Skip to main content
Stay updated

Help me love veggies once and for all!

With Alice Zaslavsky

Season 3 - Episode 8

23 Nov 2021
Podcast 22:04

How can we learn to love veggies and find joy in cooking with them?

In this episode, we welcome back Alice Zaslavsky to discuss how we can learn to love veggies once and for all (even for our little ones), as well as a few tips and tricks on how to cook them along the way.

  • Show notes

    A few key words from today's episode:

    • Borscht – a soup common in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia, where beetroot is one of the main ingredients.
    • Braise – a cooking method that uses both wet and dry heat, where the food is first cooked at a high temperature, and then cooked in a covered pot in liquid.
    • Brassica - is a genus of plant in the cabbage and mustard family, vegetables in this family include cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale and turnip.
    • Caramelised - the browning of sugar (natural or artificial), a cooking method resulting in a sweet flavour and brown colour.
    • Celeriac – looks like a root vegetable but is actually a variety of celery.
    • Kohlrabi – is a vegetable that is part of the wild cabbage family and has the appearance of a turnip (can be green or purple).
    • Nightshade - a family of plants that includes tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and peppers.
    • Satsebeli – a Georgian sauce which is very hot.
    • Secondary cut – referring to meats, this is usually a slightly leaner (and more expensive) piece of meat.
    • Schmaltz – concentrated chicken or goose fat made into a paste.
    • Tempeh – plant based protein, made from fermented soybeans.

    To find out more information on the topics discussed in today’s episode, check out our blogs on the VicHealth website:

  • Transcript

    VicHealth ad: This series is produced by the folks at VicHealth, Victoria's health promotion agency.

    Alice: But my recommendation to you is, if you don't like that vegetable or if you haven't liked that vegetable, it's not the veg you don't like, it's just the way that you've been served it. So, find a different way to eat it, whether it's green and you burn it, whether it's seasoning it properly or changing up the seasoning, whether it's braising something that you've only ever had raw.

    Dr Sandro: Hello, and a big welcome to In Good Health, I'm your host, Dr. Sandro. I'm a medical doctor, public health expert, VicHealth CEO and foodie. It's my pleasure to welcome back our very special guest, Alice Zaslavsky. Alice is an Australian book industry award winning author of the bestselling cookbook I n Praise of Veg, a definitive guide to cooking with vegetables that has quickly become a staple in Australian kitchens.

    Dr Sandro: Alice is also a known food literacy advocate, resident culinary correspondent on the ABC, as well as food editor for the Weekly Review. In today's episode, we'll call Alice and discuss how we can learn to love veggies once and for all, even for our little ones. Let's give her a call.

    Dr Sandro: Alice, awesome to have you back. Our resident veg guru, chef extraordinaire, author, master chef, I mean, you've done it all and teacher. I mean vegetables and Alice Zaslavsky, I mean, it's kind of, they're almost synonymous. Have you always loved vegetables?

    Alice: I have always loved vegetables, Sandro. I'm one of those very fortunate people that grew up loving veg, and I say I'm fortunate. My parents were fortunate, too, because they never had those dinnertime battles, which I now realize are more normal than probably parents listening to this might themselves realise.

    Alice: But I grew up in a family where we grew our own vegetables. My parents were, took it very seriously that the vegetables were well cooked and well-seasoned because I grew up in the Soviet Union, where food was at times scarce and thankfully in order to control, control the controllable, we grew our own and we made do with what we had.

    Dr Sandro: Take me back to your childhood, I mean what, what were you, what were you eating? What, what was it like? What, were the favourite family dishes and what did you grow?

    Alice: I grew up in a country called Georgia in the former Soviet Union, so Georgia's in between Asia, the Middle East and Russia. So, if you think of the cuisine as a melting pot of all of those things and especially being on the spice trail, Georgian vegetables or food in general is very spice heavy.

    Alice: It's almost like curry paste and curry powders of, say, the subcontinent are mixed in with the Middle Eastern vegetables like eggplant. And we, we cooked a lot with fresh coriander and ground coriander. There was a lot of sort of, wild green action, but also from the Russian side.

