If you were to tell the 6-year-old version of myself that, down the road, I would be writing my thoughts on how not to screw up summer vegetables, she would have yelled, "Whatever — all vegetables stink!" and rolled away on her blue and black Big Wheel (because she thought pink was gross and for sissies).
The grown-up version of myself knows better and can't hardly contain herself for summer vegetable season. But please, for all that is holy, don't do these three things or else we can't ever be friends. No really. I'll give you back your friendship bracelet.
Although I've since overcome my dislike for vegetables, that doesn't mean I turned into one of those folks that will claim to eat any vegetable because veggies are sooo cool, right? Oh, you eat radishes? So do I, and bell peppers, without dip. That's right, without dip! I love vegetables (with the exception of baby corn and snow peas), but their preparation has to be spot on. That's right — I have vegetable consumption standards.
The way I see it, even the best vegetable, trendy or not, can be ruined in one of three very simple ways, and quite often is. It all has to do with a little science, but more like 6th grade science, so no Neil Degrasse Tyson fan club membership required here.
3 Ways to Ruin Summer Vegetables
I have a strict cooking philosophy when it comes to 90% of summer vegetables, and it's an easy one. The higher the heat the better! Seems simple, right? High heat can be a great asset when cooking vegetables, as it seals in all those delicious juices we worked so hard to obtain out in the garden.
When vegetables are overcooked (over medium or lower heats for longer time), cells burst and all that water seeps right out and we're left with mush and no one likes mush unless your plan was soup when all was said and done.
Instead: If you're guilty of executing this sad veggie fate, next time try marinating your veggies in leftover salad dressing before cooking. The sugar in most dressings will caramelize, helping you judge when things are done. As usual, golden brown and delicious = done!
Salt is the pantry staple that boosts the flavor of almost every dish that comes out of our kitchens. But when it comes to vegetables, salt plays a bigger role than packing a flavor punch; it can be your worst enemy. Why? When it comes to cut vegetables, salt, although helpful, can also force too much water from those precious cells. You need it to help draw a little out to get a good sear on things, but excess with leave you with floppy fennel or peaked peppers.
Instead: A good rule of thumb is to salt from up high, sprinkling down in a light shower from pinched fingers a foot above the veggies. Remember, you can always salt when finished if you need a little more!
3. Cutting Too Small
Seriously, this might as well have been titled, "Cells Are Good, But I Don't Mean the Kind with Bars on Them." When a vegetable is cut down into small pieces, whether sliced, diced, or shredded, you lose the mouthfeel that goes along with it, making it hard to identify and enjoy specific ingredients.
Could you tell the difference between squash and eggplant if they're in microscopic bits in a pasta salad? Could you tell the difference between kohlrabi or broccoli if they're shredded and tossed with a bit of carrot? Neither can your guests and it defeats the whole point of eating a diverse rainbow of veggies if they all taste the same! I aim for keeping pieces at least the size of my thumbnail.
Vegetables are the best part about summer (aside from street food and beaches and new swimsuits), and if you make sure you're abiding by these three veggie rules of preparation, you're sure to have the best one yet!