Making the most of vegetables

By Lucie R. Willsie

March 26, 2014

Yes, vegetable dishes are perfect for those folks giving up one of the traditional foods abandoned for Lent — meat.

Vegetables and produce in season — and also the most economical — in North Carolina right now include: Asparagus, collards, greens, herbs, mushrooms, spinach and sweet potatoes. Coming into season in April will be: Broccoli, mustard greens, radishes, Romaine lettuce, snow pea tips and turnips.


But, according to Susan McGowan, a local cook, she recently found that emphasizing vegetable dishes also helped her get over a severe bout of the flu.

Here is Susan McGowan’s recent experience.

“I had the flu in February,” she said. “I was awfully sick … It was the worst 18 days.”

Just about everything she tried to eat that she could stomach tasted like cardboard.

“This particular flu, I had no taste buds,” she said.

It took two, two-and-a-half weeks, after drinking hot teas, broths, and only eating chicken soup, she finally realized her taste buds started to come back. She started to have a craving for things cold and crunchy. Plus, McGowan discovered that whole, crunchy vegetables tasted so good after just consuming tea and chicken broth.

“I discovered three salads that not only helped me recover,” she revealed, “but also boosted my immune system … and gave me a burst of energy … I started feeling energized in about two or three days … and I attribute this feeling better to the fruits and veggies I started craving … They are full of vitamins.”

McGowan recommended eating brightly colored produce, such as bright red, orange and yellow peppers. The particular vegetables she craved included: Kale, cucumbers, celery, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, along with a particular fruit — apples.

“I felt so good when I ate these,” she said. “My taste buds started coming back.”

Spinach is her particular favorite.

“You can steam it, eat it fresh, cook it,” she said, referencing the good it did for Popeye. She smiled.

Also, over the years, Susan McGowan not only has learned how to cook healthfully, but how to cook economically. She has learned all about nutrition.

“I cook on a small budget,” McGowan said. “I use a lot of fresh and dried herbs. I love lots of parsley in almost everything, even tea. And I love spinach more and more every day.”

After all, wasting food is wasting money, she has learned.

McGowan is an independent insurance agent and can be reached at 789-6424.

McGowan provided the Roasted Kale Chips, the Best Waldorf Salad, the Crunchy Cold Salad, and the Spinach Cottage Cheese Casserole recipes.

Other area cooks also have their favorite vegetable-based dishes.


Sara Bailey is a local teacher of health and wellness for the Surry County Wellness Department in Dobson, and an exercise and yoga teacher.

Growing up, Bailey first learned cooking basics from her mom, who was an extension agent in Bertie County, and about food safety and basic cooking techniques.

Over the years, Bailey has learned how to create her own unique dishes — what foods and ingredients go together best just by experimenting with different food combinations in her own kitchen.

Bailey provided the Mexican Salad recipe.


Cropps is the nutrition program associate at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Services in Dobson.

Her program consists of many different food and nutrition lessons, including such topics as food safety.

Cropps also often “tweaks” recipes. For example, the recipe pictured in this article, Hearty Vegetable Salad, uses black beans instead of Lima beans.

“Cooks can use other beans, like pintos,” she said. “Just use the type of bean you like … It’ll be just fine.”

Another substitution idea is to use chopped canned tomatoes, she added.

Plus, try adding a few jalapeño peppers, “if you want the hint of a little heat,” she suggested.

Cropps provided the Hearty Vegetable Salad recipe.


Brandon Overby, cook at the Olympia Restaurant, remembers first learning how to cook at home with his grandma — the old-fashioned, good and hearty and healthy-food way.

He then learned cooking from the ground up, starting off as a prep cook, cutting up veggies, making dressings, making soup, and the like. Advancing his way up in the ranks, Overby worked himself up to cooking as a sous chef in a fine dining restaurants, such as the one at the Cross Creek Country Club.

Now, he creates his own healthy dishes with his own unique twists.

Overby provided the Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe.


