Help vegetables reach their maximum potential with these simple but super techniques
Why you don't need to blanch corn before grilling, why you definitely want to marinate lettuce first
When it comes to vegetables — just like when it comes to saving money, building a summer wardrobe... or napping — we want to help you to do it better. As far as vegetables are concerned, that basically comes down to knowing when and where veggies need your attention, where to back off and let them shine, and knowing a few 'why-haven't-I-been-doing-this-all-along' tricks that you'll adopt forevermore.
Read on, and make vegetables that will steal the show at your table.
Marinate your lettuce. Sure, you've been told your whole life to "toss the salad at the last minute," and "eat the salad first, it won't keep," but there are times when you actually want to dress it ahead. The first example is when you're grilling lettuce, which if you've never tried, you must! The leaves become sweet and smokey and, if dressed ahead, the flavour has time to soak into all those crevices. Try it with a head of butter lettuce, romaine, or even iceberg lettuce. Take the whole head and pour the dressing to let it marinate for 15 minutes before throwing it on the grill.
And don't stop at lettuce. Use this same marinating technique and let the dressing sit on the tough leaves of things like kale, radicchio and endive. Grill these too or eat them raw after the dressing has had a chance to soften and sweeten them. This means you can actually pack a salad for lunch the night before. See how that's done with this kale salad recipe.
Don't bother blanching corn before grill. To keep them from drying out while they cook out there, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes, or skip the water bath and grill them with their husks on. Just remove any silk that sticks out of the top so they don't catch on fire.
What vegetables should you blanch? A quick dip in salty water will help tame rapini's bitterness, and tougher vegetables that you can eat raw, like carrots and broccoli, can benefit from a quick blanch in well-salted water if you're using them in salads. You want to remove them after a couple minutes so they'll still taste fresh and crunchy, so don't walk away from the pot: taste them every 30 to 60 seconds so you don't miss that mark.
Cook green beans and asparagus over dry heat so they char in spots. That's best done in a cast iron pan; once they start browning, turn the heat down and wait a minute or two before adding a healthy splash of oil (so it doesn't splatter). Then you can turn the heat up and let everything cook away for another few minutes until the beans are tender-crisp. Finish with a sprinkling of flakey salt.
Roast beets in a covered vessel with a little water and vinegar, unpeeled. They'll roast perfectly and you can peel them once they're cooked, when their skins will lift right off. Roast them in a 350F degree oven, piercing them after 45 minutes to see how close they are and to make sure your liquid hasn't dried up.
Spinach likes vinegar too. Splash a bit on sauteed spinach, and taste before you add the salt — you may not even need it!
Cook greens like swiss chard in a little water, instead of sauteing. Do this in a frying pan with a lid and add a clove of smashed garlic for flavour if you want. Remove the lid once the greens are tender and let the liquid evaporate. You'll be surprised at how much less oil you can use by letting the water do most of the softening and then dressing them with your best oil just for flavour.
Pre-salt cucumbers and cabbage so they stay crunchy. For cabbage, use about 2 teaspoons of table salt per medium head of chopped cabbage. Let it sit in a colander for an hour to drain before rinsing it and patting or spinning it dry. For cucumbers, peel and cut them lengthwise before salting each half with about ¼ tsp table salt. Let them drain for at least half an hour before rinsing and patting dry. Try doing this with zucchini and summer squash too if you're keeping them raw for salad.
Seed tomatoes and cucumbers for salads and salsa. Those seeds release a lot of moisture, so scrape them out first so they don't bog down your dish.
Braise leeks, green onions, fennel and celery for unexpected flavour. Submerged them in stock and cook them gently with the lid on the pot for a good long while. They'll become soft and sweet and a completely different version from what you started with.
Soak raw onions to tame their bite. This is beneficial step for when you're prepping onions for salads and burger or pita toppings. Just chop the onion and soak it for 10 minutes in cold water, then drain and pat dry.
Spiralize your vegetables. We've talked about this before, and we can't stress enough how different cuts will change the way you experience your vegetables. You'll probably find yourself eating more vegetables this way too.
Remove steamed vegetables from the heat before they're done cooking. This gets them perfectly tender-crisp every time, because, like most things, they'll continue to cook a bit off heat.
And last but not least, finish your veggies with a splash of big flavour. Besides flaky salt, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice goes a long way for asparagus, broccoli, or cauliflower, and fish sauce makes brussels sprouts and greens come alive.
Looking for real recipes to try these tips out on? Here are a few to get you going.
Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.