Do you know the difference between blanching, par-boiling, boiling, and simmering? All five methods involve cooking veggies by submerging them in boiling water. Steaming, another method, involves using the steam from boiling water to cook the veggies without submerging them in the boiling water. When done properly, these methods intensify the color of the veggies while retaining a crunchy texture. It's a matter of how much time the veggie is in the boiling water, and therefore how much it gets cooked.
Blanching. Very quick! The veggies are placed in boiling water and removed after matter of seconds. Only the very outside of the veggies get cooked while most of the inside remains uncooked.
Blanched veggies are a little softer to bite into than raw veggies, retain most of their crunch, and have vibrant color. The broccoli I prepared shown in the upper left was blanched and is mostly uncooked on the inside (light green) while only the very outside is cooked and is bright, vibrant green.
Blanching is great for veggies that go into salads, are served with dip, or to pre-cook the veggies to shorten the cooking time in a recipe. Blanched collard greens make excellent wraps because blanching makes the large, sturdy leaves very pliable so they can hold your favorite fillings without tearing.
Par-boiling. Quick. The veggies are placed in boiling water and removed after a fairly short time, maybe 1-2 minutes or so, depending on the thickness of the veggies. More of the edges of the veggie get cooked while less the center remains uncooked compared to blanching.
Par-boiled veggies are softer to bite into than blanched veggies, yet still retain some of their crisp, crunchiness, due to the uncooked center, and also retain all of their vibrant color. The broccoli I prepared in the center of the photo is par-boiled and less of the center remains uncooked (light green) while more of the edges are cooked (brighter, darker green).
Par-boiling is a great way to prepare veggies to serve as part of a meal or on their own. Like blanching, par-boiling is also great for veggies that go into salads, are served with dip, or to pre-cook the veggies to shorten the cooking time in a recipe.
Boiling. The veggies are placed in boiling water and remain for several minutes until they are tender and completely cooked through. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the veggies.
Properly boiled veggies are soft, but not mushy, and retain their vibrant color. The broccoli I prepared in the lower right of the photo is boiled and no light green color remains.
Boiling is great for veggies such as sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, carrots, beets, and butternut squash (root veggies and winter squash). It’s always best to cut these veggies into similarly-sized cubes so that they cook evenly and in the same amount of time. Boiled veggies make great salads and are excellent in other dishes, soups, or served on their own.
Simmering. Very similar to boiling, except that the temperature is reduced so that the liquid boils gently. Simmering is a good method to soften harder veggies such as root veggies like carrots, potatoes, or winter squash, as well as beans and whole grains. Simmering is also good for blending flavors.
Properly steamed veggies are tender and crisp, and the only way to get it right is to taste them for doneness or do a knife test (see below). Most veggies retain their vibrant color when steamed. The carrots in the photo were steamed until just tender and retained their bright, vibrant orange color.
A caveat is that the color of green veggies may turn dull or slightly brown when steamed because chlorophyll is sensitive to acids, and acids naturally in those veggies boil off, condense on the inside of the cover, then drip back onto the veggies.
The secret to great-tasting veggies regardless of the method is to not over-cook them! Overcooked veggies are mushy and turn a brownish color, losing their vibrant color.
Always test for doneness by biting into the veggies to test for crispness (blanching, par-boiling, and steaming (green veggies)) or by inserting a knife (boiling or steaming root veggies and winter squash). Root veggies and winter squash are properly cooked when the knife easily slides in to the center of the cubes and the veggie does not immediately slide off when the knife is pulled out.
Try any of these methods and season lightly with a little sea salt, fresh lemon or lime juice, and some of your favorite herbs and you will be amazed by how fresh and delicious these veggies taste! Or finish by lightly sautéing with caramelized onions, garlic, and other spices using vegetable broth or a very tiny amount of oil.
These aren't your mother’s veggies!
What are some of your favorite seasonings for veggies?