Whether you're just getting started on a healthy eating path or have been on the road to wellness for years, a few simple essential cooking techniques can help you cook healthier without the need for added oil. As we discussed in the first blog in this series, a good step towards healthy eating is to reduce or eliminate added oils in your cooking, one of the key aspects of our Health Starts Here™ program.
One technique that really brings out the color, crispness and freshness of vegetables is blanching or “shocking” — the process of submerging vegetables in boiling water for just a few minutes, then removing and quickly cooling them to stop further cooking. Although ice baths are commonly recommended, I achieve the same results by using cold running water, which is an easier and faster method of cooling the blanched vegetables.
Blanching is best for vegetables like asparagus, green beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. The amount of blanching time needs to be adjusted depending on the size and type of vegetable you are cooking. The key is to cook for bright color and crispness to determine doneness, usually achieved within a few minutes. We’ll use green beans as an example to show you how easily you can blanch vegetables. I like to blanch my green beans with thinly sliced garlic for added flavor.
Start by bringing a large pot of water to a rapid boil over high heat. While the water is heating, trim the ends off of your fresh green beans and thinly slice several cloves of peeled garlic. Make sure to have a colander or strainer ready near the sink to drain and cool the green beans.
Add the green beans with the garlic to the boiling water. If you’re preparing a large quantity of green beans, add in small batches to ensure that the water maintains its boil. Boil the green beans only until they turn bright green and are barely cooked through, generally one to three minutes. They will be crisp and slightly tender but not soft. To test, remove one green bean with a slotted spoon, quickly placing it under cold running water from the faucet to cool and then bite to test its doneness.
As soon as the green beans are done, remove them as fast as you can by pouring the green beans and water into the colander or strainer. (If you are cooking in batches, remove the green beans quickly with a slotted spoon or with tongs.) Immediately run cold water from the faucet over the blanched beans and garlic until they are cooled and no longer warm. Allow the green beans to drain completely and drip dry. If you’re not using the green beans right away, you can store the cooled, drained beans, covered, in the refrigerator for two days and they will maintain their crispness and color. The blanched beans are now ready for snacking as a crudité, added to salads, sautéed or dressed with a no-oil dressing.
To sauté, pour two tablespoons of vegetable stock into a very hot pan, creating a steam, and immediately add the blanched green beans and garlic. Once the green beans are heated, remove from the pan and top with toasted sliced almonds, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds and serve. The blanched green beans can also be dressed with a no-oil dressing to serve as a stand-alone salad or side dish or to top a salad of field greens or spinach.
Try these delicious no-oil dressings to toss with the green beans:
- No-Oil Added Balsamic Dressing
- Tahini-Miso Sauce
- Carrot Dressing
- Low-Fat Creamy “Caesar” Dressing
- Creamy Orange-Avocado Dressing
Blanching is a simple technique that prepares your vegetables for a variety of uses and flavors – without using oil, which can add unnecessary calories. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.