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High-maintenance vegetables

Preparing artichokes

Preparing artichokes

In this world there are two types of relationships: those that are easy and those that take work. The same applies to vegetables.

High-maintenance vegetables are easy to spot in greengrocers. They lure us in with bright colours, per-unit price tags and an "I'm not for everyone" allure. They're spiky, requiring taming, or they need to be steamed, fried, plucked or kneaded into shape.

Low-maintenance vegetables - potatoes, carrots, onions - are the ones that can be prepped in less than three minutes and eaten any which way. They're comfortable, and comforting. We toss them in the shopping trolley without a second thought.

The appeal of a high-maintenance vegetable, though, is that a little extra effort on our part goes a long way. Go the extra mile and they'll transform into something more splendid than their more comfy cousins in the produce aisle.

Kale, a high-maintenance vegetable

Kale has been back in the spotlight for a while now, but it isn't going to let you forget those years of neglect in the back of the fridge. A bitter specimen, kale responds very well to intense pampering. Preferably massages.

To maximise the potential of this brassica, rub its leaves using your fingers, as you would if you worked at a day spa. Try not to think too much about what you are doing.

Massaging kale will transform the texture of the leaves, leaving them softer and less coarse and chewy. The process, as ridiculous as it sounds, also results in sweeter, brighter leaves.

See our best kale recipes here.

Artichoke, a tough vegetable

A heartbroken artichoke once vowed never to love again, and locked its heart away behind coarse petals. Hiding behind the tough exterior, though, is a vegetable you should get to know.

Lop off the stalk to 2cm and remove the outer leaves. Using a sharp knife, trim the stem to remove the tough exterior. Halve the artichoke and rub the cut sides with lemon, then steam the artichoke in a pot for 10-12 minutes or until the leaves are tender. Discard the tough, hairy choke from the centre and it's ready. Finally.

All this fiddling is not without its perks. The fleshy leaves are like tiny single-serve canapés. Dip them in good aïoli for maximum pay-off.

See our masterclass on how to prepare artichokes here.

Eggplant, an emotional vegetable

It's often debated whether salting an eggplant is a worthwhile kitchen hack or a myth. Sure, those who take shortcuts gain time, but at what cost? Salting eggplant draws out water and causes cell collapse, which results in more tender flesh. This is a relationship in which tears are encouraged.

Slice an eggplant into discs, then scatter salt on each side. The eggplant will begin to get a little teary. Ignore it and let it weep some more until each slice is scattered with tiny droplets. Now wipe away its tears by patting each slice dry with a paper towel. You're a good friend like that.

See our favourite eggplant recipe here.

Beetroot, a vengeful vegetable

Not many vegetables are readily available in the pre-packaged trinity (can, jar and plastic vacuum-pack). Nor they should be. But beetroot is. Why? Because it is messy, time-consuming and difficult. However, the taste of fresh beetroot can't be beat. Tackling this bloody vegetable is worthwhile, even if many white shirts and wooden chopping boards have been soiled by the hostile root.

Making peace with beetroot is easily done. Save the stems and leaves. Chop them and sauté them with garlic and olive oil until soft for an impromptu side dish. The bulb itself? Rinse it under cold running water and rub a paper towel over its skin to remove dirt. Par-boil, then roast until tender. Serve with pomegranate molasses, walnuts, goat's cheese and a blood-soaked episode of Dexter.

See our best beetroot recipes here.

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