    Alice: There was a lot of borscht. My borscht recipe, if we don't have borscht in a big pot, in the fridge at all times, our two-and-a-half-year-old is ropeable. Because that is, every day she’ll eat borscht at least once a day, if not twice.

    Alice: She's been known to eat it at three meals in the day and ask for seconds as well. And I don't say that boastfully, what I say that is to hopefully encourage parents to think about is that kids can and will love vegetables. It's all in the way you frame it, and it's all in the branding. So, in our household, we start with the veg. That's it.

    Dr Sandro: I love it. It's all in the branding and you weren’t being boastful or borschtful. So, what, what would you say to people then who tell you, Alice, I don't like vegetables?

    Alice: I think that's probably why I'm so driven to encourage people to change their approach because I've been there. Like I, I can totally empathise that for some people, they just can't get around it. But I think also the reason why I empathise with it is because I'm empathising with the vegetables.

    Alice: I think vegetables are the bullied ones, and they get a really bad rap.

    Dr Sandro: They get a bad rap, they do!

    Alice: And you know, when we think about the punch line for jokes. So that's what I'm trying to encourage, and I get really excited. I think also because sometimes those light bulb moments for me, where people go, ‘Oh, I hadn't thought about eggplant in that way’.

    Dr Sandro: Eggplant, that is such a big one. Everyone always talks about, oh, I don't like eggplant, I don't like eggplant. But it's such an amazing vegetable, and it could be cooked in so many ways. I mean, what, what do you tell people? What's, what's the starting point for people who say, I don't like vegetables or even I don't like eggplant?

    Alice: The starting point is it depends on the veg. So, for eggplant, it's often because they've eaten it undercooked and undercooked eggplant being a nightshade can be really bitter on the tongue. You know, it's got that real bitterness, but it also, you know, it also kind of tingles on the tongue.

    Alice: That's the eggplants natural defence mechanism, and it's nothing to be kind of worried about. It's just something that you can overcook your way out of. So most veg you don't want to overcook, particularly the brassica family, but the eggplants, you can overcook them.

    Alice: In fact, most nightshades, you know, even tomatoes, a long, slow roasted tomato sauce.

    Dr Sandro: Yes.

    Alice: Oof! So, it really depends on the veg. So, fennel, for example, some people don't like the sort of liquorice note in fennel. It might remind them of a medicine that they had as a child. When you braise fennel, it stops being like anise, and it starts being more like a honey.

    Alice: It's just a wonderful vegetable, you know? So, it so it really comes down to making friends with salad by recognising that the vegetables of your childhood don't have to be the vegetables that follow you and haunt you for the rest of your life.

    Dr Sandro: Now I have to stop for a second because you've dropped some big words in the last little while, you know brassicas, braise. I mean, I have to remind the audience that this is the same Alice that was on MasterChef.

    Dr Sandro: So, you know, we're not just talking with someone who does a little bit of cooking in the sidelines. I mean, you know what you're talking about. But when you say braise, I mean, when you when you braise a vegetable what, what does that mean?

    Alice: Just a long, slow cook, a wet cook. You know, whether it's normally people would use the term braise for meats, right? So, it's like a low and slow braise of a secondary cut. But again, that's another really good way of pushing past eating veg in the same old, boring way is think of them and give them the same treatment, the same respect as you might an animal protein.

    Alice: And that's what a lot of chefs are doing. A lot of restaurants are thinking, rethinking the way that they cook veg and saying, ‘Well, if I can make a steak more delicious by having a really lovely, caramelized crust, can I do the same with celeriac?’.

    Alice: And the answer is yes, you can.

    Dr Sandro: I think the key message coming out for me, which you've said a couple of times, is, you know, veg can be amazing as long as it's well seasoned and well cooked.

    Dr Sandro: So, what, what would be, I want you to pretend that, you know, I've never cooked before. I don't like vegetables. Like what would be your two or three, you know what are the veg and how would you cook it, that are the absolute kind of, going to get anyone over the line? What are your go-to's?

