Veg Hacks: Simple tricks to improve your cooking

Presenter of Riverford’s Veg Hack videos and chef James Evans rounds up his best and most simple kitchen tips: from chopping to heat.

Be inspired

It has never been easier to find inspiration for interesting and exciting dishes. For better of for worse, the online world is absolutely choc-a-bloc with great ideas, techniques and recipes. The passion behind the Veg Hacks series comes from a desire to showcase the great things that can be done with our amazing organic vegetables. Cooking is really fun when it’s approached in a curious and light-hearted manner; it’s a great way to be creative and experimental and certainly shouldn’t feel like a chore. Saying that, I’m fully aware that sometimes dinner needs to be a quick and easy affair. Time restraints and hungry mouths are also a great motivation to learn how to turn humble vegetables into something really exciting without much fuss.

Broccoli

Keep it fresh

By far the most important thing in cooking is to use great ingredients, which not only means sourcing great produce (luckily that’s easy with an organic veg box) but also storing things correctly, using them when they are ripe and in their prime, and not letting them lose their flavour in the graveyard at the bottom of the fridge. Eating seasonally is a great way of making sure taste and flavour are abundant in your cooking. Fewer miles between where your food is grown and the dinner table normally means it has a much better chance of reaching you in peak condition. This is a real imperative with simple cooking: if the ingredients taste amazing, then that’s half the battle won! As well as this, learning a few simple tricks to preserve, ferment and pickle ensures you can future-proof ripe ingredients – check out the sun-dried tomato hack or the fermented chilli sauce video to find out how. 

Chop it pretty

Another cracker of a way to improve the food you cook is to sharpen up those knives and take the time to slice and dice the ingredients properly. This not only has obvious aesthetic appeal, but evenly sliced ingredients will cook evenly; a roasting tray of different sized pieces of the same vegetable will almost guarantee some are upsettingly burnt and others are disappointingly raw. Also the same vegetable can be utilised in numerous different ways depending on how its prepared, have a look at chef Bob’s cauliflower hack and see how many different approaches there are to this familiar ingredient.

Turn up the heat (or down)

If something needs to be charred then you need a hot pan. If you want something crisp, then you need a hot oven and a hot roasting tray. It sounds simple but a lot of flavour can be lost through not understanding the role of heat has to play in the cooking process. When making a base for a sauce, low temperatures are required so that the ingredients breakdown and amalgamate. However, some ingredients, such as baby gem lettuce, taste amazing if they are treated to a short stint in a roaring hot griddle pan and then dressed in a simple herby dressing (have a look at the charred baby gem hack).  

Dress it up

Good-looking food always tastes that little bit better. Get sussed on the garnishes like toasted nuts and seeds, finely chopped herbs or thinly sliced onions or chillies. It’s the final effort that always makes the biggest difference and for sure one of the most enjoyable parts of the cooking process. When planning a dinner party or a feast with friends it’s always a great idea to plan ahead and write down all the dishes, including what garnishes would make them that little bit more beautiful. Have a look at the Oi Sabagi cucumber video and see just how weird and wonderful they look with all the colours.

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