One of the greatest moments of my life happened sometime last year when a long-time vegetarian student of mine decided to break her 9-year meat fast on my Shabbos cholent. Or something along those lines. The details are a little shady at this point, but it definitely did go something like that. It may have been ‘7 years’ and it may have been ‘schnitzel.’ Either way, it was completely understandable. Meat tastes awesome, and nothing else on this planet tastes as good.
But vegetables taste amazing too. And the less we do to them, the better they usually are for us. Sometimes it seems as though there are people amongst us who are afraid to serve vegetables like sweet potatoes, potatoes, sweet corn, green beans etc. – as they come, baked or boiled with just a little seasoning and oil for taste. I’m actually trying forget one particular Shabbos table experience in which there wasn’t a vegetable in sight. Take that back. There wasn’t a fresh vegetable in sight. There was a mushy-grey reconstituted something that may once have been a potato, but I hardly think that counts. If my memory serves me correct (again, my memory is not the best) I think I may have even come away from that meal suffering from a mild case of scurvy.
In terms of vegetable side dishes that I love to serve, be served, see and eat on Shabbos, it could be that I do have a slight anti-kugel bias. The traditionalists will want my head for saying thus, but I just don’t really like them, and I happen to think they’re way overdone. But sometimes they can be well-made and taste delicious and look classy. And to prove that I’m not completely inflexible, earlier today I myself even made potato kugel cupcakes for this coming Shabbos. (My husband looked pretty happy when I told him I’d made cupcakes with sprinkles – and shortly afterwards much less happy when I told him that the cupcakes were actually cupcake-size potato kugels and the sprinkles were really flax seeds. Oops. My kids really liked them though. I mean, my son ate the whole thing including the paper.)
My main point is that the less you do to a vegetable, the better it generally tastes. I mean, who doesn’t prefer a delicately spiced roast potato over a lump of kugel? Who doesn’t love a hot cob of fresh sweet corn, or a crisp lettuce and tomato salad with just a touch of vinaigrette? Much of the time certain vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes even taste better with the skin on (and contain more vitamins and other nutrients). Plus its easier, so why are we always running for the peeler?
Here are some easy, delicious and beautiful vegetable side dish ideas:
Peel desired amount of carrots, and cut into half or quarter-size sticks. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in a 350F oven until soft and golden. (Optional: honey – drizzle over carrots towards the end of baking time.) These can also be served cold as a ‘baked carrot salad’ on Shabbos day (add black sesame seeds.)
Baked Sweet Potatoes
Peel or wash desired amount of sweet potatoes and cut into circles or wedges. Drizzle with canola or vegetable oil and bake in a 350F oven until done (baking time depends on amount of sweet potatoes).
Asian Green Beans
Throw a bag of frozen green beans onto a tray and bake in a 350F oven for approx. 30 minutes. Drizzle beans with sesame or olive oil, honey and soy sauce to taste. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. These can be served hot or cold.
Finally, here is my list of the top 10 Vegetable-related Crimes of all time:
1. Not giving them credit for who they really are and trying to turn them into something else.
2. Not serving them on Shabbos
3. Not forcing kids/husbands to eat them
4. Adding sugar to them (carrot cake may be the only exception)
5. Not or inadequately checking them for bugs
6. Overcooking them
7. Peeling them when they don’t need to peeled
8. VeggieBurgers (It’s just insulting to the real thing)
10. Canned sweet potato