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Lovely recipe...but where's the veg?

Has anyone else noticed that most recipes out there are really short on vegetable content? I don't just mean for things like lemon chicken or grilled fish, but I find that even stew recipes contain mostly meat, a lot of stock/wine/etc, perhaps one onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and the requisite extra seasonings.

When I'm improvising something in my kitchen, I always ramp up the veg content, not to be healthy but simply because I feel that it needs it! I will always use at least two, if not three, large onions because they add such a tangy savoury background to the dish; I almost always add diced carrot and celery to give some extra dimension and body to the stew base; sliced bell peppers are often a good addition as they seem to suit most cuisines; a tablespoon of tomato paste is always replaced by a can of tomatoes; a good handful of frozen peas, canned beans or something often adds much-needed colour and variety to the dish. I usually end up with a rounded dish and never think, "I wish I'd followed the recipe and just used meat and an onion." Plus the added vegetables make the dish go further and taste...well, juicier...!

So why do people think so many recipes skimp on the veggy goodness?

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  1. First - I think that particularly in the US, that meat/protein are given first "billing" in most dishes. Thus, veggies are more often resorted to the supporting player category if they're included at all.

    But I think beyond that is that most recipes and dishes aren't necessarily designed to be apart of one-pot meals. Mujaddara - Middle Eastern dish of primarily rice, lentils and onions - is an example that leaps to mind. While mujaddara can stand as a meal on its own with a healthy topping of labne/yogurt/etc - it's more often part of a meal that will have other vegetable sides.

    I do agree that when I'm making a "one-dish" meal, I will look to add extra veggies. But more often I enjoy having veggies separate.

    1. I'll add vegetables to the dish directly if I think it will make it better but I normally serve a side of vegetables, too. As cresyd said, one dish isn't necessarily meant to be the whole meal. I do find it more of a problem in a restaurant where vegetables are treated like a condiment, in which case, I order a side of vegetables.

      3 Replies
      1. re: chowser

        That I really do agree with - or where potatoes count as a vegetable.

        1. re: chowser

          This is basically what I do. Like, most pasta dishes don't include vegetables but if I'm not wanting to make a salad or have vegetables on the side, I'll throw in broccoli or green beans or whatever really, into the pasta...helps make it look like the serving is bigger too :) Otherwise, I almost always have some kind of veggie on the side.

          1. re: chowser

            I was suprised to notice that on Hell's Kitchen, and so I'm assuming many restaurant kitchens, too, the vegetable station is called "garnish." It seems to make them not important.

          2. Interesting, I just made a caldron of chicken soup using 5lbs of carrots and a whole bunch of celery.

            2 Replies
            1. re: treb

              Sounds awesome! Soup is always a brilliant veg vehicle!

              1. re: treb

                good grief! how big is that cauldron?

              2. I often make a stew with lots of vegetables, but I consider that a totally different recipe than braised beef with onion, garlic and red wine. Same for something like pasta with meatballs. If I do them with a simple tomato sauce it is one dish, with pepper, onions and eggplant it's a completely different one. Once you add all the ingredients you've listed it's not what the recipe writer intended though it can still be a great dish.

                1. Yeah...I haven't noticed any meat and onion only stews, especially on CH. I think, more and more, vegetables are playing starring roles on American tables. Casseroles and one pot meals may have traditionally been light on veggies but I don't think that's the case anymore. We are big protein eaters but, often as not, soups are good homemade stocks filled with numerous vegetables. Produce in Ca is a great joy year round. And tomato paste serves a totally different function than tomatoes in a dish.

                  1. So cook vegetables and serve them on the side.

                    Things like coq au vin or cassoulet that are made with a can of tomato paste become something completely different if you were to heave a big can of crushed tomatoes into the pan....and boeuf bourgignonne would just become run-o-the-mill beef stew if you added a giant amount of vegetables.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: sunshine842

                      That's funny, because you've actually mentioned three recipes that I don't consider to be low-vegetable! Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourgignonne are often loaded with shallots and mushrooms when I've had them at good restaurants :) Cassoulet is also fairly full of lovely produce, beans and celery and often carrots and shallots also. I meant more something like Chow's own Ginger Chicken Clay Pot - it only contains chicken and a bit of onion, but I actually made clay pot chicken in Vietnam with a Viet chef and he had me adding aubergine, spring onions, shredded carrot, tomatoes, green guava - it was very vegetal :) I made the Chow recipe recently but added a bunch of red peppers, couldn't help myself...

