This may strike you as an odd category in which to have favorites. Sure, "humble veggies" aren't exactly the next sexy superfood, but they do make up the bulk of my shopping list and meal planning because of their nutritive value and their relatively cheap cost.
In using the word humble, I mean that these vegetables are often overlooked and underutilized. Nobody thinks twice about potatoes, onions, carrots and frozen spinach. They're certainly not as exciting as dragonfruit, lychee, kohlrabi or rainbow chard, to be sure, but with a little imagination and a lot of pennies saved, these five humble vegetables can do wonders in your kitchen.
Cabbage is one of my favorite vegetables, and I can't seem to get enough of this sulfur-rich crucifer that add crunch to salads and plenty of flavor and texture to braises and stir-frys. I prefer red cabbage over green, as its vibrant purple hue denotes the presence of potent phytochemicals, but green cabbage is just as versatile as its brightly colored cousin. Not to mention, this veggie is cheap! Try it roughly chopped, cooked with pot roast or corned beef; shredded and dressed lightly with lime juice for a tangy slaw; sauteed with onions and garlic as a nutrient-dense side dish; or braised with pork and apples.
Garlic, onions, shallots, leeks...these all belong in the allium family, and boy do I love them. An allium is usually the foundation of any good dish, be it a soup or a curry, and spans nearly every culture. The mirepoix in French cuisine features onions, celery and carrots; sofrito in Spain has onions, garlic and tomato. Put simply, it's hard to be a home chef without a proper appreciation for the alliums. The great thing about these vegetables is that they hold up well to long-term storage, meaning you can stock up and always have some on hand with which to start your next great meal. I love love LOVE caramelized onions, and if you can ever get your hands on a sweet Maui Onion you will not be disappointed. Try roasted garlic with anything; roasted sweet potatoes and red pearl onions; minced shallots in your next vinaigrette; or a light and aromatic leek soup.
This is an easy one to understand. You can buy carrots in bulk for next to nothing, and then utilize them in everything from fresh juice with ginger, a subtly spiced and earthy-sweet soup, or simply cut into matchsticks for dipping in almond butter or roasted garlic + eggplant dip. They hold up well in the refrigerator and can run the gamut from sweet to savory; thus, their versatility and durability make them invaluable.
This is a world without end. You can have gold potatoes, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, fingerling potatoes, new potatoes, baking potatoes, yams, Okinawan, Japanese, Peruvian...the options here are infinite. I always have a pile of potatoes (usually sweet) on hand for bulking up scanty meals at the last minute when the grocery supplies are running low. Try a baked sweet potato stuffed with spicy chili; cubed and roasted potatoes of any kind, served with over-medium eggs; slow-baked fingerlings with grassy olive oil and garlic; or boiled new potatoes with green beans and bacon. The fact that potatoes are sold by the pound, often in 5- or 10-pound bags, reveals that these humble roots are, in fact, dirt cheap. Pun intended.
This humble choice may seem like a cheat, as it refers not to one single variety but, rather, to a category. Frozen vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness and frozen immediately, and most folks choose to cook their frozen veggies the easy way - via steaming in the microwave. But this is great news, because it means that most of the nutrients within are preserved, and the method of cooking serves to further stymie nutrient loss. As a final bonus, most frozen vegetables (and fruits) are cheaper than their fresh counterparts, meaning that if organic produce is a priority, you can often find a better deal in the freezer section of the grocery store. I stock up on frozen broccoli florets, frozen peas, French beans, cubed butternut squash, and organic frozen berries for use in everything from stir-frys, quick side dishes, and smoothies.
So tell me - do you share my appreciation for the humble vegetable? Or are you more of a fan of the weird/fancy stuff like celeriac, dinosaur kale and cotton candy grapes?