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Techniques - Vegetables

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks

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This is a healthy way to prepare vegetables, but if over-steamed, the vegetables will lose their vibrant color and flavor

Bring about 1in (2.5cm) water to a boil in the bottom pan of a steamer. Place the vegetables in the upper basket, and position it above the bottom pan. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat.

When the steam rises, cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and cook until the vegetables are just tender. Test by pricking with the tip of a paring knife. Remove from the heat, and serve.


This cooking method uses very little oil, so the vegetables retain their natural flavors, and take hardly any time to cook

Heat the wok or pan and add the oil (sunflower, canola, or peanut), tilting the pan to spread the oil around the base. When very hot, add flavorings, such as garlic, ginger, chile, or scallions, and quickly toss.

Add the desired vegetables and toss, moving them from the center to the sides. If using meat, add it before the vegetables, allowing the meat to sit and cook for a few seconds before continuing to stir.

Some vegetables, such as broccoli, benefit from steaming for just a few minutes after the initial frying. Add a little water and cover the wok. Cook until the vegetables are just tender, and still crisp.

Stir-frying tips

For best results, have all the vegetables prepared, measured, at hand, and cut to approximately the same size. Vegetables or meats that take longest to cook should be added first. Season to taste with salt, pepper, soy sauce, Chinese hot sauce, or chile flakes.

Cut carrot batonnets

This method of cutting vegetable sticks is also suitable for any long straight vegetable such as parsnips and zucchini

Peel each carrot and cut in half crosswise. Set the mandoline blade to 1/4in (5mm) thickness. Hold the mandoline steady with one hand and press the carrot firmly with the palm of the other, being careful to keep your fingers clear of the blade. Slide each carrot up and down a few times, until the slices are the right thickness and uniform in size. Alternatively, use a chef’s knife.

Stack the slices of carrot in the order in which they fell from the mandoline into flat piles on a board. Hold firmly and cut into neat rectangles, all the same size, with a chef’s knife, then cut lengthwise into thin sticks or batonnets about 1/4in (5mm) wide.

Peel and dice an onion

Once an onion is halved, it can be sliced or diced. This technique is for quick dicing, which helps prevent your eyes from watering

Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the onion lengthwise in half. Peel off the skin, leaving the root in place to hold the layers together.

Lay one half flat-side down. Make a few slices into the onion horizontally, cutting up to, but not through the root.

Cut the onion in half vertically, slicing down through the layers, again, cutting up to, but not through the root end.

Cut across the vertical slices to produce even dice. Use the root to hold the onion steady, then discard when the onion is diced.

Wash and cut leeks julienne

The mildest member of the onion family, leeks are wonderful in soups and sauces, but need to be thoroughly washed

With a chef’s knife, trim off the root end and some of the dark, green leafy top. Cut the leek in half lengthwise and fan it open, holding the white end. Rinse the leek under cold running water to remove the grit. Gently shake off any excess water, and dry with paper towels.

For julienne, cut off the dark green part of the leek and discard, then cut the leek crosswise into sections of the required length. Lay each section flat-side down, and slice into fine strips about 1/8in (3mm) wide.

Peel and chop garlic

Garlic is used in many recipes and peeling it is easy once you know how

Lay each garlic clove flat on a cutting board. Place the side of a chef’s knife blade on it. Lightly strike the blade to break the skin.

Peel and discard the skin and cut the ends off from each clove.

Chop the garlic roughly, then sprinkle with a little salt to prevent it from sticking to the knife. Continue chopping as necessary.

Choosing garlic

Pre-peeled garlic is convenient if you plan to use it within a few days, but buying it fresh, and preparing it yourself is preferred. Choose fresh bulbs that are firm and compact. The skin should be smoothly attached to the base of the bulb, not tattered, or frayed. Although garlic keeps for up to 2 months in a cool, dark, and dry place, be sure to check that the cloves are still firm, and free of sprouts. Never store garlic in the fridge.

Peel and seed tomatoes

When tomatoes are used in sauces and soups that will not be strained, they are often peeled and seeded

Remove the green stem, score an “x” in the skin of each tomato at the base, then immerse in a pan of boiling water for 20 seconds, or until the skin loosens.

With a slotted spoon, remove the tomato from the boiling water, and submerge it in a bowl of ice water to cool.

When cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to peel away the loosened skin.

Cut each tomato in half and gently squeeze out the seeds over a bowl and discard.

Prepare broccoli

How to separate broccoli florets from the head

Lay the broccoli head flat on a clean cutting board. With a chef’s knife, cut off, and discard the thick stalk just below the florets.