                      1. re: Elster

                        there *shouldn't* be loads of veg in bourgignonne (or coq au vin), and there sure shouldn't be a lot of veggies in Cassoulet. (and again - a can of tomatoes creates an entirely different dish than using tomato paste, which is there for flavor, not for vegetables)

                        There are vegetables in both for flavor (and mushrooms in the bourgignonne) but cassoulet is beans and meat. It's not a vegetable dish.

                        Are they 100% meat? No. But the vegetables play only a distant supporting role.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          Sorry sunshine, please don't be hostile - I'm only voicing thoughts I have, and I don't mean to imply that I know best about these things by any means!

                          1. re: Elster

                            Not being hostile at all -- and not implying that I'm the expert....

                            Have a google round some recipes, toodle around Google images, and other than mushrooms (and a couple of shots of a boeuf bourgignonne that looks more like carrot stew with some beef for flavoring) -- you won't find much in the way of vegetables in any of them, other than for flavoring.

                    2. It sounds like you're looking for one-pot meals. Personally, I like to have a couple veg dishes as sides so that everything doesn't taste the same.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: amoule


                        I do one-dish meals as well, but not exclusively or even most of the time. Usually, I do a meat dish and a vegetable dish or two or three. Different flavours playing off each other.

                      2. These are all very good points and very true - don't get me wrong, I've got nothing wrong with veg-on-the-side, and I don't add all this extra veg for my health as I said. If I'm making a veg-light main dish there will always be veg or salad on the side.

                        I was more referring to the fact that it seems to me that more veg in a recipe tends to improve the flavour and savoury complexity of a dish. I like how extra veg adds another dimension to a recipe, regardless of whether it ends up as a one-pot dish or not. It makes an instant stock inside the pot which enhances the main player, whether that is meat or not! It's like the French mirepoix; they don't use it for the vitamins, they use it for the aromatics...

                        Still, I know this is personal preference. There is certainly value in a simple dish where a bit of beef can shine on its own, say :)

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: Elster

                          Elster: "It's like the French mirepoix; they don't use it for the vitamins, they use it for the aromatics."

                          Right. And we all make things with mirepoix (or more frequently if you're me, soffrito). But those are to provide a flavor base. Your OP, on the other hand, is all about "ramp(ing) up the vegetable content," using "two if not three large onions."

                          Not really the same as soffrito. Or mirepoix.

                          Adding all those large onions changes the flavor and savor of a dish. It's not just more complex. It makes something that can be very, very different.

                          I made a so-called "foolproof" tomato soup from Ina's latest book. But she called for so much onion, it was really more of an onion soup held together, and colored by, substantial tomato content. But it couldn't honestly be called "tomato soup." It's the first thing I thought of when I read your "ramping up" manifesto.

                          1. re: Jay F

                            and that's how I read Elster's post, too.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Actually yes, let's call it a manifesto, that sounds more exciting - I've changed my mind, I'm actively campaigning for more veg in my coq au. To me, the greatest pleasure in the pot is the juicy round shallot, everyone else can have the chicken if they want it as long as they leave me those bits.

                              1. re: Elster

                                So, in other words, you prefer shallot stew w/ chicken?;-) I'm far from a purist when it comes to authenticity of a dish but sometimes when you change the flavor profile too much, you're no longer making the original dish.

                            2. re: Jay F

                              Haha alrighty, sorry, I do find it hard to judge people's tone of voice for things like this! If you're up for a proper discussion I can certainly handle my oignons, babe :)

                              To be perfectly frank, then, I can see your point of view and I do think there is a place for traditional dishes but I also disagree that it's better to keep veg as a side. I've read lots of food writers/historians who note that meat has traditionally been used as more of a 'seasoning' in lots of cuisines (e.g. italian) and the bulk of most of their classical dishes were made up by vegetables and starches. It's only these days now that meat is plentiful and affordable that it has become the focal point of a recipe most of the time.

                              Granted, something like boeuf bourgignon is a celebratory dish and not something you would usually have on a tired Wednesday evening. On the other hand, when veg gets relegated to being a 'side' it's all too easily forgotten or underplayed, which I suspect might partly be the reason why so many restaurants don't serve veg/salad alongside the meal unless you order it (profiteering aside!).

                              I also wonder whether a flavour base of one small onion, a stalk of celery and a small carrot can really add much to a large pot of simmering beef and wine? They are very strong flavours after all.

                              1. re: Elster

                                In my case, I don't care as much for onions as much as some other vegetables. When I make a stew, say, I may put the described amount of onion, but I always put in extra carrots.

                                Same when I make Bolognese. I'll put more carrot in than either onion or celery.

                                With non-cream soups, I don't follow recipes anymore, and I'm only cooking for myself. So I'll start with something soffrito-esque, perhaps, cook it in stock, then add elements I like (carrots, peas, pasta, chunks of meat or seafood, wine sometimes).

