Cooking vegetables

To get the best from fresh vegetables:
  • pick the best quality vegetables

  • store correctly until use

  • wash thoroughly

  • cut vegetables into evenly sized pieces

  • leave skin on if suitable

  • prepare as close to cooking time as possible

  • cook until tender but still slightly crisp.

Which cooking method to use for which vegetable?
  • Most vegetables suit many different cooking methods.

  • The versatility of preparation, cooking and serving is a great attribute of vegetables.

  • Be inspired, think variety, think vegetables.

Cooking times
  • Dense vegetables require longer cooking times e.g. carrots, potatoes, kūmara.

  • Vegetables with a higher water content cook faster e.g. capsicums, leafy greens.

Vegetables can be baked in a glaze, marinade or sauce.

  • Preheat oven to 200ºC.

  • Prepare vegetables as required.

  • Remove seeds prior to baking e.g. marrow, capsicums, pumpkin.

  • Stuff with filling prior to baking capsicums, eggplant, tomatoes.

  • Bake until soft when tested with a fork.

As a general rule, if the vegetable grows above the ground place into boiling water, if it grows below the ground, begin cooking in cold water.

Cold water start:

Beetroot, celeriac, carrots, kumara, parsnips, potatoes, swedes, turnips, yams

  • Wash vegetables and slice into pieces about the same size.

  • Place vegetables in a saucepan, add enough salted water to cover.

  • Place lid on saucepan, bring to the boil as quickly as possible, reduce heat and simmer gently until tender when tested with a skewer, point of a knife or fork.

  • Always simmer vegetables as vigorous boiling will cause some vegetables to break up.

  • Add extra boiling water if necessary.

  • Drain and serve.

Boiling water start:

Asparagus, bok choy, broad beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, peas, silverbeet, spinach, sweet corn, pumpkin

  • Wash vegetables and slice into pieces about the same size. Slice a cross in the base of Brussels sprouts, and slice cauliflower and broccoli into florets. Husk sweet corn and cut in half or leave whole.

  • Place 2-3 cm of lightly salted water in a saucepan and bring to the boil.

  • Carefully add vegetables. If vegetables are not just covered with water, add more boiling water.

  • Cover with a lid, quickly return to the boil, reduce heat and simmer gently until vegetables are tender. Drain and serve.

  • If the water evaporates, add extra boiling water.

  • Cook green vegetables without a lid for vibrant colour.

  • Always simmer vegetables as vigorous boiling will cause some vegetables to break up.

  • Add extra boiling water if necessary.

  • Drain and serve.

Cooking times will depend on the size and density of the vegetable:

3-5 minutes for leafy vegetables, e.g. bok choy, cabbage, kale, spinach, silverbeet.

8-10 minutes for firmer vegetables, e.g. broccoli, beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leeks, peas, sweet corn.

12-15 minutes for harder vegetables, e.g. carrots, parsnips, pumpkin, turnips, yams.

18-20 minutes for starchy vegetables, e.g. kumara, potato, swede

Braising is a gentle cooking method on the stove top.  A variety of vegetable can be used; e.g. celery, leeks, fennel, artichokes, red cabbage, onions, or carrots.

  1. Choose a stove top pan with a close fitting lid.

  2. Add vegetables to the pan.

  3. Add liquid or stock to half way up the vegetables, cover tightly.

  4. Place pan on heat to reach boiling point, reduce heat and simmer.

  5. For best results braise slowly, adding extra liquid if required.

  6. If desired, make a sauce with any remaining liquid.

Stewing is a moist cooking method in a lidded dish cooked in the oven. Try a mixture of vegetables such as carrots, celery, garlic, onions, pumpkin, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms and kumara.

  1. Choose an ovenproof dish with a close fitting lid.

  2. If using meat, brown in a little vegetable oil before adding vegetables.

  3. Add liquid or stock to just cover vegetables.

  4. Place lid on, and place dish pan into preheated oven and cook for the required amount of time.

Cooking times vary depending on the intensity of the heat and the size of the pieces of vegetables. To save cooking time, pre or partly cook or thinly slice dense vegetables, e.g. kumara, carrot or potato.

  • Preheat the grill or plate.

  • Lightly brush or spray vegetables with oil and season before grilling.

  • Cook under or over direct heat, turning during cooking as required.

  • During cooking the vegetables may be basted with plain or flavoured oil, or a marinade.

Microwave ovens cook food by using microwaves which penetrate the food. This causes moisture molecules to vibrate and heat up. Microwaved food continues cooking for 2-4 minutes after the cooking period is finished so allow for this to avoid overcooking. 

The more water in the food, the more quickly it cooks, and as most vegetables are more than 90% water they cook quickly. 

Cook vegetables on high power (100%) or automatic function, if possible, to take out the guesswork. The power supply to microwave ovens varies so consult the microwave's manual for specific cooking times.