Making life easier for patients and families also is the mission of the Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care Home centers. And this not only applies to the patients under their care, but also many of the recipes in its third new cookbook now available.

“Hospice is about comfort,” said Sheila Jones, director of marketing at Mountain Valley Hospice. “And food is about comfort.”

That’s why this cookbook is titled “Comfort Cookin’.”

“It’s like curling up with (a healthy, delectable dish) in front of the T.V. in your favorite chair with a blanket,” Jones said of this latest version of Mountain Valley Hospice’s cookbook.

For more information, to buy the cookbook ($20 per book), call or go to any of the area’s seven Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care locations. The corporate office is located right here in Mount Airy at 401 Technology Lane, Suite 200; the phone number is 789-2922.

Jessup provided the Veggie Bars recipe.


Beulah Ruritans are known for helping their community, said Goldie Sparger, secretary for the Beulah Ruritan Club.

Members of the Beulah Ruritans meet regularly once a month on the first Thursday, but only about twice a year do they bring in a dozen or more homemade dishes, a veritable feast, from entrees to desserts, veggies to appetizers, to enjoy before their meeting.

“They are usually homemade, homegrown family recipes,” Sparger said. “We really have good cooks here.”

The Beulah Ruritan Club also holds dances almost every Friday and Saturday at its club building.

For more information on joining the group, on the dances, etc., call any of the following phone numbers: 320-2179 or 352-4761 or 648-2564.

Sparger provided the Marinated Vegetable Salad recipe.





Fresh kale

Cooking spray


Tear the fresh kale into bite-sized pieces. Spray a pie pan or cookie sheet with cooking spray. Heat the oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit. Spray the top of kale again with spray. Roast for 20 minutes, watching for burning. Stir and enjoy, cool or hot. (Chef’s Note: If you love potato chips, you’ll love Kale Chips. Pie pan only serves one person.)




Red and green apples, 3 of each, leaving the cleaned peel on

1 cup craisins or any dried cranberries

3 stalks of celery, diced

1/2 cup of pecan halves

1/4 cup of slivered almonds

Lemon juice

Light mayonnaise


Wash and dice red and green apples. Add 1 capful or 1 teaspoon of lemon juice next. Stir in. Next, stir in the light mayonnaise to cover the salad. Start with 1 cup and add as if you were coating apples like potatoes in potato salad. Chill as cold as you can get it. (Chef’s Note: The cool crunch feels so good after a cough, cold, or flu.)


Same recipe as above, but add miniature white marshmallows, drained mandarin oranges, and some grated coconut.




Romaine lettuce, torn

Baby spinach leaves, torn

Diced cucumbers

Diced fresh tomatoes

Apples and pears, diced, skin on

Grated carrots

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Your favorite nuts

Grated Parmesan, Jack, and/or cheddar cheese

Your favorite dressing


Mix together to your taste. (Chef’s Note: This is one of my favorite, feel-good veggie dishes.)




1 (10-ounce) box of frozen spinach

1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese

8 ounces of light cottage cheese

Salt and pepper


Cook 1 (10-ounce) box of frozen spinach in a large glass, microwaveable bowl for 3 minutes. Drain 1/2 of the juice. Add the two cheeses. Stir well. Add a dash of salt and pepper each to taste. Put in 350-degree Fahrenheit oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes. (Chef’s Note: Great with any entrée.)





Fresh baby spinach

Leafy lettuce, such as Romaine

Sliced almonds

Sliced tomatoes

Sliced carrots

1 sliced apple, Red Delicious for color (Chef’s Note: Top with lemon juice to keep the apples from turning brown.)

1/2 cup of craisins

Strawberries, optional

Poppy Seed Dressing

1 cup of sugar

2 teaspoons of dry mustard

2/3 cup of vinegar

1 teaspoon of salt

1 Tablespoon of minced onion

1 1/2 cups of canola oil

2 Tablespoons of poppy seeds


Toss together the salad ingredients. Mix together the salad dressing ingredients well, starting with the sugar, vinegar, and oil. Continue adding the rest. Stir all ingredients together well and refrigerate. Top the salad with poppy seed dressing or bottled raspberry vinaigrette. (Chef’s Note: Good with raspberry vinaigrette as well. Also, freshly diced strawberries can be added as an extra taste sensation.)




