Have you ever wondered how it is that restaurants get their vegetables so perfect? When they are served, they are generally nice and tender while still keeping their bright vibrant colors.
As a kid growing up I remember most vegetables coming out of can and usually being awful to serve on their own. My mom would incorporate them into dishes or dress them up to make them tasty. The exceptions to this rule were broccoli and cauliflower which were usually just steamed. Not surprisingly, I grew up loving broccoli and cauliflower and disliking most other vegetables. It was not until I got to culinary school that I discovered it only takes a few easy steps to make fresh vegetables delicious.
The simplest method of cooking your vegetables is to boil them. All you need is to let your water come to a boil, add your vegetables, and allow them to cook to the desired doneness. Boiled vegetables can be served as is, be quickly sautéed, pureed, or mashed. They can also be chilled and served cold. Boiled vegetables are most often than not served immediately.
A couple of variations of boiling are blanching and parboiling. The difference is the length of the cooking time. Blanching is the partial cooking of the vegetables in large amounts of boiling water for a very short time, usually a few seconds. Blanching not only prepares vegetables for further cooking, but it also helps remove strong and bitter flavors, soften firm foods, set colors, or loosen skins for peeling. Kale, chard, and snow peas are examples of vegetables suitable for blanching.
Parboiling is just like blanching except that the cooking time is longer, usually several minutes. Parboiling is used to soften vegetables and shorten the final cooking time. The most commonly used vegetables for parboiling are root vegetables; cauliflower, broccoli and winter squash. Blanched and parboiled vegetables are often finished by other cooking methods. And no matter what technique you use, just keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to get your vegetables to a degree of doneness you like. The best way to test this is to poke them with a fork or just taste them. Keep in mind that unless you are going to serve the vegetables right away, you may want to undercook them just a bit so that they are just right when you finish cooking them later.
If the vegetables are not going to be served or finished cooking immediately, they should be chilled quickly by dunking them in ice water. This process is known as refreshing or shocking. It prevents further cooking and preserves the colors of the vegetables. It is important to remove the vegetables as soon as they are cold, as the longer they hold in the water, the more nutrients and flavor are leached away.
Once the vegetables are cold, you can hold them until you are ready to finish cooking them. To finish cooking and essentially reheat your vegetables, you have a litany of options. You can sauté them in oil or butter, you can roast them in the oven, or you can even quickly dunk them in hot water again just to heat them up; if you are thinking healthy. The choice is ultimately yours.