To prepare vegetables for microwaving:

  1. Slice vegetables into uniformly sized pieces to ensure even cooking.

  2. Use only a small quantity of water. Usually, the water left clinging to leaves after washing is sufficient.

  3. Pierce whole or unpeeled vegetables before cooking to prevent bursting.

  4. Cover the dish with a plate, lid or plastic film to speed cooking and to keep vegetables moist.

  5. Arrange vegetables with the thickest stalks or spears, which need the most cooking, towards the outside of the dish.

  6. Season vegetables after cooking. Salting may cause vegetables to lose moisture during cooking.

Cooking times also depend on the following:

  • the size of vegetables

  • the quantity being cooked

  • the density and moisture content of the vegetable

  • the characteristics of your oven

  • any power fluctuations in your area.

Pan frying

Pan frying uses a non-stick pan or very little oil.

  • Use the correct size pan and don't put in too many vegetables at once.

  • Heat pan to the correct temperature before adding vegetables.

  • Drain vegetables on absorbent paper if necessary.


Deep frying

Deep frying uses enough oil to cover the item being deep fried. Use in home cooking to make vegetable crips, or tempura battered vegetables.

Always use fresh clean oil and check the smoke point of the oil to ensure it is suitable for deep frying.

  • Heat oil to the correct temperature before adding vegetables.

  • Coat or batter vegetables, except chips, before adding to the oil.

  • Batch cook vegetables and return oil to the correct temperature before adding next batch.

  • Drain on absorbent paper.


Try using different vegetable cuts, such as thin slices of kumara or pumpkin. This will shorten the cooking time and add variety and interest.

Cook vegetables in a separate pan from the meat and they won’t soak up the fat.

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

  2. Prepare vegetables, wash them if necessary, and dry them.

  3. Pour a small amount of vegetable oil into the roasting dish.

  4. Place vegetables into a roasting dish or use a tray.

  5. Roast in preheated oven until the vegetables are golden and tender.

Slow Roasting

Slow roasting, at around 150°C, intensifies flavours. Tomatoes are particularly good roasted as are some of the less traditionally roasted vegetables, such as asparagus and capsicums.

Slow-roasted vegetables are great served as is or tossed through leafy greens.

  1. Preheat oven to 150°C.

  2. Drizzle with a little olive oil or add a dash of balsamic vinegar, and sprinkle with black pepper.

  3. Roast until vegetables are cooked, soft and slightly shriveled.

Salads can be made from many different vegetables, not just salad leaves.

Try using dense vegetables as well as the more traditional 'salad' vegetables such as cucumber, lettuce and tomatoes.

  • Grate raw dense vegetables such as carrot, celeriac, and beetroot, or peel ribbons of cucumber and add a dressing.

  • Always use a sharp knife.

  • When using salad greens, make sure they are well-dried after washing.

  • Water left on salad leaves after washing will result in diluted dressings, hence diluted flavour.

  • Dress dense vegetable salads ahead of time to allow the flavours to be absorbed.

  • Dress salads made from salad greens, such as baby spinach or micro greens just before serving.

Tip: If salad leaves become limp, revive them by soaking in warm water for 5-10 minutes, cover and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, drain and dry well.


Small pieces of vegetables are pan-fried in hot oil and tossed during cooking.

  1. Wash and dry vegetables.

  2. Slice into small, even-sized pieces.

  3. Heat a little oil in a large shallow pan over a medium to high heat.

  4. Add dense vegetables to the pan first.

  5. Add faster cooking vegetables later.

  6. Stir vegetables or shake the pan until vegetables are golden and cooked through.

  7. Cook batches of vegetables and keep the pan hot.

Vegetables are cooked over boiling water in a steamer.

Steamed vegetables do not need seasoning as vitamins and flavour are not lost in cooking water.

  1. Choose a saucepan with a steamer.

  2. Half fill the saucepan with water and bring to the boil.

  3. Place prepared vegetables in the steamer making sure they do not touch the water.

  4. Cover and adjust the heat to a steady simmer.

  5. Cook until vegetables are tender.

  6. Add more boiling water if necessary.

Stir fried vegetables are cooked rapidly in a minimum of liquid, or oil, so fewer nutrients are lost or destroyed.

Stir frying vegetables is quick. Prepare the rest of the meal first and serve immediately after cooking.

Prepare all vegetables before starting to cook.

  1. Wash and shake dry vegetables before preparing.

  2. Shred, dice or thinly slice the vegetables into pieces the same size.

  3. Cook the dense vegetables first as they will take longer to cook e.g. carrot, eggplant, broccoli stems.

  4. Add the less dense vegetables towards the end of cooking, e.g. cabbage, bok choy.

  5. Heat a little oil in a large non-stick pan or wok.

  6. Make sure the oil in the pan is very hot before adding the vegetables.

  7. Cook vegetables in batches.

  8. When the oil dries out add a sprinkling of water.