Remove the florets by sliding the knife between their stems to separate them. Rinse the florets in cold water and drain in a colander.

Prepare cauliflower

How to separate cauliflower florets from the main stalk

Lay the head of cauliflower on its side on a cutting board. With a chef’s knife, cut off the large stalk and remove any leaves.

Using a small paring knife, carefully cut the florets from the central stem. Rinse the florets in cold water, and drain in a colander.

Trim leafy greens

Before cutting and cooking hearty greens such as Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens, you must wash and trim them

Discard all limp and discolored leaves. Using a chef’s knife, slice each leaf along both sides of the central rib, then remove the rib and discard. Wash the leaves well in a sink filled with cold water; repeat. Shake the leaves to remove excess water. Pat dry in a clean dish towel, or with paper towels.

Grab a handful of leaves and roll them loosely into a bunch. Cut across the roll into strips of the desired width.

Halve and pit an avocado

The flesh of an avocado is a rich, buttery, and luxurious addition to salads, soups, and dips

With a chef’s knife, slice into the avocado, cutting all the way around the pit.

Gently twist the halves in opposite directions to separate.

Strike the pit with your knife blade to pierce it firmly and lift the knife to remove the pit.

Use a wooden spoon to carefully release the stone from your knife and discard.

Quarter the avocado and use a paring knife to peel away, and discard the skin.

To dice an avocado, cut it into neat slices lengthwise, then repeat crosswise to the desired size.

Storing avocado

Store unripe fruits in a cool, dark place, but do not chill. Once cut and exposed to oxygen, an avocado will discolor quickly. The easiest way to slow this process is by rubbing the exposed flesh with the cut side of a lemon or lime wedge. Put a sheet of plastic wrap over the top, press down as closely to the flesh as possible, and store in a refrigerator until needed.

Alternatively, you can slice an avocado. Halve and remove the pit, then scoop out the flesh with a rubber spatula, keeping it whole if possible. Place on a cutting board, and cut into slices, or wedges. Rub the flesh with lemon to prevent browning.

Trim asparagus

To ensure tender asparagus, especially when you have thicker spears, trim and peel them

With a chef’s knife, cut the tough ends from the spears. Alternatively, snap the bottom of the asparagus spears at their natural breaking point.

Holding the tip of an asparagus spear gently, use a vegetable peeler to remove a thin layer of skin from the stalk, rotating the spear to peel all sides.

Prepare artichokes

Artichokes can be served whole with the leaves trimmed, or cut back entirely to just use the “hearts”

To serve whole

Holding the stalk to steady the artichoke, cut the tough tips off with sturdy kitchen scissors.

Use a chef’s knife to cut the stem flush with the base, so the artichoke will sit upright.

Cut off the pointed top, and pull away any dark outer leaves. The artichoke is now ready to cook.

To serve the hearts

Cut or pull away all of the large leaves from the artichoke, then cut the stem flush with the base.

Cut off the remaining soft “cone” of leaves in the middle just above the hairy choke.

Cut away the bottom leaves with a paring knife, trimming the base so it is slightly flattened.

Scoop out the choke with small spoon, removing all the hairy fibers. Rub the exposed surface generously with lemon juice.

Prevent browning

Once artichokes are cut and exposed to oxygen, their leaves and hearts will begin to turn brown. To prevent this, keep rubbing the exposed flesh of the artichoke with lemon juice.

Roast beets

Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in beets and other tubers

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Trim all but 1in (2.5cm) from the stem, wash, dry, drizzle with olive oil, then salt and wrap in foil.

Place the beets in a shallow roasting pan, and bake in the middle of the oven until tender, about 45 minutes. Set aside until cool.

When cool enough to handle, peel the skins with a paring knife. You can wear disposable gloves to prevent staining your hands.

Slice the beets, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve either warm or cool.

Prepare bell peppers

Red, green, orange, and yellow peppers add their brilliant color and sweetness to stir-frys and distinctive flavor to many dishes

Place the pepper on its side and cut off the top and bottom. Stand the pepper on one of the cut ends, and slice it in half lengthwise. Remove the core and seeds.

Open each section and lay flat on the cutting board. Sliding the knife sideways, remove the remaining pale, fleshy ribs.

Cut the peppers into smaller sections, following the divisions of the pepper. Slice or chop, according to the recipe you are using.

For stuffing and roasting, cut around the stalk, and remove with the core attached. Rinse away the stray seeds and dry.

Roast and peel peppers

Pepper skins can be indigestible. Roasting makes removing their skins easy and enhances their flavor and sweetness

Using long-handled tongs, hold the pepper over an open flame to char the skin on all sides.

