I say both! Especially when it comes to cooking with alliums. Did you know that only two minutes in a frying pan can reduce garlic to little more than flavor and ruins its healing potency? When substances in garlic commingle, an enzyme reaction is triggered that creates the healing substance allicin. When you press or chew the garlic the combustion begins. Heating the garlic immediately after crushing or slicing it destroys the heat-sensitive enzyme that causes the transformation.
To reap the benefits of garlic, follow the ten minute rule: chop, mince, slice or mash the garlic and then keep it away from the heat for ten minutes. After that, you can sauté or add the garlic to any dish and be guaranteed to get the full benefit of its medicinal qualities.
If you seek maximum antioxidant qualities from your basic onion, choose the hotter and darker skinned types over mild and white, which are typically low in sulphur and therefore sweeter. If it brings tears to your eyes when you are slicing and dicing, you know you have made a nutritionally sound choice. The papery skin also contains natural compounds that retain a high concentration of bio-nutrients, which makes them the most nutritional part of the vegetable. Although eating skins is not recommended, save them to enrich broth for soups.
Eating on the Wild Side
I learned all this and more about the healthiest vegetables to grow and eat, from Eating on the Wild Side, A field guide to nutritious food by Jo Robinson. [Here is a link to an NPR interview.] This book is changing the way I think about food – what to grow ( purple carrots, purple rose potatoes, open headed lettuce, all the allium family) how to cook vegetables ( steamed is best) and what to avoid ( store bought broccoli, corn, russet potatoes, cauliflower). I have always cared about healthy eating, which is a good portion of why I grow my own food, but I had no idea how lacking most of the popular vegetables are when it comes to providing nutrition.
I thought everyone might like to know about how to eat better, so I called my friend, Victoria to tell her to check out the book. She gardens, she cooks, she eats with pleasure and loves to entertain. She is also educated about issues that surround food, and always chooses local. ” I don’t want to know.” was her response. “I just want to enjoy my food, and don’t care about what it does for me.” She elaborated. “It is important that food enliven the senses: smell, sight, touch, taste. It’s the Alice Waters approach to cooking, to bring out the most sublime qualities of the food.”
I couldn’t agree more. As a gardener and a cook, you have the option to balance both nutrition and flavor. To celebrate the seed catalogs starting to arrive, here are a few of the healthiest crops to consider growing in your garden for 2014. If you can’t grow these, put them on your farmers market shopping list.
Top 10 for maximum health
- Allium family: Garlic offers the most promising health benefits, ( note to follow the directions above to release allicin). Strong flavored shallots come in second best.
- Beets: Red beets are high in betalains, biontrients that may reduce the risk of cancer, far more than Chiogga ( candy striped) golden or white beets. Cooks tip: To disguise the earthy flavor of beets, serve them with mustard, horseradish or vinegar.
- Carrots: Purple, red or yellow varieties are your most healthful choice, because they are rich in anthocyanins. Any carrot steamed provides 10 times more nutrients than raw.
- Crucifers: When it comes to broccoli, cabbage and kale, they are your most nutritious crop for the space. Kale is the most bitter tasting and beneficial of all the crucifers. Tuscan or Lacinato is an excellent source of sulforaphanes, the main anticancer ingredient. Sweeter and milder than many other varieties, it is excellent for making kale chips.
- Lettuce: Choose red, red-brown, purple or dark green loose leaf varieties. Pale colored varieties that form a tight head are the least nutritious.
- Peas: Choose pod peas over traditional shelled garden peas, because when you eat the pods along with the peas, you get more nutrients and fiber.
- Potatoes: Choose the most colorful potato with the darkest skin and flesh: Blue, purple and red potatoes give you more antioxidents than yellow.
- Onions: Yellow and pungent types ranks 8 times higher in the antioxidant category than Vidalia or other sweet types. Strong tasting when raw, but mellow when cooked.
- Salad Greens: Arugula, radicchio, endive and spinach are higher in phytonutrients than most lettuce varieties.
- Tomatoes: Deep red tomatoes have more lycopene and overall antioxident activity than yellow, gold or green. As a rule, the smaller the tomato, the higher its sugar and lycopene content. We all know that tomatoes harvested with they are under ripe is a death knell, but did you know that cooked are far healthier than fresh? Cooking tomatoes for 30 minutes can more than double thei lycopene content.