    Alice: Oh man, Sandro, that's like a how long is a piece of string question? So, I think my...

    Dr Sandro: Top 3, top 3!

    Alice: So, every person has a different flavour profile that's their own and a different kind of palate, a different capability.

    Alice: So, my first tip is that you need to start with the onion for savory dishes. So always, if you're trying to do your 5 and 2, which let's put a pin in that conversation. But if you try to get your five veg a day, adding onion to a dish is a really easy way to do it, and it's also a really great way of adding flavour. So, the first thing that I do for every single savory dish is I slice up or dice up my onion. I pop it in a pan with olive oil or olive oil and butter sometimes, and then I whack a lid on it and that sweats and recirculate.

    Alice: And that's 8 to 10 minutes that you need to sweat your onion. A lot of people are not sweating their onions for long enough and then their dish just has that like firstly textural, but also the kind of acridness, or the pungency that comes with not cooking onion down enough. So sweat an onion.

    Alice: Passata always. So, some sort of...

    Dr Sandro: Now you’re talking.

    Alice: Yeah. If they’re either tinned tomatoes, whole peeled or it could be just a sauce. You know, there's a reason why so many families around the world have a sauce day. We had a sauce day in Georgia, you know, except we were making satsebeli  instead of as you might make passata. So that's, that goes in with my sweated down onions.

    Alice: Of course, garlic goes in as well. And then that's your sauce base, and you can then decide. So it might be, let's say you could add some peas into that and make that into like a red and green pasta sauce.

    Dr Sandro: Beautiful.

    Alice: You know, cook that down. And don't, don't even hesitate if you've only got frozen peas, whack those frozen peas in there because actually sometimes frozen peas are sweeter and more nutritious than, particularly if they're out of season, than the peas that you buy at the shops.

    Dr Sandro: Yep, good tip.

    Alice: So, I’ve always got frozen peas, frozen corn in the freezer, so that goes in your sauce. I love olives. Gosh into this one, I would definitely add some olives, so I'm thinking, I've got my passata. That's quite a sweet sauce.

    Alice: In fact, I'm going to sprinkle in a smidge of sugar like I'm talking a pinch and not like a chef’s pinch, but like a little bit. And if you're, if you're not a sugar person, if you're thinking, ‘Oh no, I don't want to add excess sugar to my food’, that's fine.

    Alice: And then if you've got tomato paste, just a teaspoon or a tablespoon of that whack that in there. So, you could braise it, you can use it as a braising sauce, or you can just cook it really, really quite vigorously. Let it bubble away and intensify while you cook your pasta in a separate pot. And when the pasta is ready, you add that in there, you add a splash of the pasta water, done.

    Alice: At that point, you can also add fresh herbs, so fresh soft herbs like parsley or something like, you know, you could put some chervil, some dill, whatever you want there or, and or, you can add some baby spinach.

    Alice: Spinach can be really great. It's just that people overcook it. You really don't need to do much to wilt spinach. In fact, you just, you don't even add water to the pan. You don't blanch it. None of that stuff, just added into something hot, and the leaf just goes wilt, it just releases.

    Dr Sandro: It shrivels up.

    Alice: Happy, done. Cool, so I think that already is onion, garlic, tomato, olives, baby spinach. You've got your 5, wham bam.

    Dr Sandro: Yeah, you’ve got your 5 veg.

    Alice: And everything else is just a bonus.

    Dr Sandro: And super easy.

    Alice: And super easy! And then you've got your soup. Then that's another way, actually, that we always make sure that we have our veg in for the day. That's what the veg soup is there for, that's the borscht. Or it doesn't have to be borscht. It could just be like whatever vegetables are in the crisper at the end of the week, go into a pot with stock or just water if you want to, and you just cook that down until you like the flavour of it. And you can add stuff to it, like pickle brine if you've got some of that leftover.

    Alice: If you've got some schmaltz, if you've been roasting meat during the week, you can add some of that flavour in as well. So truly, it's just like a compost soup basically, and it tastes really good.

