Any food that’s warm, crunchy and dipped in a matching sauce is a thumbs-up crowd pleaser. Chicken nuggets fits that criteria, and so do fish fingers, party pies and spring rolls. So why not take advantage of this appealing crunchy-munchy factor to make dishes that will also up your veggie intake?
Let me just preempt that this isn’t a groundbreaking moment. There’s many products in-store, in the frozen aisles, in restaurants and online recipes for (vegetarian or meat-based) nuggets, bites, fingers and patties, but they may feature the following conundrums:
Problem 1: commercial products may add a list of other ingredients besides the named veggies, chicken, fish or meat. These could be fillers, additives, flavour enhancers, thickeners, oils… Solution – make it yourself, that way you know for sure it’s got zero fillers, preservatives, flavour enhancers etc. and all of the nourishment.
Problem 2: Most are deep fried, even some frozen ones. Solution – choose products that are baked not fried. Even better, make your own and bake it, toast it or grill it! (air-frying can also cut down significant amounts of fat compared with traditional deep frying)
Below is my recipe for easy oven-baked nuggets based on a combo of starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, corn) + non-starchy veggies (broccoli, carrot) + dairy and calcium source (parmesan and mozzarella) PLUS a couple of match-made dips to go with them.
These morsels of yum are almost like my sweet potato and mushroom croquettes but with a focus on veggies and a cheesey Oomph – while retaining that all-important crunch factor! YASS
Microwaving veggies is SAFE
I find microwaving harder veggies (like carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin) for a couple of minutes before stir-fries or roasting saves me some cooking time. That said, I’ve heard plenty of hesitations by others to adopt the same process. >>> Microwaved veggies retain as much nutrients as steamed or pan-cooked veggies. Microwaves are a convenient and time-efficient way of cooking and DO NOT cause any more harm to you or your food than what a steamer or saucepan would do. One thing to do less of, boiling veggies – the nutrients seep out of the plant and into the water (which you drain and throw out, right?).
Going back to basics, cooking methods which use heat and water do weaken and break down the cell structures containing important nutrients. This process makes these nutrients more accessible and easier for our bodies to absorb. It also kills off harmful bacteria which may cause food poisoning AND makes veggies more flavoursome and palatable. For example, uncooked beans and lentils are very difficult to swallow (and if you manage to swallow, the nutrients are inaccessible and would just pass straight through you). This also goes for grains, like rice and barley, and this is also why lightly steamed or microwaved carrots taste sweeter than plain raw ones.
The main nutrient losses are in vitamin C, folate and some B vitamins, but these are less than half. You can also get plenty of these vitamins in uncooked foods, think:
- Vitamin C in strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes
- Folate in leafy greens, avocado, breads and fortified cereals
- B vitamins in vegemite/marmite, yeast spread, breads and fortified cereals
Minerals are largely unharmed. You’re still eating the whole vegetable/plant, so the fibre content would also remain the same as raw versions.
Want to know more? The United States Department of Agriculture has a massive database of various nutrients and how much of each is retained when cooked in different ways. Boiled, steamed, fried, baked, broiled, reheated… you name it!
Serves: 10-12, as a side or appetizer (makes approx. 36 nuggets)
Costs: $12.30 ($0.34 per nugget)
Cooking time: 55 mins
- 1 large golden sweet potato or 2 small/medium sized (approx. 800g in total), peeled and roughly chopped into cubes
- 1 cup broccoli, finely chopped (approx. 1 small head of broccoli)
- 1 brown onion, diced
- 1 cup carrot, unpeeled and grated
- 1 cup corn kernels (see Notes)
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 cup wholemeal plain flour
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cup panko breadcrumbs (see Notes)
- Black pepper, to season
- Olive oil spray
- Japanese mayonnaise (I used Kewpie mayo)
- Curry sauce (find them in your local Asian grocer)
- Greek yoghurt with squirt of lemon/lime juice
Let’s get cooking:
- Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line two large oven trays with baking paper and spray with olive oil spray.
- Spread diced sweet potatoes evenly on a large plate, cover loosely with cling wrap and microwave on high for 5 mins. Carefully remove plate from microwave, stir with spoon or fork and cook in microwave for another 5 mins. Set aside to cool slightly and then mash.
- Spread broccoli evenly on a large plate, cover loosely with cling wrap and microwave on high for 3-4 mins or until broccoli is bright green and softened. Carefully remove plate from microwave. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, spray a fry pan with oil spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, for 4 mins or until the onions are soft and golden.
- Place carrot and corn in a large mixing bowl. Add cooked onions straight from the fry pan. Add mashed sweet potatoes, broccoli, parmesan and mozzarella. Season with black pepper and mix ingredients well.
- In separate large plates, prepare flour, whisked eggs, and panko breadcrumbs.
- With clean damp hands, shape 2 tablespoons of the mixture into nuggets. Working in batches, coat nuggets with flour (patting off excess), then dip into egg (allow excess to drip off), and then into panko. Place crumbed nuggets onto the prepared baking tray. Repeat with remaining mixture to make approximately 36 nuggets.
- Spray tops of the nuggets with olive oil and bake for 10 mins. Flip nuggets over and bake for another 10 mins or until golden brown and crispy to touch.
- Serve with dips or sauces of choice (see my suggestions in Ingredients).
- For corn kernels: if using canned varieties choose no-added-sugar and drain them well, if frozen ones thaw them before using, or if using fresh cobs steam them . You can choose to use green peas instead of corn, or most other diced veggies.
- I used Wel-Pac Panko breadcrumbs because it was available at my local Asian grocer, but you can use any brand – aim for those with slightly bigger crumb pieces for the crispy croquette-style look, otherwise if you’re going for the frozen fish finger-style look you can use regular breadcrumbs. Up to you 🙂
One serve (3 nuggets) provides 2 serves of veggies, 70% of your daily vitamin C and 100% of your daily vitamin A.
|Total fat (g)||7.2|
|– Saturated fat (g)||3.3|
|– Sugars (g)||6.8|