Put peppers into a plastic bag and seal tightly. Set the bag aside to allow steam to loosen the skins.

When the peppers have cooled completely, use your fingers to peel away the charred skin.

Pull off the stalk, keeping the core attached if possible. Discard seeds, and slice the flesh into strips.

Seed and cut chiles

Chiles contain capsaicin, a pungent compound that is a strong irritant to skin, and mucus membranes

Cut the chile lengthwise in half. Using the tip of your knife or a small spoon, scrape out and discard the seeds, ribs, and stem.

Flatten each chile half with the palm of your hand, and slice lengthwise into strips.

For dice, hold the strips firmly together, and slice crosswise to make equal-size pieces.

Safety tip

Once you have touched the seeds and inner membranes of hot chiles, never touch your eyes or nose, as it will burn painfully. Wash your hands immediately after preparing the hot chiles, or better yet, wear disposable gloves, which should be thrown away afterward.

Halve, seed, and peel winter squash

The skin of winter squash is hard and thick, and must be peeled either before, or after cooking

Holding the squash firmly on a cutting board, use a chef’s knife to cut the squash lengthwise in half, working from the stalk end to the core end.

Using a spoon, remove the seeds and fibers from each squash half and discard.

If planning to cut the squash into chunks for a recipe, use a vegetable peeler or knife to remove the skin.

Choosing squash

Squash can be a little difficult to choose, as any internal damage is not visible until you actually cut into it. Buy heavy squash with hard, dull skin, and be sure it is without any cracks or soft areas. Squash will keep for several weeks unrefrigerated, as long as they are kept at room temperature in a dry place. Once cut, store the squash, covered with plastic wrap, a refrigerator for no longer than 2 weeks, or until the flesh becomes soft.

Rehydrate dried mushrooms

Mushrooms preserved by drying, which intensifies their flavor, must be soaked before use

To rehydrate dried mushrooms, place the mushrooms–either wild or cultivated–into a bowl of hot water. Allow them to soak for at least 15 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid. If you plan to use the soaking liquid as well as the mushrooms, strain the liquid through a coffee filter, or fine cheesecloth, to remove any sand or grit.

Make deep-fried potatoes

Any vegetable with a high starch content, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, or parsnips, can be sliced thinly and deep-fried

Preheat the oil or fryer to 325°F (160°C). Meanwhile, using a mandoline or knife, thinly slice the peeled potatoes.

When the oil is hot, add a batch of potatoes, using a frying basket to lower them into the oil.

Fry until crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes. Lift the potatoes out of the oil and drain briefly on paper towels.

Keep hot, uncovered in a warm oven, until all the potatoes are fried. Sprinkle with salt to taste, and serve immediately.

Core and shred cabbage

Shredded cabbage is used in many recipes, but the vibrant purple variety makes an attractive side dish

Hold the head of cabbage firmly on the cutting board, and use a chef’s knife to cut it in half, straight through the stem end.

Cut each half again lengthwise through the stem, and cut out the hard central core from each quarter.

Working with one quarter at a time, place the cabbage cut-side down on the board. Cut across the cabbage, creating shreds.

Knife technique

For the most efficient control and action when shredding, anchor the point of the knife on the cutting board, raising and lowering the knife through the cabbage. Guide the knife blade with the knuckles of your other hand.

Shuck corn and cut off kernels

One of the sweetest vegetables, nothing is better than fresh corn

Remove the husks and the silk from the ear of corn. Rinse the shucked corn under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels.

Hold the ear upright on a cutting board. Using a chef’s knife, slice straight down the sides to cut the kernels off the cob.

To extract the “milk,” hold the cob upright in a bowl, and use your knife to scrape down the length of the cob.

Buying tips

When buying fresh corn, be sure to peel back a little of the husk to check that there are no brown or rotten kernels at the tip. Once the corn is shucked (husks and silk removed), it can also be cooked on the cob by boiling or barbecuing.

Chop herbs

Chop fresh herbs just before using to release their flavor and aroma

To chop leaves (a mixture or a single variety as the basil leaves above), gather them together, and roll them up tightly.

Using a large, sharp knife, slice through the herbs, holding them together with your other hand.

Gather the herbs into a pile and chop, using a steady rocking motion, turning the pile 90° until you have the size you want.

Bouquet garni

A bouquet garni is used to flavor soups and stews when you want to remove the herbs after the dish has finished cooking. The classic combination is bay leaves, thyme, and parsley, although you can also use herbs like oregano, rosemary, or sage. Either tie them together in a bunch using kitchen string, or tie everything up in a small cheesecloth bag.

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