                                But I don't expect everyone's going to want to make soup, or anything else, exactly the way I do. I almost never speak in absolutes, e.g., "most recipes out there are really short on vegetable content."

                                And it was you, BTW, who brought up mirepoix, not I.

                                1. re: Elster

                                  Honestly, I didn't read anyone whose responded to you as being hostile or aggressive. There is definitely a place for dishes with a lot of vegetables, eg, eggplant parm would be mostly vegetables. Now, if someone started saying that it didn't have enough meat and they added 5 lbs of beef to it, that might be a tasty dish but it's no longer really eggplant parm. Meat is only occasionally the focal point of what I make and there are plenty of good dishes where it's not the centerpiece. Maybe you could start a new thread and ask for ideas for vegetable centric dishes instead of making dishes that are meat centric (the name boeuf bourguignon seems to imply, imo, that it's meat and wine based).

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    I think there's a big difference between "I like stew type dishes that have lots of vegetables in them" and "Meat based stewed dishes are always better if you throw lots of extra vegetables in them". I'll happily agree with the first, and argue the second.

                                    I make a lot of stewed dishes that have a high vegetable to meat ratio. But there are a lot of dishes that are meat based and tossing in a bunch of extra veggies might be tasty, but is also a totally different dish - vindaloo, beef Bourgignonne, pulled pork, coq a vin, bolognese sauce, etc.

                                    Mind you, none of these are one pot meals, and it does annoy me at restaurants when you order something like this and get a pile of meat, some starch, and next to no vegetables. At home, if I'm using a meat heavy main, it usually goes with at minimum a hearty vegetable dish and a salad, more if I've got time for it.

                                    As an aside - I don't generally count potatoes or onions in my vegetable content. Onions are seasoning, and potatoes are starch.

                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                      While I don't count potatoes as vegetables I disagree that onions are only seasoning. SInce we grow onions and often have many around we eat them more as vegetables and find them very satisfying. We stuff them, roast them , make them the center of salads ( mild varieties) and amke onion soups frequently.

                                  2. re: Elster

                                    The point, in my opinion, is that while you enjoy adding more vegetables, it makes it a different dish. There is nothing wrong with that. If I am making something that is primarily a meat based dish, and want veggies, I put them on the side. If I want a vegetable and meat stew, then I add them in.
                                    There are classic dishes that are "classic" for a reason, they can be replicated, using the same (or very similar) ingredients. If you are adding other veggies, then, really, you aren't making that classic dish. You are making something else.
                                    If you want to find recipes that contain more vegetables, they are out there, sometimes called "casseroles" or "one pot meals."
                                    If you want to make coq au vin, then make it, if you want to add more vegetables, do it. But it won't be the same dish.
                                    As for your question... "So why do people think so many recipes skimp on the veggy goodness" I'm not sure that people think so, you might. I think you need to refine your search for recipes that suit you. They are out there.

                                    and, by the way.... there has been no hostility here. To say that this is just the way you are, that you exaggerate and talk this way, well, you are writing, and there isn't an "exaggeration" font. :)

                                    1. re: Elster

                                      but if you're going to look at it from a "traditional usage/preparation" standpoint, then look at the history of the three dishes that we're talking about.

                                      Coq au vin was a way to use up a tough old rooster who had lost his crow. Boeuf bourgignonne and cassoulet were ways to use up cheap, crummy cuts of meat that had to be cooked forever and a day to become edible.

                                      All were set to cook on/in the oven while the missus did other things on the farm -- they were not celebration dinners, they were survival fare. I'm sure the souls of those farm wives are laughing themselves silly if they can see us serving those three dishes as a celebration meal.

                                      They were served on a tired Wednesday evening -- because they'd been running a farm all day.

                                      All three are typically winter dishes, where access to fresh vegetables was limited or even non-existent. The carrots/potatoes/onions were whatever was stored from the summer, so they had to be used sparingly to make it through the winter.

                                      But there was plenty of meat available, because butchering an animal in the fall/winter meant that there was *something* to eat over the winter (and butchering meant one less animal to feed over the winter)....because there weren't any vegetables to speak of.

                                      Warmer climates (Italy, China, India, Latin America) have more vegetables available, and meat is at a premium....thus the vegetable/meat ratio is reversed.

                                  3. re: Elster

                                    I am eating a plant based diet these days but I also liked adding lots of vegetables to braised...stewed...oven roasted meat dishes when I was cooking meat...fish...poultry etc.My late Filipino father in law actually taught me his cooking style of using a small portion of protein for *flavoring* and amping up the addition of fresh produce.My preference is to cook the dish with onions....garlic or whatever herbs enhance it and then I liked to add fresh crispy vegetables in towards the end so they stay somewhat crisp...that was my preference.

