Vegetables: The Basics

Day 2 of the Chef Diploma at Ceria University, Brussels.

Vegetables! That was the theme of the evening.  Here are the top tips I learned:

Mushrooms: 

  • Do not wash wild mushrooms, but do wash button or chestnut mushrooms.
  • To cook mushrooms, heat a sauté pan, add some butter, add the chopped mushrooms, and do not stir immediately, but leave them for a minute or so, before you stir them.

Pepper (seasoning):

  • Be careful when adding pepper to anything, because the flavour becomes stronger the longer the food is kept.  So if you are preparing vegetables on a Monday, but eating them on Tuesday, if you have added pepper, the pepper will have become stronger, and they will no longer taste very good.

Cauliflower:

  • Wash the cauliflower, cut into florets, and place in either cold or already boiling salted water, and boil until cooked.
  • You will know when the cauliflower is cooked when you pierce it with a knife, and it comes out, but it still holds it shape.  Cauliflower, should be soft, but still have a bite to it.
  • Never put a lid onto the pan with the cauliflower, always leave the pan open.
  • Add a little bit of vinegar to the water when boiling, and this will help to keep the cauliflower white in colour.

All green vegetables:

  • As a general rule all green vegetables should be cooked in boiling salted water, and then drained, before placing into iced cold water (to stop the cooking and to maintain the bright green colour), and drained again, before serving.  Make sure the water is boiling before you put the vegetables into the pan.

Mange Tout:

  • Use the above method for Mange Tout, the Mange Tout will be ready when it has started to go soft, but there is still a bit of bite to it.

Green Beans

  • Exactly like the Mange Tout: Use the above method, the green beans will be ready when it has started to go soft, but there is still a bit of bite to it.

Spinach:

  • Large (older) Spinach: remove the stalks before place in boiling salted water until cooked, drain, and quickly place into iced cold water, and drain again.
  • Young Spinach:  heat a sauté pan, add a touch of olive oil, add the young spinach (no need to remove the stalks), and stir, until cooked.

Sorrel:

  • Sorrel has a slightly bitter, and very lemony taste.  It is generally used to help bring out the flavour of spinach.  Cook it like the young spinach:  heat a sauté pan, add a touch of olive oil, add the sorrel leaves, and stir until cooked.

Lettuce:

  • If you prepare Lettuce correctly, it can last for up to 5 days in the fridge.  Longer, than if you do not do anything to lettuce.
  • Place the lettuce in the sink with water, and leave in upside down for a while, to help clean it.  While the lettuce is upside down, with its core facing you cut out the heart (as if you were cutting a cone shape around the core).  Take a tray which has holes in it.  And place the leaves of the lettuce sitting up, with the heart to the top, and layer it with the outer leaves at the front.
  • Always eat the outer leaves first, as they do not last as long.

Leeks:

  • When washing leeks, do not cut them up into small pieces and then rinse them, as that rinses some of the flavour away.  Instead, cut a small part of the top, and then the root at the bottom.  Remove the outer layer.  Slice the leek, once, along its length, and rinse that under the tap, to remove any dirt that may be there.

Cress:

  • Put the cress in a bowl of lightly salted cold water, and leave for 5 minutes.  Rinse the cress in fresh water.  Repeat the process 3 times.

Cress Soup:

  • Heat a large casserole.  Add a fairly large amount of butter, onions (2), celery (3), leek (2) (or any green vegetables that you have – you could also add courgette). Leave to sauté covered for 15 minutes on a low heat.  Do not let it burn, the vegetables should be lovely and soft.  Add stock, and leave to cook for a little longer.  Then add peeled and roughly chopped potatoes (4).  Prepare the cress, (and spinach if you have some), as above.  Puree the soup with the potatoes, and then puree the cress separately.  Mix together, and pass through a sieve.
  • If you add the cress to the soup too early, you will loose the flavour of the cress, and the soup will also not be a very bright colour of green.
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