Attention all home growers! Did you know there are ways to make your vegetables taste better than they already do? What if I was to tell you this way only involves some rapidly boiled water, a couple of bowls, a strainer, and about the same amount of time it will take you to read this article? It sounds crazy, I know, but bear with me for your own benefit.
What if I told you these methods would preserve nutrients, provide great flavor, a nice crunch, and won’t involve any genetic “enhancements?” What is this wondrous witchcraft I’m spouting, you may ask? It’s called blanching and steaming. It may sound familiar. It may sound like it’s a myth. But it is real.
So what is the difference between blanching and steaming? How can I do this myself without a trained chef? Well, that’s where I come in.
Blanching is a process of flash cooking and cooling. You take a pot of rapidly boiling water and add a bit of salt. Put your fresh veggies in (cutting off stems and cleaning beforehand). Cook for around two to no more than five minutes (depending on the veggie toughness factor; broccoli takes longer than green beans, etc.), and then immediately transfer to an ice water bath for about thirty seconds. That’s it! So why should you do this few minutes of labor?
I recently visited a small, family owned dining establishment in Lancaster, CA. While I was there I spoke to head chef and manager of Barones on the Blvd, Thomas Powers. According to chef Powers, blanching is reserved for vegetables with a cell structure that will break down when overcooked. Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and squashes he says. When you overcook these types of veggies, they turn to mush in a pale shade of what was. But, chef Powers says, if you blanch, you preserve the crunchy bite, the lush color, and best of all – the nutrients. Blanching does quick cook the fresh veggie, but does not cook it to baby food hell.
But wait! Don’t leave your love seat just yet. All this talk about blanching may have made you jump up, and go on a food adventure. Yet, we haven’t even touched the other way to make crunchy, nutrient rich veggies – steaming.
Instead of asking a professional chef for steaming advice, I went to my local resident expert and parent, Lucy Burk. My mother has been cooking veggies and local foods for years. She has worked in various restaurants, as well as feeding my well for eighteen years of my life. I don’t know a better cook.
When I asked her about what steaming is, she stated, “Steaming is a method of using high heat (to boil water) to steam the vegetables without making them wilt.”
Just like blanching, this method preserves flavor and nutrients. This method is quicker, because you don’t need the ice bath step. But, you may lose some color. Any vegetable can be preserved this way. All you need to do is get a pot of water boiling on your stove. Add a bit of salt for flavor. Once the water is boiling, put your veggies in a good strainer, and place it on the top of the pot. The veggies should be ABOVE the water, not soaked in it. Vegetables that are more dense may take about four or five minutes to steam. Veggies that are less dense could take around two or three minutes to cook. Again, like blanching, this method preserves flavor and texture.
Now there are some differences between blanching and steaming. Blanching can preserve the color more than steaming will, but you may lose some nutrients since the vegetables are being fully immersed in the boiling water. Steaming may cause some loss of color, but will keep more of the nutritional benefit. Serving time wise, blanching is better if you’re planning on serving a bit later in the day or the next day. Steaming, on the other hand, may be better if you’re planning on serving your fresh vegetables right after the steaming process.
When you look at it side by side, you can’t go wrong either way. Blanching or steaming will get you great results as long as you don’t cook the vegetables too long. Too much cooking, with either method, will result in mushy lumps of lost nutrition that you couldn’t pick up with a fork. Also, make sure you clean and cut off all the non-edibles BEFORE you do either method. So you have your home garden, try something new. When you have that party, or friends come over for some dinner, or maybe you’re making some food for yourself and you want some great healthy flavor, try one of these methods.
Go ahead. Get up and do it.