The most important thing to remember: It’s all about cooking on a high temperature for a short period of time. The longer vegetables are exposed to heat (boiling water, in particular), the more nutrients they lose, the more discoloured they become and the more soggy they end up. Here are some common terms, techniques and methods for cooking green vegetables:
What does a recipe mean when it calls for the vegetables to be cooked until tender-crisp? Whether you’re cooking green beans, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts or peas, the goal is for them cooked through, but still firm enough to slightly resist your bite. That’s tender-crisp.
The best way to achieve this (and keep your veggies green) is by blanching, roasting or sautéing them. (Long cook times result in limp, soggy vegetables, void of both nutrition and colour.)
To blanch, roast or sauté?
To blanch, bring a generous amount of water to a boil in a large pot. You need a large amount of water to ensure the temperature doesn’t drop significantly once the vegetables are added. Cook veggies in boiling water until they reach the tender-crisp stage. To determine if they’re ready, carefully pull a veggie out and bite into it. Cooking time depends on the size of the vegetable but will range anywhere from about two to five minutes.
Once cooked, immediately drain the vegetables from the water and submerge them in a large container of ice water. This is called “shocking” the vegetables. Shocking halts the cooking process completely, keeping the vegetables at their desired doneness, maintaining a vibrant colour and ideal texture. (Shocking is required, otherwise the vegetables will continue cooking in their residual heat.)
If you prefer to steam your vegetables, many of the same rules apply. Make sure that your water has come to a simmer with the lid on before you drop your vegetables into the steaming basket. Steaming will take slightly longer than boiling.
How to blanch vegetables
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2. Roasting or sautéing
Another way to achieve the quick, high-heat cooking combination. When roasting, green vegetables should be done as quickly as possible at a temperature of 375F to 425F. Roasted or sautéed, vegetables will often take on a golden or charred appearance on the edges, but the main part of the vegetable should still be a vibrant green and the texture tender-crisp.
A note on frozen vegetables:
When cooking frozen beans and peas, it is best to cook them from the frozen stage. Defrosting them, then cooking them means the vegetables are exposed to additional moisture loss, resulting in a mushy, rubbery texture.
Originally published April 2014. Updated May 2017.