After a winter of comfort food, I am getting excited about fresh vegetables at the farmers’ market (of course, depending on where you live, that may already be a reality for you). There are almost as many ways to prepare vegetables as there are different types of vegetables, which, for obvious reasons, can be a bit overwhelming. In this two-part vegetables series, I am going to walk you through the definition and benefits for some of the most used methods for cooking vegetables. I’ll even offer a few recipes. First I will focus on three moist heat methods: steaming, blanching, and boiling.
As the term suggests, these cooking methods all use water. For blanching and boiling, the vegetables are submerged in water, but for steaming it is just the water vapor that is used to cook the vegetables. Let’s look at these in a bit more detail.
Steaming is cooking with hot, moist air. The traditional way of steaming is by placing vegetables in a steamer basket over boiling water and covering the pot until the vegetables are tender crisp. There are also a number of microwave steamer options, including bags and bowls. Frozen vegetables that tout cook-in-the-bag convenience are cooked by steam that is trapped in the package during microwaving.
Some of the top benefits of steaming vegetables include good nutrient retention, good texture and appealing color.
Try Steamed Vegetables with Herb Stir-Ins the next time you are looking for a straightforward, fresh vegetable side dish.
To blanch vegetables, drop them briefly (usually just a minute or two) into rapidly boiling water and then plunge them into an ice bath (cold water mixed with ice) to immediately stop the cooking process.
Blanching vegetables has several benefits, including brightening colors and loosening skins. I like to blanch green vegetables, like broccoli, before making a crudité platter. The bright green of blanched broccoli looks more appealing, but the vegetable is essentially still raw because it is not in the water long enough to start softening. If you are canning tomatoes or making tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes, cutting a small X at the base of each tomato and blanching it makes removing the skin a snap.
Vegetables with Chili Mayonnaise is a great recipe for a cold vegetable platter with a little heat.
To boil vegetables, completely submerge them in boiling water until the desired doneness. Boiling is a basic cooking technique, but I will caution that without a timer or a careful eye, it can be easy to overcook vegetables when boiling them (think of grayish looking green beans that are mushy). One disadvantage of boiling vegetables is more nutrients are lost, especially water-soluble vitamins.
Spring Vegetables with Lemon Dill Butter takes basic boiled vegetables to the next level with a flavorful butter topping.
Now you have the lowdown on a few basic moist heat methods for cooking fresh vegetables. Look for Cooking Vegetables Part 2: Dry Heat, where I will walk you through grilling, roasting and sautéing vegetables.