    Dr Sandro: A balanced diet, which includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, reduces our risks of developing a range of conditions like heart disease and diabetes. But when it comes to vegetables, Australians fall short of the recommended daily intake.

    Dr Sandro: In fact, in 2018, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that just 7% of adults and 1 in 20 children met the recommended guideline for daily vegetable intake. So how can we learn to love our veggies and find joy in cooking with them? Alice is here to help answer these very questions.

    Dr Sandro: I mean, because you talk about the, the kind of this movement, this change in, in people's cooking, and I think there is such, there's much more of a receptiveness these days to think about food, to think about veggies as the main course. You know, when you go to restaurants, it's actually a viable and delicious alternative. It's not kind of like the poor man's cousin. You can end up with a vegetarian dinner and you almost don't even realise and it's becoming, I think, more and more not just accepted, but celebrated.

    Dr Sandro: Why? Where do you think this has come from? Why is it that it's, that kind of veg is the new main course, and is becoming so much more acceptable?

    Alice: It's top-down bottom up, from the top for restaurants, it's much more cost effective for them to hero the veg because vegetables are a great, inexpensive alternative. It's also a fun challenge for chefs. There's only so many ways that you can slice chicken. But there are so many more ways that you can cook with celeriac with kohlrabi, and diners are excited by it as well.

    Alice: Gone are the days where you can go to a restaurant and just get one big slab of, you know, a fancy restaurant, I should say, and get one big slab of meat and just be happy. People want to see more. In fact, when I was a restaurant critic, I would look down a menu and I would find the vegetable dishes first, because that would show me the craft of the chef. And often they'd have their suppliers listed as well.  

    Alice: So, at the moment, the reason why I think people are getting around vegetables so much is because we're also recognising through this pandemic how, how fragile our food system is and that if we don't put our money where our mouth is, then we will lose the viability of our growers, our producers, the people that are actually bringing the food to our table.

    Alice: So, we can vote with our dollar when we go out to a restaurant, but we can do it every time that we put food in our trolley. And it's just a really, from a socioeconomic perspective cooking with vegetables is much more cost effective from more of a sustainability, environmental focus. Being more veg forward is a much more sustainable way to eat. And that's not to say, you know, there are some fantastic ethical meat producers out there that I wholeheartedly support, and give them my money and, you know, very gratefully cook their stuff.

    Alice: But it's not the big bit of my plate. It's like the, it's the accent.

    Dr Sandro: You are right, I think once, once people try it and people I've spoken to, friends, family, you know, it sounds scary at first to reduce or to just... i t's not about reduce, because the focus should be on the things you're enjoying and eating more of, which is all of this incredible Australian produce seasonal, delicious produce.

    Dr Sandro: You're able to do it at lower cost, which means you can buy slightly better quality of vegetables as well as support local producers, support the supply chains that deliver that veg.

    Dr Sandro: Children, families.

    Alice: Yes.

    Dr Sandro: So, so what are your thoughts? Because you're also among everything else, you're also, you've got a beautiful young one at home with your partner. Can I ask you, you know what's been the journey? What are some tips for parent s, simple tips for parents in taking either, you know, the other half or the little ones on the veg journey with you?

    Alice: Well, I should say that before MasterChef and before I worked professionally in food, I was a teacher. So, my background with kids and with encouraging them to think differently about things that might seem boring at the time, stems all the way from there.

    Alice: And my philosophy hasn't changed. So it's just the subject matter that's changed. But my approach hasn't, and my approach is to make things fun, to approach it from a really optimistic place where I am clearly enjoying myself. And if you build it, they will come.

    Alice: But I should say as well that the journey to encouraging your child to have a wide palate and to eat widely and curiously, eat your greens in front of them, and not ever in a way where you're not enjoying yourself.

    Alice: If you don't like the taste of it, change the way you're cooking it. It should always, like there's something that you can do to make it taste better, and I take it very seriously. You know, I think of my role for Hazel as her culinary curator. I am the custodian of her palate, and of her experience of food just the same way as my mum was for me. And that is the best gift that she gave me and the best gift that I can give to Hazel.

