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Ask the Inquisitive Cooks

April 7, 2003

This week's question:
“Can braising work well for vegetables too?”


I've read your article on braising meat. Can vegetables also be braised?
—From a Vancouver Island fan, Brian

Check back next week for a new kitchen science Q&A, and also check out the monthly feature article by the Inquisitive Cooks.

( Meet the Inquisitive Cooks )



A. Dear Brian,
Braising is a terrific way to soften the cellulose and swell the starches of robust vegetables, applying the same principles as with braising meat. Slow cooking and a small amount of liquid, such as broth, water, apple cider, a touch of wine or flavored vinegar or a combination of these. Be sure to add a splash of an acidic ingredient such as vinegar to red cabbage, as acids shift the color of the anthocyanin pigments to an appealing red rather than allowing them to slip into the blue tones.

Use hearty vegetables that won't fall apart. Those that are starchy, such as winter squash, sweet potatoes and parsnips braise well, because it takes time for their starch cells to absorb the flavorsome liquid and swell. Also consider fennel, red cabbage, beets, carrots and kale. Choose one or a combination, cutting them so they cook in approximately the same time. Or begin cooking the denser vegetables first.

Heat a heavy pan, add a small amount of oil and sauté aromatics such as leeks or onions to develop flavors as they brown. Then add the remaining vegetables, liquids (roughly half the volume of the vegetables) and seasonings. The more assertive spices and herbs will retain their character during long cooking. Cinnamon and cloves are fabulous with red cabbage. Try thyme with squash. Rosemary with fennel.

Cover tightly, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the vegetables braise at a gentle simmer. Or use a slow oven 300° to 325° F (149° - 163° C). Braising can take 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the vegetable, its density and the size of the pieces. Cook until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove, keep them warm and boil to reduce the remaining liquid to a flavorsome sauce or syrupy glaze.

Long, slow cooking develops gutsy flavors, yet softens fibers, so textures are soothing rather than crisp. Braising changes vegetables so they're quite unlike their raw or lightly-cooked counterparts. But of course, that was the intention all along.
Anne & Sue


Anne Gardiner & Sue Wilson are the authors, with the Exploratorium, of the book The Inquisitive Cook.




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