Vegetables

Asparagus

It saddens me when I hear people say they don’t like vegetables. I can’t help but think that they just haven’t eaten a well-prepared vegetable…  Vegetables are not only healthful but they are beautiful and easily transformed into delicious menu items. With a basic understanding of these treasures and their proper cooking techniques, you will rejoice in their flavor!

Critical to great vegetable cookery is both choosing your vegetables and storing them correctly. To choose the best vegetables, I highly recommend you learn what’s in season and when. Click here to get more info on this: What’s in season?

Once you’ve chosen gorgeous in-season vegetables, follow these guidelines to maximize the longevity of your fresh vegetables:

  • Potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash and tomatoes should be stored at 50-65*
  • Other vegetables should be refrigerated
  • Once cut, vegetables should be stored in water or treated with acid

And while fresh vegetables are wonderful, one can also prepare great food with alternatives such as:

Frozen vegetables – Often an excellent option which retain a tremendous amount of nutrients because they are flash-frozen very soon after being harvested (as opposed to the produce in our supermarkets which may take many, many days to get to the shelf…). To ensure high quality in your frozen vegetables, note the following:

  • Should be stored at 0* or below
  • Ice Crystals are a sign of poor handling
  • Leaking stains are a sign of thawing
  • Freezer burn results in yellowing or drying on surface

Canned vegetables – While I much prefer frozen over canned, there are some great canned options such as tomatoes and legumes. Pay mind to the following:

  • Keep in a cool, dry place away from sunlight
  • Reject damaged cans
  • Know the drained weight when calculating for recipes
  • Check the grade – sieve size is the size of individual pieces

Dried vegetables – These have a long shelf-life and can provide access to ingredients that might be prohibitively expensive when fresh (i.e. porcini mushrooms). To maximize, note the following:

  • Store at 75* or less
  • Most dried legumes need to be pre-soaked
  • Freeze-dried/Dehydrated mushrooms should be soaked in hot water to reconstitute

Now that we have the right vegetables, it’s important to understand that cooking vegetables impacts:

  • Texture
  • Flavor
  • Color
  • Nutrients

Here’s how…

Fiber is made firmer by:

  • Acid
  • Sugars

Fiber is softened by:

  • Heat
  • Alkalis

Pigments, the compounds that give vegetables their color, are affected differently by cooking with acid or alkalis:

COLOR EXAMPLES PIGMENT COOKING
White Vegetables Cauliflower, Onions Anthoxanthins & Flavonoids Acid retains white color
Green Vegetables Green beans, Spinach Cholorophyll Cook uncovered with a lot of water and no acid or alkalis
Yellow & Orange Vegetables Tomatoes, Red Peppers Carotenoids Little affected by acid or alkalis
Red Vegetables Red cabbage, Beets Anthocyanins Acid brightens the hue

Nutrient loss is caused by:

  • High temperatures
  • Long cooking
  • Leaching
  • Alkalis
  • Plant enzymes
  • Oxygen

Therefore, the rules of vegetable cookery include:

  • Don’t overcook
  • Cook at service time, in small quantities
  • To cook ahead, undercook and chill
  • Never use baking soda with green vegetables
  • Cut vegetables uniformly for even cooking
  • Start with boiling salted water for vegetables that grow above ground
  • Start with cold salted water for vegetables that grow underground
  • Cook green vegetables and strong-flavored vegetables uncovered
  • Cook red and white vegetables in slightly acid liquid; cook green vegetables in neutral liquid

Vegetables can be cooked using any of our basic techniques. Here are the procedures for the most common ways:

PROCEDURE FOR BOILING:

  • Add water (for most vegetables, use just enough water to cover and cook covered; however, for green vegetables and strong-flavored vegetables, use a lot of water – 2-3 times volume – and cook uncovered until just cooked)
  • Add salt and bring to a boil
  • Add vegetables
  • Reduce to a simmer and cover (or keep uncovered)
  • Drain
  • If desired, place vegetables in an ice bath to stop cooking

PROCEDURE FOR STEAMING:

  • Preheat steamer
  • Use perforated pans for best steam; use solid ones to retain liquid
  • Arrange vegetables and close door or lid
  • Remove vegetables when tender

PROCEDURE FOR PAN-STEAMING (combines boiling and steaming):

  1. Add vegetables to a small amount of water – cover vegetables about ¾
  2. Add salt and bring to a boil
  3. Cover and reduce to a simmer
  4. Remove vegetables when tender

PROCEDURE FOR PUREEING:

  1. Cook vegetables (using any technique desired) until tender
  2. Drain well
  3. While hot, pass through pureeing tool – i.e. food mill
  4. Season

PROCEDURE FOR SAUTEEING:

  • Place pan on high heat
  • Add small amount of fat and heat
  • Add vegetables and seasoning
  • Flip the pan and toss vegetables
  • Remove

PROCEDURE FOR PAN-FRYING:

  1. Add fat to pan and heat (usually much more fat than sautéing)
  2. Add vegetables and seasoning
  3. Turn vegetables with spatula
  4. Remove
  5. Drain on paper towel

PROCEDURE FOR BRAISING:

  1. Add fat to pan and heat
  2. Cook mirepoix in fat
  3. Add vegetables and seasoning
  4. Add liquid to cover partially
  5. Cover pan and cook slowly in oven
  6. Serve cooking liquid with vegetables

PROCEDURE FOR BAKING/ROASTING:

  • Place vegetables (mixed with oil, salt and pepper) in pan in a preheated oven
  • Bake to desired doneness

PROCEDURE FOR BROILING/GRILLING:

  • Preheat broiler or grill
  • Place vegetables (mixed with oil, salt and pepper)
  • Remove when done and the right color

PROCEDURE FOR DEEP-FRYING:

  1. Preheat fryer (325* – 350*)
  2. Place vegetables (dry or battered) and fry to desired doneness
  3. Drain on paper towel
  4. Season with salt

As you get started on your vegetable cookery, check out these posts for some of the most delicious vegetable dishes you’ll ever eat!

 

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