Weigh In To Win: Make veggies the stars of meals

Maggie Rodriguez, left, and Katie Lee Joel on The Early Show Monday (CBS/EARLY SHOW)
Maggie Rodriguez, left, and Katie Lee Joel on The Early Show Monday (CBS/EARLY SHOW)
Posted by Nick Dutton -

NEW YORK (CBS) - When planning meals, cooks often overlook vegetables. But, points out Early Show contributor Katie Lee Joel, they don't have to always be side-dishes: They can be main events! Not only that: Veggies are, of course, good for you, they can taste great -- and they can save you money compared to making meat the main course.

Joel, who wrote "The Comfort Table," says almost any veggie can be made into a meal's centerpiece. "It's about being creative," she observes. "If you throw in something like beans, that will automatically add protein. Having a vegetable-based meal gives you lots of vitamins and, in the summertime, you have a bounty of vegetables to choose from."

Farmers' markets appeal to Joel, who notes that lots of the offerings there are less expensive than elsewhere, because the veggies "usually haven't traveled as far to get to you. So, you're saving on the cost of gas (to ship them). Shopping ... local ... is keeping it in the community, and you get to support" area farmers.

When shopping for veggies, Joel suggests not only buying local when you can, but organic. Farmers' market organic vegetables may not always be certified organic, but they're fresh.

If you don't have access to fresh veggies, Joel says, frozen is fine -- vegetables are usually frozen right after they're harvested.

Once you buy vegetables, what are the best ways to keep them fresh until you cook them? "You should keep fresh herbs in a damp paper towel," Joel says, "roll them up, and store them in a plastic baggy. Tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator out of the sun. I typically use corn the day I buy it; the longer it sits it loses its sweetness".

RECIPES

GREEN BEANS

Joel created two dishes with green beans, a salad and a green bean casserole.

The salad is an Asian Green Bean Salad. Use a little vinaigrette; oranges gives it some sweetness; nuts are in there for crunch.

The main course is the green been casserole. The recipe is interchangeable, so you can substitute other vegetables or add whatever you want. It's my take on the green bean casserole, a lighter version. When you make the homemade cream sauce, you reduce the sodium in your meal.

The green bean casserole can be prepared and taken out of the fridge when it's time to bake it. A salad is better to make the day of, to keep the crispness.

Asian Green Bean Salad

1 lb. green beans, cooked and cooled
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup mandarin orange segments
2 Tablespoons sliced almonds
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine beans, tomatoes, oranges, and almonds. In a separate bowl, mix remaining ingredients until emulsified. Add dressing to green beans and toss until combined.

2 to 4 cups canola oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the green beans just until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until most of their liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in 3 tablespoons flour. Cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add the milk, slowly at first, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the milk has incorporated. Continue stirring occasionally until the mixture has thickened, making sure to scrape all over the bottom of the pan. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt, the pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Pour the mushroom mixture over beans. Add in tuna and toss to combine. Stir in the Parmesan.

Pour bean and tuna mixture into the baking dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. Bake until the breadcrumbs are golden, about 10 minutes.

While the casserole is baking. Heat about 1 inch of canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Toss shallots in 2 tablespoons flour. Fry the shallots until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Top the casserole with fried shallots.

Click here for more recipes for Green Bean Casserole, Bite-Size Pesto Cherry Tomatoes,
Pasta with No-Cook Tomato Basil Sauce, Corn Chowder.

CBS News contributed this report.