Healthy Cooking 101: Part 2 – Methods of Preparing Vegetables

In “Part 1” of this blog post series, I described two important scientific aspects of preparing vegetables. In this blog post, I am going to introduce you to different ways of preparing vegetables.

10 Methods of preparing vegetables

1. Raw: A delicious way of preparing vegetables is eating them raw. Raw food is everything which hasn’t been heated above 50°C. It is probably the most natural way of preparing vegetables and a really delicious one. Think of this very nice and crisp summer salad with a whole range of different vegetables from apples to salad leaves. Dehydration is another way of preparing vegetables and to transform their texture and flavor to something different. Of course, not all vegetables can or should be consumed raw. For example, potatoes are a member of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and eggplants. All members of this family are known to protect themselves with toxic alkaloids. Potatoes produce two alkaloids, solanine, and chaconine, that are dangerous to humans.

2. Boiling and Blanching: Boiling is a fast way of to get crisp and bright veggies. But you have to do it right. It is key to have the vegetables for a minimum amount of time in boiling water and to have the right salt level in your cooking water. Some vegetables even need to be boiled to break down their starches into sugar (e.g. potatoes). It is important to keep the water at a rolling boil. Adding too much food to too little water, and a pot’s temperature will drop drastically. Blanching is boiling by another name.

3. Steaming: Steaming is a much gentler way of preparing vegetables with water than boiling. Steaming cooks vegetables and makes them tender and bright in color. Steaming is the way to go for very delicate vegetables such as asparagus. Steaming in an oven requires the temperature of at least 230°C, the temperature within the steaming vessel will remain below 100°C due to recycling water vapor. Steam will cook the surface of a food more quickly than boiling water due to its higher energy content.

4. Sautéing: Sautéing is a quick, easy, and flavorful way of cooking vegetables. The veggies keep a lot of their nutrients since it is a fast cooking method. Sautéing uses a pan over high heat with a bit of oil. Aromatics, such as certain herbs or spices can be added to the pan. It is important that you cut your veggies into equal sized pieces, that all cook at the same pace.

5. Stir-Frying: Stir-Frying and Sautéing are not the same things. Stir-Frying happens at much higher temperatures and at much faster speed. The food needs to be constantly stirred and tossed to not burn. Often Stir-Frying is the go-to method for Asian inspired dishes. It is important to prepare all ingredients beforehand since there is no time to chop during the cooking process. Usually, Stir-Frying is done in a wok.

6. Braising and Stewing: Braising and Stewing is cooking food in a flavorful liquid. It is done over low heat for a very long time. Vegetables prepared in this way become soft, tender, and flavorful. Heartier vegetables such as root vegetables, beans, potatoes, or squash should be preferred for braizing and stewing due to the long cooking in liquid. You can braise in water, broth, wine or any flavorful liquid. For more flavor brown the vegetables first in a bit of oil (see Sautéing). It is important to use enough salt in the liquid to avoid having mushy and flat vegetables (see Osmosis in Part 1)

7. Roasting and Baking: Roasting vegetables is probably the easiest way of preparing them. Roasting involves caramelization (see Millard Reaction in Part 1) in a hot oven. The natural sugars of the vegetables come out leading to a sweet, savory, and intense flavor. Roasting is a great cooking method. It allows you to focus on other things as well. Just preheat the oven to 180°C – 200°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and chop your vegetables into any kind of shape. However, it is important that your vegetable chops are roughly the same size to allow them to cook evenly.

8.Frying: Probably the most unhealthy way of preparing vegetables, but a very delicious one. Heat up the oil to around to 185°C. Hotter oil will burn your food. Lower temperatures will turn the food into a greasy and soggy something. Frying doesn’t necessarily mean deep-frying. Pan-frying is another way of frying involving much less oil, but still turning your vegetables into something delicious.

9. Grilling: Grilling is very similar to roasting. In addition to roasting your vegetables will also get a smoky flavor. To grill vegetables, marinade the vegetables for at least 30 minutes or toss the vegetables in oil. Grill them according to the time necessary for the particular vegetable. You will know when to flip the vegetables when grill marks start to form. Some chefs swear of grilling vegetables without oil. For example, grilled vegetables for Italian antipasti taste best if grilled for a short time and then tossed into the best extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with some sea salt.

10. Pickling: Pickling uses the power of bacteria (lactobacillus in particular) to preserve vegetables for at least a year. You can pickle pretty much every vegetable, however, crisp ones which won’t break down in the brine will work best. Vegetables will be put into a jar and covered with a brine or a vinegar creating a sour and salty environment (pH of 4.6 or lower). The sour environment will take care of killing most bad bacteria. Pickled vegetables have a lot of health benefits. Soon we will post much more detail about the power of fermentation.

In the next parts of this series, I will post a few recipes for preparing delicious and healthy vegetables as sides and main dishes.

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