                                    1. re: Lillipop

                                      yes -- Phillipines=warmer climate=more vegetables=meat as condiment.

                                  4. typically, i don't rely on recipes for savory dishes, but a beef stew is just that -- not a veggie stew. i never cook with celery anymore because it's simply too bitter. 3 large onions? sheesh, that truly seems like overkill to me unless i am cooking 30 portions of something. i also very much dislike green bell peppers so never use them.

                                    replacing a scant amount of tomato paste with an entire can of tomatoes changes the dish utterly.

                                    if i am making a braise, for example, i will serve veggies on the side to round out the plate.

                                    not every dish is improved simply by adding "more" to it.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      Oh, it's occurred to me that the onions you guys can buy in the US are a lot larger when 'large' than over here - by 'large' I still mean only about 2.5 inches across, so it's not that much. Only three for thirty portions though?

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Really? That's like a teaspoon of onion per person then - does that mean you'd add four teaspoons of chopped onion to a dish for four? Excluding salads, where it is a more intense flavour raw, of course.

                                        2. re: Elster

                                          the restaurant where i work most often receives both red and yellow onions that are larger than grapefruits. my costco sells onions this big too and they are very impractical since i am mostly cooking for 2.

                                          i have better luck with a 2- or 5-pound bag in my local market, most of those are not king-kong in size. even still, if i am braising a 5-pound pork shoulder, i might use 2 onions, that are about tangerine-sized, 3-4 garlic cloves and 2-3 carrots. dried herbs. that would be between 15-20 portions of meat once done. i'll divide that up and then each container will become the meat base of different meals, so i don't need it to be a melange of every vegetable and bean in my house.

                                          i am not making pork/onion/carrot/tomato/bean/ stew. i am braising pork. i want to taste the meat. the onions, carrots, garlic and herbs are there to enhance, not battle or overwhelm. they're aromatics, not major players.

                                          honestly, as the thread progressed, i was surprised to read that you're not american. that MORE must be BETTER seems a peculiarly american way of thinking and cooking.

                                      1. I agree -- I often feel that a recipe needs a bit more in the way of vegetables. What's added varies by what I have available, what dish it is, what veggie sides I'm also making. We like to ramp up veggies in our meals for health, texture and flavor; plus I have trouble leaving a recipe alone (why I'm I crappy baker :). And I don't just make everything into a one-pot or casserole.

                                        I have to say that I did find some of the replies a bit... strident.

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: DuchessNukem

                                          Phew, thanks! I was worried I was the only one :) Perhaps it's because I was brought up by two parents in the medical profession and so I'm just used to having a heavy vegetable presence in my meals because of their emphasis on nutrition.

                                          I guess what I'm also saying is that I think vegetables do add a lot to a dish by way of flavour. If I didn't want huge chunks of red pepper in my chicken stew but I wanted the tang, I would fish the pepper chunks out before serving. And as for the tomato paste, I'm not really talking about non-tomatoey recipes like borscht or a braise - but I do often find myself reading a recipe which is meant to have a tomato flavour base but only includes a bit of tomato puree and added water. I agree with Alton Brown that if you ever have to add water to a dish, why not add a different liquid that also adds/enhances flavour? Tinned tomatoes perform the same role as paste plus water, I find.

                                          I think it's reasonable for me to express my opinions just as you all have yours - I'm not looking for recipe recommendations, I'm looking for a good debate!

                                          1. re: Elster

                                            No, paste doesn't add the same flavor as tinned tomatoes. Even though they start out as the same fruit, the two end products are vastly different, and serve vastly different purposes in the dish.

                                            Just as you wouldn't dump grapes or apricots or whole fresh plums (or tins thereof...) into recipes calling for raisins or dried apricots or prunes -- you can't just randomly substitute one item for another and expect it to stay the same. (Someone near and dear to me substituted corn meal for cornstarch because they were both made from corn. That didn't work, either.)

                                            I totally agree with you and with AB that adding flavor is better than adding water -- but he means stock-juice-etc. -- NOT substituting a different ingredient that changes the intrinsic flavor profile of the dish.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              it doesn't seem the op minds that his/her end result is totally different than the original recipe. :)

                                              as for suggesting that it's because his/her parents were doctors that actually made lol.

