Feature vegetables as a main course, not as the usual side dish

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Vegetables don’t always have to be served on the side. We tend, myself included, to focus on a protein (meat or fish) and some kind of carb, like potatoes or rice, and then just add a vegetable as an afterthought.

Vegetable soups, casseroles and roasted veggies are great wintertime dishes. So why do we tend to relegate them to a small portion of our plate, especially when they’re so filling? Why not feature them as a main course instead of focusing on the usual proteins and carbos?

Protein can be served up in the form of a variety of cheeses and toasted seeds or nuts.

Tips for cooking vegetables

Fresh vegetables should always be cooked in boiling water right after cutting. Overcooking vegetables will decrease their nutritional value.

Try to serve your vegetables right after cooking to retain Vitamin C content. Also, keep in mind frozen vegetables have a higher vitamin content than aged, fresh vegetables. Cook frozen vegetables right out of the freezer. Do not allow them to thaw.

Finally, all canned vegetables should be thoroughly rinsed to remove all excess salt and sugar.

The Hungarian Vegetable Goulash and Oven-baked Vegetables with Goat Cheese are prime examples of using vegetables as a main entrée.

Let’s all make a concerted effort to occasionally incorporate vegetables in our main course dishes. Maybe you’ll discover a new favorite dish.

Hungarian Vegetable Goulash

2 Tbsps. vegetable oil

2 onions, sliced,

2 carrots, sliced

2 sticks of celery, sliced

2 zucchini, sliced

1 sweet pepper, de-seeded and chopped

1/4 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 lb. cabbage, shredded

1 can (14.5 oz.) whole tomatoes

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 tsp. lemon juice

5 tsps. sweet paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup sour cream

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the onions, carrots and celery and sauté for 5 minutes until soft and golden brown. Add the zucchini, pepper, mushrooms and cabbage; stir well. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste, lemon juice, paprika, salt, pepper and 3/4 cup water; mix well. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

To serve, transfer to a serving dish and swirl in the sour cream. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Oven-baked Vegetables with Goat Cheese

3 small eggplants, cut into cubes

Extra virgin olive oil

1 head of fennel, quartered

2 medium zucchini, cut into cubes

2 large onions, sliced

1 large sweet pepper, de-seeded and sliced

4 garlic cloves, halved

1 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

6-8 sprigs fresh thyme,

6 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Freshly chopped basil for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a large shallow ovenproof dish. Heat 3 Tbsps. olive oil in a large skillet until very hot; add the eggplant and fry quickly on all sides until golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a large bowl and then add the remaining ingredients, except the cheese and basil. Toss well to thoroughly mix.

Transfer the vegetable mixture to the greased dish and roast for 20 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Sprinkle the roasted vegetables with the crumbled goat cheese, return to the oven, and continue to roast for another 6-8 minutes, or until cheese is golden and melted.

To serve, sprinkle with a little more black pepper and garnish with the chopped basil. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Pork Chops with Mushroom Bourbon Sauce

2 Tbsps. olive oil

16 oz. button mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup chopped onions

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup bourbon whisky

Salt and pepper to taste

1 large egg

2 Tbsps. water

4 center-cut pork chops

All purpose flour

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs

3 Tbsps. olive oil

2 Tbsps. minced fresh basil

Prepare the sauce: Saute onions, garlic, and mushrooms in 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat until the mushrooms are browned, about 10-15 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat to high, and boil down until the liquid is reduced to almost a glaze, about 4 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bourbon; boil until reduced by two-thirds. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Prepare the pork: Whisk an egg and water in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle both sides of pork chops with salt and pepper. Dip chops into the flour, then egg mixture, then breadcrumbs, coating completely. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork chops and cook until brown, about 4 minutes per side.

When ready to serve the pork, bring the sauce to a simmer and add the chopped basil. Pour over chops. Makes 4 servings.

Sautéed Chicken with Olives and Lemon

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 large, fresh lemon

1 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3-4 green onions, sliced (white and green parts)

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved

1/2 cup green stuffed olives, halved

1/2 tsp. dried or ground sage leaves

1 tsp. dried thyme

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the chicken generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Peal the lemon to expose the flesh. Cut the lemon segments from the membranes and place in a small bowl.

In a large skillet, heat the butter and the oil over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken on one side until golden-brown, about 4-5 minutes. Turn over and saute the other side another 3-4 minutes, or until juices run clear. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the green onions, olives, sage, thyme and lemon segments; cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. To serve, spoon equal amounts of mixture over chicken breasts. Serve with rice pilaf. Makes 4 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.