If you’re new to cooking, a few tricks of the trade can help make it easier and more fun. Even if you’re an experienced cook, you can always learn a few new tips. Here are some suggestions that might have you saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
- Cut vegetables in same‐size pieces so they’ll all take the same time to cook
- Add vegetables that take the longest to cook first ‐ dense vegetables such as broccoli and carrots, for example. Next, add softer vegetables such as peppers and onions. Add garlic last.
- Cover vegetables to retain moisture and help them cook more quickly, but don’t seal tightly.
- Stir vegetables, especially when reheating, to cook them evenly.
- Peel aubergines with a sharp paring knife.
- Aubergines turn brown quickly: if cutting ahead of time, rub slices with lemon to keep them from discolouring.
- Salting and draining aubergines helps draw out moisture and remove bitterness and astringency. It also avoids too much oil absorption while cooking. Sprinkle aubergine slices or cubes with salt. After 30 minutes or more, rinse off salt and press between paper or lint‐free cloth toweling to dry.
- Scrub beetroot gently, but don’t peel before cooking. Skins will slip off easily after they’re cooked ‐ just peel them while they’re still warm. Use paper toweling to avoid staining your hands.
- Pierce beetroot and other root vegetables with a fork or skewer to check that they’re cooked.
- Don’t overcook cabbage, which will result in a strong, sulfurous odor and mushy texture.
- Red cabbage will turn a bluish‐purple colour when cooked. The cabbage is red to begin with because it contains a high amount of acid. The acid cooks off along with the steam, leaving the cabbage alkaline – which produces a bluish‐purple colour. Hard water, which is more alkaline, will cause more discolouration.
- Waxed cucumbers should be peeled. Unwaxed cucumbers may be peeled with a swivel peeler or left unpeeled.
- Garlic burns easily – add it only at the end of cooking and watch it closely.
- Leafy greens – especially spinach – should be washed carefully to remove all dirt. Fill a large pot with water and fresh greens: swish the greens in the water to loosen the dirt, which then sinks to the bottom.
- Wash leafy greens such as spinach or Swiss chard – but don’t dry them ‐ and cook with no added water. Greens cook quickly. The water on the leaves is enough if they’re cooked over medium heat until the leaves are just “wilted”. Less water means more retained nutrients.
- If potatoes aren’t organic, it’s best to peel them. Peeling potatoes is easiest with a swivel peeler.
- Cut off any green spots before cooking.
- Pierce potatoes (and other root vegetables) to let steam escape – otherwise they could explode in the oven or microwave.
- When making mashed potatoes, be careful not to “overwork” them. Don’t overcook the potatoes or mash them in a food processor. This will result in a gluey, rather than fluffy, end product.
- Keep mashed potatoes warm for up to half an hour by putting them in a covered heatproof bowl. Put the bowl in a pot of hot water on the stovetop with the burner set on low.
- To keep more nutrients in “boiled” potatoes, boil them for about 15 minutes, then drain off the water and steam them until they’re done.
- To bake winter squash don’t peel it first: cut it in half, remove the seeds by scraping with a spoon or an ice cream scoop, and place it cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet (so it won’t drip into your oven). Bake until it can be pierced with a fork. After baking, the flesh can be scooped out and mashed.
- Small winter squashes ‐ such as acorn ‐ can be pierced in several places with a sharp knife and microwaved like a jacket (baked) potato.
- Summer squash can be sliced (without peeling) and steamed or sautéed.
Swedes and Turnips
- Swedes are best peeled with a swivel peeler, although it may take a few passes.
- Turnips should be peeled.
- Don’t overcook turnips, which will give them an undesirable flavour and texture.
- Kosher salt is especially good for sprinkling on hot corn on the cob. Its larger crystals have more facets than conventional table salt and they stick to the corn better.
- Rather than chopping up canned tomatoes for a soup or stew, it’s easier and neater to cut them with a pair of kitchen scissors while still in the can.
Try some of these suggestions to make preparing and cooking vegetables easier. With a little experimentation, you may come up with a few tips of your own!