My first day of veg

Floundering through the Vegetable Challenge

By
September 16, 2008

OK, so I’m going to be taking this challenge, hoping to find my way to more vegetables. My intent is to blog each day, or nearly each day, about my experiences with the challenge: what I ate, what I found challenging, what I learned.

It’s not that the last several years of working on Culinate have been without vegetables. In fact, there have been lots of them, and I’ve learned to prepare them in (some) new ways. But this challenge brings us up against the cold facts: Did I get five helpings of vegetables? Did I get at least two-and-a-half cups of vegetables?

While I’ve been eating vegetables for years, I do wonder how I’ll measure up against such cold judgment. I guess we’ll see.

My first day on the challenge started out with an absolute dearth of vegetables: French toast for breakfast was a real treat, but there was not a vegetable to be found on the menu. I’m guessing breakfast is going to be a good place to get in that additional couple of cups of fruit, but I am very interested to see where I can fit vegetables into my breakfast regimen. Breakfast salads? Ack. I’m not sure I’m ready. Please let me know if you’ve got ideas.

Bento
Bento box with a few pickled veggies.
Beautiful carrots.

In a single paragraph I’ve skated past the demands of breakfast, and I’m now gliding in to lunch, another vegetable-challenged time. Wider awake, I face the challenge . . . and take the easy way out: a bento box with chicken, rice, and precious little veg to be found. Fortunately my bento guy is not just about protein and carbs; he puts some pickled cucumbers and carrots into the box. They’re my first vegetables of the day, if only perhaps a quarter-cup. A small victory, but hardly inspiring, nor likely to get me to the two-and-a-half-cup finish line.

Thinking quickly (and in need of a walk to relieve the stress of the morning), I trek to our local grocery store and purchase some lovely, local carrots. I eat two, congratulating myself on an additional cup of veg matter. Not bad: exercise, stress relief, and vegetables in a single 10-minute outing!

I’m interested to see how (and if) the Vegetable Challenge helps me to replace meat products with non-meat products. I’m not a vegetarian by any means, and I do like meat, but I can go for a number of meals before the need for animal protein calls to me. One of my goals in the challenge is to increase the proportion of vegetables in my diet, while reducing that of meat — a ratio that is probably not only healthier but certainly better for the Earth (that place we call home).

Albacore tuna with sauteed vegetables and salad
Albacore tuna, sauté of squash, tomato salad.

So dinner comes along, probably my last chance to get in that last cup of vegetables. Ah, glorious dinner, time of vegetables, especially in the summer and fall. Dinner is a zingy appetizer of Pimientos de Padrón peppers (absolute heaven on Earth: I promise a recipe soon), followed by a sauté of squash, sweet peppers, and leeks; a Caprese salad with tomato, basil, and mozzarella; and some grilled tuna. I think I’ve made it. Dessert, anyone?

The vegetable scorecard
Pickled vegetables¼ cup
Carrots1 cup
Pimientos de Padrón½ cup
Squash medley1 cup
Caprese salad¾ cup
Total3½ cups
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1. by Shana Ray on Sep 16, 2008 at 12:26 PM PDT

Thanks for the post, keep it up! I am a vegetarian and it is amazing at how somedays I don’t even get the recommended amount of vegetables. Your post has inspired me to take the challenge as well.

2. by Callie on Sep 16, 2008 at 12:34 PM PDT

Any suggestions on measuring “servings” without having to put everything I eat into a measuring cup?

3. by James Berry on Sep 16, 2008 at 1:26 PM PDT

@Callie: for the most part, I’ve decided to just roughly estimate my cup measures. The CDC site that Kim links to has some examples of what they consider to make up a cup, half cup, etc. I suspect that to be more precise would require a kitchen scale, and a weight-based rubric.

4. by Elena on Sep 16, 2008 at 4:11 PM PDT

a modified caprese makes a great breakfast. I had that today: lebanese bread (flatbreat or toasted baguette slices will do too) with slices of buffalo mozz and tomato on top. On weekends I’m a fan of a couple fried eggs with tomato wedges and cucumber spears. If I get local off the vine tomatoes, I just eat them like apples. I’m definitely joining your challenge.