                                              i eat veggies with almost every meal, including breakfast. that does not mean i throw just whatever into everything. soups and casseroles are one thing and there is plenty of room for flexibility. however, if i am making a big pot of braised something (like the shortribs i'll be making later today) or some kind of stew, i prefer a nice serving of veggies on the side as a counterpoint. a separate color and either opposite or complementing flavor profile.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                me too. I really need something yellow or green and lightly cooked and with some acid to eat with a braise.

                                                1. re: magiesmom

                                                  exactly! something to counterpunch the richness of the meat.

                                                  i also don't always like when all the food has the same flavor profile, so if a pile of veggies gets thrown into the pot, they lose their vibrancy and just kinda taste like beef or pork or whatever.

                                            2. re: Elster

                                              What is the point of your "debate?"
                                              To me, it's like if one goes to a sculpture exhibit at a museum and complains that there aren't more paintings.........

                                              1. re: wyogal

                                                Not really - I guess what I'm getting at is that I've just been put in charge of this art museum. In the main collection, it has a lot of paintings and a couple of sculptures. I'm wondering to myself whether it would make the museum experience better if I got more sculptures in. It would certainly change the feel of the museum...but would that be a bad thing?

                                                1. re: Elster

                                                  But the point is that you are complaining about meat based recipes not having enough vegetables.
                                                  How about those pesky vegetable recipes that don't have enough meat?
                                                  I still don't get what you want to "debate."
                                                  add vegetables. do what you want.

                                                  1. re: Elster

                                                    some museums have a focus.

                                                    ever seen michaelangelo's david? it's in a little area all to itself, so it can be viewed from all sides without other visual noise.

                                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                      Exactly, and my analogy was about an exhibit, not a whole museum. (recipe vs. a kitchen) But, not sure the OP understands that.

                                                    2. re: Elster

                                                      Not really. There are plenty of sculptures, you're just choosing not to see them. There are plenty of good vegetable based recipes. People have pointed it out and you say you're not interested in finding them. You want to debate that some recipes don't have as much as you like. In your example, it's like someone telling you there are plenty of sculptures on another floor for sculptures and you're saying you don't care, you just want to debate that there aren't any sculptures on the paintings floor you're on.

                                                    3. re: wyogal

                                                      I'm thinking the same thing about "debate." You like it, do it. There's no convincing someone about taste and opinion and there is no point to trying. There are plenty of recipes that call for a plethora of vegetables. The whining about ones that are meat-centric makes no sense.

                                                2. Your questions: "Lovely recipe but where's the veg?" and

                                                  "So why do people think so many recipes skimp on the veggy goodness?"

                                                  My answer is: The "recipe" doesn't include vegetables because the individual who created the recipe did not intend the dish to have them.

                                                  The definition of "recipe" is helpful here:
                                                  A set of instructions for preparing a particular dish, including a list of the ingredients required.

                                                  Something which is likely to lead to a particular outcome
                                                  prescription - formula - receipt<<

                                                  A recipe is composed to result in "a particular outcome" Of course you can alter any recipe to suit your taste but the dish you then produce is now a different "recipe" all together and not what the author of the recipe intended.

                                                  Most recipes are not intended to be eaten as "one dish meals" and they form part of a mulit-course menu. This is the case in most cuisines/cultures. Just as you would likely serve Chicken Parmesan with greens (subsequent to/alongside or prior), Black Bean Chicken would be served with a vegetable dish (or more) and rice.

                                                  1. Agreed! I do the same thing as you...I add extra veggies to soups, slow cooker meals...I even throw broccoli in with my boxed mac n cheese. A good way to fix the lack of veggies, i've found, is to take vegetarian recipes and add meat (if you really want meat in it). You just have to get a little creative is all. Take a veggie stew and add some beef on your own, take a veggie stir fry and add some chicken...works for me!

                                                    1. It completely depends. I tend to add more onion carrots and celery to some items and then find it tastes too much of this. I don't want some things to be "wetter" and if I add tomatoes over paste I will then spend a lot if extra time reducing. I would never add peppers willy nilly to a dish unless I really thought it could benefit from it. I find peppers can be very bitter and I will more often omit than add them. I will double vegetables like broccoli or spinach in something because many times it doesn't change the flavor profile. Generally for me it is about health. Cooking for two I don't usually want to stretch a dish. I am not the most religious recipe follower in the bunch so chances are I will use more of things or less depending in what I have on hand.

                                                      1. Hey, folks, this thread is getting weirdly testy and personal on all sides. We don't want to lock it, but we have to ask everyone to take a step back and refocus on the food discussion, rather than on personal comments about other posters.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                                          Yeah, please can we take this thread down, if you don't mind? I hadn't expected it to take this direction and I don't think it's contributing anything to the boards...I'm sorry.