Cooking School Day 3: Vegetables
- Today’s Lesson: Vegetables
- The Goal: 20 lessons, 20 days to become a better cook at home
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Vegetables bring a rainbow of color, flavor, and texture to the table, forming the base of many savory dishes. It’s important to hone your instincts for what you can do with vegetables — both on their own, and as supporting players in more complex recipes.
If you’re new to cooking, vegetable-based dishes are a great place to start. Most veggies can be eaten raw or cooked, so there’s less worry over things like proper cooking times and exact temperatures. If you’ve been cooking for a while, treat today’s lesson as a refresher — a moment to get back to basics or maybe tackle a new-to-you vegetable.
Day 3 Lesson: Vegetables
Vegetables are all different, but also the same: There are a lot of vegetables out there! Far too many to go over each one in today’s lesson. But pretty much every vegetable, from carrots to romanesco, follows the same basic principle: they start out hard, crisp, or tough, but become tender and chewable after being cooked. Whether the vegetable is steamed, sautéed, roasted, or fried, the application of heat makes the tough fibers soften and become easier for us to digest. Heat also changes the flavor of vegetables, usually favorably. In general, the harder the vegetable, the longer it will take to become soft — think of cooking potatoes versus spinach. Also, the larger the vegetable, the longer it will take to cook — a whole potato will take much longer to cook than a potato that’s been diced into half-inch cubes.
How to prepare almost any vegetable: Vegetables are fairly logical things. Spend a few minutes looking at a new, unfamiliar vegetable, and you can probably figure out how you’re supposed to chop it up: Remove inedible bits like stems, seeds, cores, and rinds. Remove peels if they seem tough. When you’re down to just the edible parts, start paring it down to bite-sized pieces by first slicing the vegetable from top to bottom — usually through the stem or the root. From there, it’s a matter of continuing to cut the vegetable into smaller and smaller pieces.
Remember! When cooking vegetables it’s important to cut them all into pieces of the same size so they cook evenly.
When cutting round, hard vegetables like potatoes, carrots or winter squashes, cut a little sliver off one side first, then rotate the vegetable so that it’s now sitting on this cut side. Doing this little cut will help stabilize the vegetable and keep it from rolling around, making the whole cutting process much easier and safer!
Vegetables in a Recipe: Most recipes will include instructions for how you should prep the vegetable with words like “cut into slices” or “cut into 1-inch cubes.” The recipe will assume that you will discard inedible things like stems and peels. Also, pay attention to how large or small the recipe is telling you to cut your vegetables and do your best to match the instructions; the size of the vegetable will affect how quickly it cooks.
Every lesson has three homework options. Maybe you’ve already got one down, or you just have time for a quick study session. So pick one, and show us by tagging it with #kitchnschool on Instagram or Twitter.
Study: Spend a few minutes reading through this guide and bookmark it for future reference: How to Peel, Cut, Core and Seed: 20 Tips & Techniques for Fruit and Vegetable Prep.
Practice: Roast a tray of vegetables! This is the easiest, most foolproof way I know to start getting used to cooking vegetables. Toss a bunch of roughly (but evenly) chopped veggies together on a baking sheet with some olive oil and salt, and roast at 450°F until tender. This is a side dish for dinner tonight, plus the leftovers can go in burritos, soups, weeknight pastas, and lots of other meals.
Improve: Pick one new-to-you or scary-to-you vegetable at the grocery store, and figure out how to prep it and use it in a dish. Need some inspiration? Try cooking kohlrabi, eggplant, rutabaga, or bok choy. If everything at your grocery store feels familiar, visit an Asian market on your way home and pick out a new-to-you green to stir-fry or sauté.
The Kitchn Cookbook & Vegetables
The Cooking School was inspired by our new book, The Kitchn Cookbook — and there’s plenty in the book to help your Cooking School experience.
Today’s tip: See page 100 for tips on shopping for organic vegetables, and page 117 for a guide to roasting vegetables.
5 Recipes to Practice Cooking with Vegetables
The Kitchn’s Cooking School
The Kitchn’s Cooking School is 20 days, 20 lessons to become a better cook at home. Every day we’ll tackle an essential cooking topic and explain what you should know. Each lesson has three different homework options, so you can choose the one that teaches you what you need. Whether you want to refresh your skills or start from scratch, come to school with us!