6 ways to cook spring vegetables

There's likely been someone encouraging you to eat your veggies since childhood. While some people naturally love to chow down on greenery, others struggle to consume the recommended daily amount.

Part of finding your passion for vegetables is knowing how to cook them. Your method of preparing healthy snacks and side dishes can make or break how delicious they taste. Spring has sprung and that means several crops have returned after a cold winter. While Old Man Winter's root vegetables and citrus fruits are still available in grocery stores, 'tis the season for green vegetables: green beans, sugar snap peas, asparagus and more.

Get ready for tasty and nourishing meals this spring with a quick guide to cooking vegetables six different ways.

"Roasted vegetables make the ideal side for any dinner."

1. Roast
Roasted vegetables make the ideal side for any dinner you whip up this spring. Heat the oven to 400 degrees, and cut up a selection of veggies. Some options that cook well in the oven are squash, eggplant, beets, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Spread the vegetables out in the bottom of a baking dish and drizzle them with olive oil and spices for flavor. After 20 minutes, test how tender the vegetables are. They should have crispy shells around the edges while the insides are soft.

2. Saute
French for "to jump," saute describes cooking food in a lightly oiled saucepan. Make sure to heat the pan up over the burner before adding a bit of oil to the bottom. When the oil is hot as well, gently drop vegetables such as sugar snap peas and snow peas into the pan. It's a great method for fragile vegetables such as asparagus and onions. Stir the produce you select around a bit with a rubber spatula when it's cooking to ensure it's evenly heated. Once your vegetables are cooked, sprinkle with salt and enjoy. 

3. Grill
They might be more suited for summer than spring, but grilled vegetables are delicious any time of year. Like with baked vegetables, the natural sugars glaze over on the grill, adding a tempting crunch to the dish.

If you want to make a grilled vegetable medley, wash and cut your produce, then wrap it in foil. This will roast the vegetables together so the flavors mingle as they cook. Certain veggies can be grilled directly on the grate, as long as they're in large enough pieces. Corn on the cob is amazing when grilled, as are kabobs. Slice up some onions, peppers and mushrooms to put on skewers, then grill them up. For corn, cover each ear with foil and rotate them every few minutes to ensure even crisping.

4. Boil
Although boiling vegetables is much the same as boiling any other food, we can't leave it off the list. Simply bring a pot of water to a boil and season it with a dash of salt. Drop your washed and cut veggies into the water, and keep a close watch on them until they're tender. It's a healthy way to cook vegetables because there isn't any oil or additional fat involved.

It's easy to find enticing vegetable recipes onlineIt's easy to find enticing vegetable recipes online

5. Blanch
If you haven't tried to blanch veggies before, you're missing out. The great thing about cooking vegetables this way is that they retain their color, crunch and nutrition. In fact, blanching can even brighten certain vegetables. Additionally, it removes dirt and germs from the surface of the plants and often reduces bitter tastes.

Like with the boiling method, start by bringing a pot of water to temperature before adding the vegetables and add a bit of salt for flavor. Prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl and arm yourself with a slotted spoon. Blanching vegetables involves cooking them for a few minutes then suddenly hitting the brakes on the softening process. For example, place a serving of green beans into your boiling water for about 3 minutes, a little more or less depending on their size. When the timer goes off, submerge the green beans in the bowl of icy water. Once they're cool, remove the vegetables and let them dry on a paper towel.

"Cooking vegetables with steam is actually healthier than boiling them."

6. Steam
Cooking your vegetables with steam is actually healthier than boiling them in most instances. This is because some nutrients are lost in the water when veggies are boiled. With steaming, most of the vitamins are locked in while the vegetables become tender. It's similar to boiling vegetables in that you don't add any fat or oil to them.

The easiest way to steam vegetables is by using a steamer basket. Baskets sit on top of pots so that steam from the water boiling below can rise and cook your food. You can also cook them in the microwave. It's the perfect choice for fragile vegetables such as asparagus and leafy greens. 

An important aspect of steaming vegetables is checking them often. There are varying cooking times for different types and you don't want to end up with green mush. You shouldn't cook them all the way through anyway because they'll continue softening as they cool. Three minutes is plenty when steaming spinach, greens and peas, while broccoli and cauliflower require between 5 and 7]minutes of steaming.  Thick root vegetables like potatoes need much more time - about 20 minutes. Check out a complete chart for steaming times on HealWithFood.org.