5. by James Berry on Sep 16, 2008 at 10:05 PM PDT

@Elana thanks for the suggestions: I’ll be sure to give them a try before this month is out. Buffalo mozzarella sounds interesting: do you have a source local to you?

6. by CallieKoch on Sep 16, 2008 at 11:38 PM PDT

The most obvious vegetable-filled breakfast is an omelette. Or perhaps hash browns or potato wedges sauteed with veggies.

7. by Charlotte on Sep 17, 2008 at 6:25 AM PDT

Breakfast veg -- having just finished my favorite Breakfast of Champions -- here you go. I ate these 20 years ago in Taiwan and have experimented wildly ever since. One egg, beaten. One flour tortilla. Whatever veggies you have that will saute quickly -- this morning I had one tiny onion from my garden, a jalapeno, and a big handful of cilantro. I’m also very fond of one or two chard leaves shredded, spinach, and scallions. Chop your veggies fine, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a nonstick pan about the same diameter as your tortilla. Saute the veggies until soft then pour the beaten egg over them and swirl it around so it forms a thin layer covering all the veggies. Put the tortilla on top of the egg layer, then put a plate upside down on top of the tortilla and flip the whole thing onto the plate. Slide the whole thing tortilla side down back into the pan, and roll it all into a cylinder. Let it set for a few minutes, then slice into 6-8 slices. Serve with a little plain yogurt on the side, or a soy-sesame dipping sauce, or salsa (salsa and yogurt is nice combined and salsa is more veg). I eat this probably 3-4 mornings a week. It’s quick, easy and delicious.

8. by Kathryn H on Sep 17, 2008 at 12:12 PM PDT

For those times when I am after a substantial breakfast, I like something that I call “green eggs, no ham”--but by all means throw in your breakfast meat of choice if it calls to you. Roughly chop a scrubbed potato per person and steam or saute in a little olive oil. Leftover cooked potatoes are great for this. When it’s tender and brown, add washed, chopped spinach, chard or kale, about four cups per potato. Salt and pepper to taste. Put a lid on the pan and let things steam a few minutes--the timing will vary depending on the type of greens. You can also use leftover cooked greens here. When the greens are almost tender, make an indentation in the top with the back of a spoon; crack in an egg per person, season the egg to taste. Put the lid back on and steam 3-5 minutes or until done to your liking.You can do something similar using mushrooms instead of potatoes; add onion or garlic, use broccoli instead of leafy greens or skip the eggs if you want.

9. by James Berry on Sep 17, 2008 at 3:20 PM PDT

@Kathhryn, @Charlotte, @Callie: sounds delicious. Thanks for the breakfast tips. Keep ‘em coming. I must be iron deficient, but I’m getting inspired to do something at breakfast with sauteed greens: an omelette or frittata would be an easy answer for that, though maybe you all have other ideas. Perhaps on a bagel with a bit of cheese?

I like the breakfast-burrito-like options too, as they give a good way to get beans into the equation, which we’re counting as a vegetable for the sake of this contest (per USDA recommendations).

10. by Lagniappe on Sep 17, 2008 at 3:35 PM PDT

Today I enjoyed a salad of butter crunch lettuce, arugula (I’ll practically eat anything with arugula on top!), heritage tomato, red bell pepper, cucumber with thinly sliced buffalo steak (left over from yesterday’s dinner). Topped it with a simple dressing of balsamic, olive oil, pepper.

Delicious.

11. by Kathryn H on Sep 19, 2008 at 10:32 AM PDT

James, I don’t know about your iron levels, but I do know that many greens seem to marry beautifully with eggs--maybe your taste buds are intuitive! Carmelized onions with chard and a bit of cheese make a scrumptious fritatta. Try something we call Italian fried rice the next time you have leftover rice: Cook a small diced onion in olive oil until softened, stir in several handfuls of chopped spinach and a little basil. When the spinach has wilted, stir in cold leftover rice and then add 2-4 lightly beaten eggs and cook and stir until done. A grating of Asiago or Parmesan is nice on top. The quantities are completely subjective--I like mine very green with spinach, but my husband prefers more rice and egg. This dish makes a satisfying evening meal with a salad and some fruit when time is short or the hour late.

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