Salad Base

3 cups of frozen corn kernels

2 cans of black beans

1 large onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 container of grape tomatoes

1 bunch of cilantro

1 to 2 avocados


2 Tablespoon of cilantro paste

¼ cup of lime juice


A few hours before serving, place corn kernels into a large bowl and set in refrigerator to thaw. (Chef’s Note: You can do this the night before or in the morning when you leave for work.) When you’re ready to eat, rinse and drain the black beans, chop the onion, mince the garlic, chop the tomatoes, chop the cilantro, and dice the avocado and add to the bowl. Combine dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Mix well. (Chef’s Note: The fun part of this salad is all the add-ons you can mix in according to your mood. Some ideas include shredded chicken, chorizo, shredded cheese, crumbled queso fresco, shrimp, or jalapenos. You can add hot sauce to spice it up or sour cream to cool it down.) Serve over a green salad or on its own with tortilla chips.




1 15-ounce can of unsalted baby green Lima beans (or your favorite bean), drained

1 15-ounce can of unsalted whole-kernel corn, drained

1 medium tomato, chopped

1/4 cup of chopped onion

1/3 cup of Italian dressing, fat-free

Black pepper, to taste


Heat the Lima beans, or your favorite bean, and the corn in a microwave for 2 minutes. Cover loosely during heating. Then let cool. In a large bowl, combine the beans, corn, tomatoes and onions. Pour the Italian dressing over this vegetable mixture and toss. Add black pepper to taste. Serve immediately or chilled.




1 (1-pound) bag of frozen Brussels sprouts

2 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon of garlic

1 Tablespoon of sugar

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 Tablespoon of fresh ground pepper


Mix the vinegar, oil and spices. Place the sprouts in a single layer and stir to coat. Cook in the oven at 350-degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.




2 (8-ounce) cans of crescent rolls

2 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup of mayonnaise

1 (1-ounce) package of Ranch dressing mix

1 medium red sweet pepper, finely chopped

1 medium green sweet pepper, finely chopped

1/2 cup of fresh broccoli, finely chopped

1/2 cup of fresh mushrooms, finely chopped, optional


Roll out crescent rolls into a 15-inch-by-10-inch-by-1-inch pan, pressing together the seams. Bake at 350-degrees Fahrenheit for 7 to 8 minutes. Cool. Mix the cream cheese, mayonnaise and dressing mix together. Beat 1 minute. Spread over the cooled rolls. Add the remaining ingredients and chill for 8 hours. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. (Chef’s Note: Pepperoni, bacon bits, chopped ham, chicken or turkey can be added to the topping.)




First step

3 carrots, sliced diagonally

2 cups of broccoli florets

2 cups of cauliflower florets


One to 3 hours before serving, clean and prepare the vegetables and place them in a microwave-safe dish with 2 teaspoons of water. Cover and microwave on High for 4 minutes, or until the vegetables just begin to get tender. Transfer the mixture to a colander and rinse with cold water to halt the cooking process.

Second step

1/2 each of green, red and yellow bell peppers, seeded

2 green onions

1/2 cup of light or fat-free Italian dressing

1 teaspoon of dried oregano


Cut the peppers into 1-inch slices and chop the onions. Combine everything with the cooked vegetables in a medium bowl and toss. Allow to marinate between 1 to 3 hours in the refrigerator before serving. (Chef’s Note: This salad does not keep longer than 1 day because the vegetables begin to wilt due to the salt in the dressing. Also, canned sliced beets, drained, are a good addition to this salad, depending on your taste.)

Lucie R. Willsie can be reached at 719-1930 or on Twitter @LucieRWillsie.