.

Check your fruit and vegetables every day and remove any wilting leaves and rotting items straight - one bad apple can spoil the bunch!

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No Waste

  • Buy in small quantities so fresh fruit and vegetables don’t go off
  • Make good use of leftovers – check our Recipe Wheel for some inspiration
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Colour that plate

Make more room on your plate and in your lunch box for fruit and vegetables, leaving less room for fast, fatty and sugary foods. Eating more fruit and vegetables will automatically improve your diet, plus they can be slimming. Treats such as chocolate and crisps can still be enjoyed, along with the occasional ‘junk’ food meal, but try cutting down.

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Add interest to ready meals

  • Serve ready made dishes such as; meat pies, curries or chicken in sauces with two portions of vegetables to add colour, texture and interest
  • Serve pizza with a green salad, tomato salad or homemade coleslaw
  • Serve fish and chips with peas, courgettes and green beans - they take only minutes to cook
  • Add cooked vegetables to Indian takeaways
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Plan Ahead

Replace sweets and fattening snacks with fresh fruit for a tasty stop gap.

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Brighten up puddings

Ice cream, yogurts, pastries, mousses, cakes and other puddings can all be made more colourful and tasty with the addition of sliced fresh fruit, fruit salad or a handful of berries.

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