As a plant-friendly dietitian nutritionist, I'm often asked about the best way to cook, store, and select plant foods. So I turned to Chef Gabe for his innovative techniques in cooking vegetables. Chef Gabe Garcia is head chef of the Tierra Sur restaurant at Herzog Wine Cellars, in Oxnard, California. To see my entire video of Chef Gabe, click here for my series on Talking Vegetables.
Chef Gabe's number one point is , "Don't jeopardize the integrity of the vegetable." What does that mean for at-home cooks? Taste the vegetable raw, then guide yourself with what you want to do with it. Steaming, roasting, and grilling are all good options. If you're a "foodie," he says, it's worth investing in sous vide equipment for precision cooking. Sous vide refers to vacuum-packed food cooked to an optimal temperature in water. Depending on the cooking method, salt and pepper may be all you need.
Decide where you want to go with the vegetable, he advises. "Do you want to turn it into a soup, roast it, or add it to something?" The main ingredient is salt and pepper. "Use it wisely," he says. Don't be overgenerous or stingy with salt. "Use it with finesse. Just enough," he says.
I also advise clients that the type of vegetable can dictate the best way to cook vegetables. A strong vegetable such as cabbage can withstand roasting or grilling. A tender and delicate herb can be eaten raw. Soft vegetables, tomatoes for example, can be cooked in a stew, or eaten raw.
Chef Gabe bases his menu on what the farmers are growing. "What can I get in season? That's how I was taught, and that's how I always will cook, "Chef Gabe says. He gets inspired by what's happening outside: Is it raining, cold, or summery? Then he scours the local markets for seasonal vegetables. He'll add protein to the dish, but strives to accommodate everyone's preferences, vegetarian, pescetarian, or meat-eater, "to make sure everyone gets a good ride here and has something wholesome to eat."
What's Chef Gabe cooking this month? The markets are filled with Hubbard squash, he says, pumpkin, butternut, and root vegetables. I especially liked his ideas for ash cooking: roasting beets in ash until smoky, and then creating a beet butter.
He's also playing with the idea of creating a smoked cashew nut or almond butter, to add flavor to the restaurant's flatbread.