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What There is to LOVE About Vegetables: The Sauté

Has anyone ever asked Popeye if he tasted the spinach he guzzled? Did anyone ever tell him that there are better ways to prepare that spinach once it’s out of that magical rusty can? Probably not. For ages, almost everyone has been told that veggies are the ultimate health food. Do you want to lose weight? - Eat vegetables. Would you like to feel better and sleep better? - Eat vegetables. This is common knowledge for most avid health nuts and aspiring dieters around the world. The concept of “being healthy” is accompanied by the common feeling that eating vegetables is more of a chore than an enjoyable culinary experience. We tend to react with disgust or apathy when served vegetables. However, eating vegetables should be an experience you look forward to when sitting down to dinner. You should crave vegetables rather than be repulsed by them. Here is a method to show you how to cook vegetables quickly and make them taste delicious.

The Sauté

To sauté a vegetable means to simply fry it in a hot pan with some sort of fat[1]. The cooking method sounds easy enough, but, if performed improperly, a toss about in the pan will not maximize the flavor you are getting out of your vegetables.

Firstly, it is important to know what kinds of vegetables are best for sautéing.Vegetables that cook best in the frying pan are softer to the touch, or sweat and melt once in the pan. These vegetables also tend to grow above ground; you should not be sautéing harder root produce such as beets or carrots. My favorite vegetables to sauté are string beans, peas, onions, spinach, bok choy, zucchini, and asparagus (to name a few).

Another thing to understand before you begin to cook these vegetables is their raw composition. Often, we do not realize that the best way to make this item taste good is not by adding extra ingredients for flavor. Instead, we should use the natural sugars of the vegetable itself to transform it from raw to cooked. For example, when sautéing string beans, it is important to know that the bean itself is composed of natural sugars and water. Thus, when you put this vegetable into a hot pan, the heat from the pan reacts with these sugars creating a kind of “vegetable candy”, or what many chefs refer to as “caramelization”. You may also hear it referred to simply as “getting color” on your ingredient. We can see this kind of sugar transformation when the skin on the bean goes from tight, green, and smooth to a puckered, sugar-speckled, and golden brown. This transformation is the first crucial step in getting the most flavor out of your vegetables.

But how exactly do we get to this point of caramelized perfection? The first step is to make sure that whatever vegetable you are sautéing is dry. I cannot count the number of times I have mistakenly thrown un-dried asparagus or string beans into a frying pan and watched helplessly as they cooked improperly. It is important that the produce you use is properly cleaned, but you must make sure you pat it down with a paper napkin or a dish-towel before cooking. If the vegetable is still wet when it hits the pan, the heat will not properly react with the skin of the vegetable and your item will boil instead of blister.

In order to get the proper caramelization on your vegetables, you must cook them at the proper temperature. Caramelization does not occur quickly or fully on a low heat setting. The burner should be on medium-high heat (about a 7 or 8 on the gas mark), which will allow the pan to heat evenly. The proper way to tell if the pan is hot enough is to watch the oil applied to the pan. When the oil becomes thinner and more mobile and loses its viscosity, you are ready to cook. If the oil begins to smoke, you run the risk of burning and over-cooking your food.

Next, you must think about the fat in which to cook the food. Having grown up around Italian American/Mediterranean culture for most of my life, I am partial to and extremely

familiar with the fruity, fragrant goodness of extra virgin olive oil. I love this oil because it is good for you and acts as another non-stick layer of rich flavor for your vegetables. Use about one to two tablespoons of olive oil for a two-person portion. You do not want to use too much because the vegetables will become oily and, as I have found, will not caramelize as easily. Once coated onto the vegetable, the oil will attract the heat onto the surface area of the ingredient.

Lastly, you must make sure the vegetables are not crowded in the pan. If there are too many items in the pan, the area in which the skin can come into contact with the heat of the pan is limited and your food will not cook. As soon as you have thrown in your produce, you should instantly hear a sizzle. This means that all of your hard work has paid off and the food is cooking properly. Cook your beans (or whichever vegetable you choose) until the skin has puckered and turned a vibrant shade of green with nutty brown blisters. Your vegetable should be cooked so that the flavors have transformed, but the ingredient itself has maintained its shape (no longer than 5-7 minutes). If you cook the ingredient too much, it becomes limp and loses important nutrients. Once you are finished cooking, plate your vegetables and add a bit of salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to finish.

Feel free to post any inquires, suggestions, or comments, and stay tuned next week for a new food article on TriForce!

[1] saute. Unabridged. Random House, Inc.

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