    Alice: It's all in the delivery, it's all in that attitude. You know, we actually talked about that at the start, right? It's all in the branding. I cook exactly the same stuff for her as we eat. It might be slightly under seasoned, and then we season it at the table. If there's heaps of spice in it then, oh chili I should say, I might pop the chili on the table and Nick can add what he wants to, my husband, can add, what he wants to.

    Alice: But it's our priority, that's what we value and that’s what it comes down to. And if you're listening to this podcast, you value it to.

    Big Connect ad: A quick pause here to tell you about something exciting happening at VicHealth. On Tuesday 26 October, we launched The Big Connect, our first major investment as part of Future Healthy.

    We know that the mental wellbeing of young people has taken a hit, and so we’re going to create more than 100,000 new social connections for young people right across Victoria.

    We’re calling for organisations to help us go big. We have up to $5million in funding, and up to $250,000 per project. So, if you or someone you know is doing amazing work – or has a great idea - to improve the social connection of young people across Victoria, apply now! Applications close on Tuesday 7 December 2021. Head over to to learn more.

    Dr Sandro: Two quick questions from our audience. So, Tara asks ‘I tend to eat a lot of meat, in my day-to-day diet. What's the best way to cut down and incorporate more veggies’? I think you've answered this kind of, but just give us a recap.

    Alice: If you want to cut down the amount of meat that you're eating, buy a smaller cut of a higher quality, and you'll find that you actually need to eat less of it to be satisfied. Up the fat content of the rest of your meal, whether that be adding some crumbly cheese or a splash of extra virgin olive oil, whatever it is, because the fat gives you a higher sense of satiety.

    Alice: And just kind of that, I think those are some good ways to kind of start. And there are some really fantastic plant-based kind of protein alternatives. My favourite one is actually tempeh. I love marinated tempeh, and I crumble that into a really great stir fry. Again, you just don't even notice that you're not eating meat.

    Dr Sandro: Next question is from Rob. I'm not the strongest cook in the world, so probably not on MasterChef yet, but I wanted to start making more vegetarian meals, especially because a lot of my friends are vegetarian. What would be your number one go to your recipe. You've sort of answered this, but if you want to give us one more.

    Alice: I was just playing to the choir, which is you with my Italian flavour.

    Dr Sandro: And you totally had me.

    Alice: I know, I see you. But what I will say is even to the point of like just a straight up vegetable soup, you actually can't get it wrong, just as long as you don't put the cabbage in too soon.

    Alice: You know, a really nice roasted pumpkin soup that you can then z hoosh up with some toasted pumpkin seeds and some crumbly feta, drizzle of olive oil, a bit of paprika. Oh, maybe some curry powder as well. Pumpkin loves curry powder, yummy or cumin seeds.

    Alice: You know the world is your oyster. And Rob, don't be afraid to let somebody else mix your spices for you. There are some really nice, bougie spice mix brands. I'm not, I'm not saying jar sauce, but I am saying that if you want to grab yourself some mixed herbs, a little, a little jar of it and then just toss your veg in that. That can already give you something a little bit of je ne sais quoi.

    Dr Sandro: Alice, it’s been amazing as always, you're an absolute champion. I think of all the people I've ever met around the world; you are the single person who is managing to make veg actually cool and fun and exciting. And just keep up, keep up the amazing work.

    Alice: Thank you, Sandro. Thank you. And right back at you, it's a, it's a wonder that we get to reconnect in ways like this. So, thank you for all the work that you do and looking forward to chatting again soon.

    Dr Sandro: Thanks for listening to the In Good Health podcast. To find out more about the work that we do. Head over to our website Oh, and make sure you check us out on social media under @vichealth.

Artwork by Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022
VicHealth acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land. We pay our respects to all Elders past, present and future.
This website may contain images, names and voices of deceased people.

VicHealth acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.

Artwork Credit: Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022, acrylic on canvas. Learn more about this artwork.