25 Tips for Cooking with Vegetables

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  1. Once you peel potatoes they go grey if exposed to the air for too long. Cover peeled or chopped potatoes in water until its time to cook them.
 
  1. To peel a tomato cut a tiny X in the bottom of it and place it into boiling water for a few minutes before placing it immediately into ice cold water. The skin should be loose at the X you cut and can be peeled. Use the same technique (without cutting the X at the bottom) for removing the skin from nuts like almonds and hazelnuts. Once you’ve dried the nuts off just rub them between a few sheets of paper towel (or use a tea towel) and the skins will come off. This technique is called blanching.
 
  1. Sweet potatoes are great roasted in the oven whole. Pick a few sweet potatoes of approximately the same size, wash the skin, then massage in some oil, salt and pepper and poke it with a fork a few times (which lets out the steam). Put them on an oven tray and bake until soft. These are fantastic topped with Jamie Oliver’s BBQ Beans.
Whole roasted sweet potato topped with
Jamie Oliver’s BBQ Baked Beans


  1. When storing lettuce, spinach, rocket or other salad leaves in the fridge, make sure they’re dry and have plenty of space. Leaves that are too tightly packed together will go bad faster, and moisture makes them bad as well, so pack them loosely in a container with a few sheets of paper towel on the bottom to collect any water. Follow these instructions for keeping your lettuce fresher for longer. And do the same for storing strawberries as they will last longer too.
 
  1. Broccoli and some of the Asian vegetables like bok choy and choy sum can be lightly cooked in the microwave. Chop them into smaller sized pieces, put them in a microwave safe dish (a breakfast bowl is often ideal), sprinkle over a tablespoon or two of water and cover it with plastic wrap. Now open one of the corners of the plastic wrap so the steam can escape, and cook on medium to high for 1-2 minutes. Leave the door to the microwave closed when the timer stops and leave them to continue to steam for another 5 minutes. Test the vegetables just before you want to eat them, and if they’re too hard still give them another 1-2 minutes and let them steam again.
 
  1. Carrot, potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, squash (the little yellow spaceships), beetroot, parsnip and swedes can all be grated. Add them raw to salads, add them to a mix for inside a pie or pastry, cook them into eggs for a vegetable slice or use in cakes and hash browns. See my post on food processor grating for more tips. 
 
  1. When working with fresh beetroots use a pair of disposable gloves so you don’t accidentally dye your hands purple.
 
  1. To chop a capsicum into strips or pieces first cut around the stem at the top of the capsicum then push down on the stem. When you push it in you should be able to then twist it and pull out the stem and the seeds underneath as one piece.
 
  1. To make cutting vegetables like carrots and potatoes easier to chop, chop off one side so you can make a flat side. Place the flat side on the chopping board for more stability, which allows you to chop away without the danger of chopping a finger as the vegetable rolls accidentally.
 
  1. Always wash a leek before you use it. Chop off the top 10cm of leaves at the top first (if you’ve bought them with leaves attached – some greengrocers cut them off before you buy them). Cut a line down the outside of the leek from top to bottom, only cutting the leek in half. You just want to be able to remove the layers of the leek without cutting it in half. Wash the layers of leek in a sink filled with a few centimetres of water. Or try this method or this one. 
 
  1. When wilting spinach place the bag of fresh spinach in a colander or sieve. Poor boiling water from the kettle over the top and then let the colander drain over the sink. If the spinach isn’t fully wilted you might need to boil the kettle again and repeat the process. Let it drain well and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
 
  1. Zucchinis are full of water and some recipes call for you to squeeze the excess water out first. Grate the zucchini and then place it into the middle of a clean tea towel. Wrap up the ends of the tea towel and squeeze it as tightly as you can over a bowl or into the sink. The harder you can squeeze the more water you can remove.
 
  1. Asparagus has what’s called a ‘woody’ end, which means the bottom is tough and not nice to eat. To remove it hold the asparagus with one hand just behind the tip and the other hand towards the end of the asparagus stalk. Gently bend the asparagus stalk until it snaps in two. The bottom part will snap off right where the end is too woody. Discard the bottom and use the rest.
 
  1. Mushrooms don’t need to be washed like other vegetables. Just wipe them over with a piece of paper towel and use them as per the recipe.
Image courtesy of KEKO64 at Freedigitalphotos.net


  1. Instead of throwing away the leaves of vegetables, some of them can be used. Save the leaves of cauliflower, fennel and celery and add them to the same meals as the rest of the vegetable. You do the same with broccoli stalks – some chefs recommend peeling them first and dicing them into the rest of the dish.
 
  1. Cauliflower can be used as a substitute for rice. Cut the cauliflower into pieces small enough to fit into the food processor (but remove the leaves and stalks first) then blitz until it resembles rice. Place into a microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap but leave one side open, and microwave on high for 5-7 minutes.
 
  1. Don’t place vegetables right at the back of the fridge because once vegetables like tomatoes or lettuce have been frozen they won’t be edible again.
 
  1. Potatoes and onions shouldn’t be stored in the fridge, but don’t store them together in the cupboard either as they will each make the other go bad faster.
 
  1. If you need to defrost frozen vegetables in a hurry place them in a colander or sieve and pour boiling water over them. Let the colander drain over a bowl or the sink before adding the vegetables to the rest of the meal.
 
  1. Peeling pumpkin can be tough, so instead of using a peeler, slide the skin off using a sharp knife. Follow these instructions to find out how best to do it.
 
  1. To make thin strips of vegetables, such as in a stir fry, a salad or on top of pizza, use a sharp peeler along the length of the vegetable to make the thin strips rather than having to cut them. 
Carrot and zucchini sliced with a peeler.
  1. Place a damp tea towel under your chopping board when cutting vegetables. The tea towel will stop the chopping board from sliding around and will give you greater control when chopping.
 
  1. If you need to remove the seeds from pumpkin or other vegetables, use a spoon to scrape the seeds out rather than a knife. It can be incredibly difficult to get the knife into the vegetable in the right angle, so to remove the danger of cut fingers, just use a spoon.
 
  1. You don’t have to peel carrots, beetroots, pumpkin or potatoes before you cook them. If you wash the skins on carrot and potatoes well you can eat the skins after boiling or roasting them. In the case of beetroot and pumpkin you can roast them with the skin on and once its cooked the skin is easier to peel off with your fingers.


  1. Always wash your vegetables before you use them so the dirt and other grit will be removed. Only run them under the tap quickly and don’t leave to soak in water for hours as vitamins can leech out into the water. 
 
 
Question: What other vegetable tips do you use?
 
 

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