Cooking organic is all about making the most of fresh, seasonal produce. But unless you follow a raw diet, you’ll probably want to do something more with your veggies than just cut them up and eat them. Now that spring is here, you’ll probably want to take advantage of all the amazing fruits and veggies that are popping up in your local farmer’s market. Here are some basic cooking techniques that you can apply to just about any vegetable. When preparing vegetables for any of these methods, make sure they are cut to roughly the same size so they cook evenly. Once you’ve mastered these, try putting your own spin on it by adding fresh herbs and spices, or experimenting with different vegetables.

Roast

When you roast vegetables, gradual evaporation of water browns them and concentrates their natural flavors. For even cooking, it’s important to choose a roasting pan large enough to fit all the vegetable pieces in a single layer without too much extra space around them.

Roasted Vegetable Medley

2 tablespoons olive oil
8 button mushrooms, washed and trimmed
1 parsnip
1 carrot
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Place roasting pan in the oven to heat while you prep the vegetables.

Peel the parsnip and carrot and cut into ½-inch thick rounds. Place in a mixing bowl with the mushrooms.

Cut the onion into large dice and add to the bowl.

Peel the garlic and cut into thick slices. Set aside.

Pour the olive oil into the roasting pan and allow it to heat for one minute before adding the vegetables, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir to coat evenly with oil.

Roast uncovered for 30-45 minutes or until vegetables are tender and caramelized. Stir every 10-15 minutes, adding the garlic slices during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.

Steam

This fat-free method lets you cook your vegetables without losing their shape or water-soluble vitamins and minerals. Steaming is perfect if you want to retain the vegetable’s pure, unadulterated flavor.

Steamed Carrots & String Beans

2 carrots
12 string beans
Salt and pepper, to taste (optional)

Cut the carrots into bite size pieces and set aside.

Trim the ends of the beans and cut into one-inch pieces on a slight bias. Set aside.

Fill a small pot with one inch of water. Place a steamer basket in the pot and bring to a boil.

Place carrots and string beans in the basket. Cover tightly and cook until tender. Note that this will take only a few minutes, so watch the vegetables closely to make sure they don’t become overdone.

Carefully remove steamer basket. If desired, season with salt, pepper, or a light dressing.

Sauté

Sautéing involves tossing or stirring vegetables frequently in a pan or skillet with a small amount of fat. It’s great for wilting leafy greens and reheating/flavoring pre-cooked ingredients. A variation of this method is stir frying, where small pieces of vegetables and/or meat are cooked in a wok and finished with a pan sauce.

Sautéed Greens

1 bunch greens, washed and with stems removed (kale, spinach, escarole, Swiss chard, etc.)
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and red pepper flakes, to taste

Cut the greens into one-inch chiffonade*

Cut garlic into thin slices.

Heat oil in a rondeau or Dutch oven over low heat. Add greens and garlic, tossing to coat.

Cook over low to medium heat until greens are wilted and tender. Season with salt and red pepper flakes.

 *How to chiffonade:How to Chiffonade

Grill

Grilling is a great way to give vegetables a smoky flavor and enhance their presentation. Remember to use tongs when turning veggies on the grill: piercing them while cooking will allow moisture and flavorful juices to escape.

Grilled Zucchini

1 onion
1 zucchini
2 scallions, washed and trimmed
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil, as needed

Preheat the grill or grill pan, then oil it lightly to prevent vegetables from sticking.

Slice zucchini lengthwise into ¼-inch strips and place on a baking sheet.

Cut onion into ½-inch thick rounds (against the grain). Place on baking sheet with zucchini and scallions.

Brush both sides of the vegetables with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place them on the hot grill and cook until grill marks are visible. Turn pieces over and repeat.

Once the vegetables are well marked on both sides, place in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to steam for 5-10 minutes until tender.

What’s your favorite way to cook fresh vegetables?

This post originally appeared on Healthy Way to Cook in June 2012; updated April 2013.

Adapted from Introduction to Foods & Food Science, Amy Topel & Trish Lobenfield 2011
Image courtesy of AndyRobertsPhotos on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)