Pureed Vegetables: Upping The Nutrition Of Your Food

I have become notorious in my family for supplementing soups, sauces, casseroles, and otherwise nutrient-lacking dishes (especially baked goods) with mashed, liquefied, or pureed vegetables and fruits. For example, my version of mac and cheese is made with a less-cheesy sauce of red pepper and squash.  Brownies, muffins, cookies, and cakes are often infused with carrot, apple, banana, or avocado.  And stuffed shells are filled with a mixture of spinach, onions, tofu, and just a small amount of cheese.  These additional ingredients to the recipes of many common comfort foods not only improve the nutritional profile of the dishes, but enhance the taste, as well!

WHY do I do this?  I like using pureed produce for two reasons.  One reason is to boost the value of foods that are otherwise lacking on the nutrition scale, such as cookies and brownies, or savory dishes that don’t normally call for any added vegetables.

The other reason is to make the most out of local and seasonal produce.  Many of us have a tendency to load up on these items when they’re flooding the farm stands.  While some of these foods are perfect for pickling, canning, or freezing whole (tomatoes, berries, etc.), other veggies, such as squash and sweet potato, just work better as a puree, and can be frozen in pre-measured portions that are ready to pull out and slip into a recipe any time you need them.  This can help you make the most out of your wallet and the season’s bounty.

Or maybe you have some produce that has been left to ripen past its prime.  Certainly, the avocado is delicious to eat by itself (with a little lime juice and salt), but when it starts to get brown and mushy, there’s no need to discard it.  Instead, add it to your next batch of zucchini bread — your loaf will come out more moist, with a slightly nuttier flavor, and a healthy boost of 20 essential nutrients…delicious!

Experimenting has helped me to find what produce tastes right and cooks well into what foods.  Sometimes matching colors works, as is the case with cheddar and a variety of squashes.  If you want to give it a try, here are some tips to get you started:

HOW to make these purees:  to puree most produce, you need a food processor or a good quality blender.  Some fruits and veggies may be mashed or pureed from their fresh state, such as bananas, avocados, and berries.  And some should be roasted first, such as sweet potatoes and squash, or steamed, in the case of broccoli and cauliflower.  Others, such as carrots and apples, can be processed either fresh or after having been cooked, depending on the texture and flavor that you’re trying to achieve.  Cooked or uncooked, put the produce in the food processor — sometimes a little water may be necessary — and let the machine do its work.

As I mentioned above, my use of purees is often experimental, and sometimes my experiments don’t work.  As a “buckeye” (a native to the state of Ohio), I often make buckeye treats (peanut-butter balls dipped in chocolate made to look like the real thing), and one time I added butternut squash puree to the peanut butter mixture.  They were still tasty, in my opinion, but my family members all made weird faces when they took a bite.   And now, every time I make them, I have to assure people that there were no adulterations to the recipe.  I guess there are certain things you just shouldn’t mess with.

For more ideas on how to incorporate pureed vegetables into your diet, check back or subscribe to our blog.  We will regularly post recipes that provide options on how to give your meals a nutritional boost.  There are even some books that are focused on recipes that use pureed vegetables, such as Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious.  This book has some nice tips on handling produce and some recipes worth trying, but it unfortunately encourages readers to “hide” the vegetables so that children find the food more palatable.  If children only eat vegetables that are masked by other ingredients, they may never develop a taste (or love) of the many nutritious foods they need to keep them healthy.  Purees have become an integral tool for enhancing many recipes in my cooking repertoire, but they can never replace a sweet, crispy carrot or a perfectly-cooked piece of asparagus.  Most importantly, use your imagination when cooking and open yourself up to new flavors and new recipes – it’s totally worth it!

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3 Comments

  1. Allison

     /  February 8, 2011

    This is awesome, thanks! I have a lot of cubes of pureed veggies leftover from this summer when I was making my daughter’s babyfood from my farmer’s market haul. She outgrew mushed food faster than I thought she would and the result is a freezer packed with tablespoon sized servings of colorful babyfood. Now I’ll be more adventurous about using it in grown-up meals!

    Reply
  2. Allison, my puree use also started after being in the habit of making baby food. Have fun experimenting, and let us know if you come up with any really cool recipes using purees!

    Reply
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