The usual method of cooking vegetables in a large quantity of water, which is afterwards thrown away, is not to be recommended, as it means the loss of much valuable saline matter as well as sugar.
Where the cooking liquor is not used, which such vegetables as peas, turnips, beans, etc., it is well to add a little sugar while cooking, to replace that which is lost. Root vegetables are all improved by the addition of a little butter when being served.
It is difficult to give a definite time for the cooking of either root or green vegetables, as it depends largely on their age and freshness. Cook all green vegetables rapidly, putting them, after washing, into boiling salted water. Cook without a cover as this preserves the color. Some cooks attain this end by putting a little soda in the water, but this is not advisable. As soon as tender, remove from the water, because too much cooking causes the flavor to deteriorate.
The exception to the rule of cooking green vegetables in boiling water is spinach, which requires no water other than that which clings to the leaves after washing.
Cabbage, Cauliflower, Dandelion and Beet Greens, wash thoroughly, remove dead leaves and stand in cold, salted water for an hour. This removes any insects that may be hidden among the leaves. Cabbage is usually cut into quarters when being cleaned; cauliflower is sometimes divided into small flower stalks, and when this is not done it is wise to make a cross-cut in the stalk; otherwise, being hard, it is not likely to be sufficiently cooked as soon as the rest of the plant.
Spinach requires more washing than any other vegetable, because it grows in a sandy soil, close to the ground. Remove roots and dead leaves, then wash by placing in a large vessel of cold water, toss about and then transfer to fresh water. Repeat this process till all sand is removed and the last water is quite clear — from six to ten washings are usually required.
Beets need no preparation before cooking, and must be boiled without even cleaning. The tops should be cut off several inches above the beets and the beets cooked till tender in boiling water; young beets require cooking about an hour, old ones several hours.
Summer Squash may be cooked without peeling if very young, but if the skin is at all likely to be tough, it should be removed. Drain the squash very thoroughly after cooking; or put it in a cloth and wring the ends in opposite directions.
Hubbard Squash may be baked, boiled or steamed, the former being the better method as it leaves the squash drier.
To Bake Squash. Cut it into large pieces, place skin side up in a baking-pan and cook till tender. Scrape the flesh from the skin, and season to taste.
Eggplant should be cut into thick slices, dipped in beaten egg and bread crumbs and fried in a little drippings or bacon fat.
To Stuff and Bake Eggplant. Boil it for half an hour, the cut in halves, scoop out the fleshy part, chop finely, mix with half its bulk of bread crumbs, a little onion juice, chopped parsely or any other seasoning if desired; replace the mixture in the shell and bake the whole three-quarters of an hour. A little drippings or butter put over the top of the filling before baking is an improvement. Serve plain or with brown gravy.
Asparagus should be scraped and the tough part of the stalk removed; then tied in bunches and cooked till tender in boiling salted water.
Green Corn should be cooked as soon as possible after gathering. Remove the husk and silky fibre and break the ears if too long to go into the kettle easily; cook in boiling water just long enough to thicken the milk of the grain — from twelve to twenty-five minutes will be required, according to the age of the corn. If it can not be cooked as soon as gathered, leave the husk on till the last moment as it prevents the corn drying and becoming tough.
Peas should have fresh-looking, well-filled, crisp pods. They should not be shelled till just before cooking and will have a richer flavor if some of the pods are cooked in the water. Have the water boiling and cook the peas about twenty minutes. Fresh peas are more tender and seem to be more easily digested than dried ones, but the latter, partly owning to the evaporation of water in the drying process, are, pound for pound, more nutritious and nitrogenous.
All fresh vegetables should be crisp and firm when put on the fire to cook, and if for any reason this crispness is lacking, it may be restored by soaking in very cold water. This soaking may be necessary for a few minutes only, but in extreme cases it will take several hours to attain the desired result.
In cooking all green vegetables it is better to have the saucepan only partly covered, to permit the escape of some of the volatile matter liberated by heat; it also insures a better color. Green vegetables are sometimes prepared for the table by blanching, that is, cooking in fast-boiling water from five to twenty minutes, having the saucepan uncovered, the time required depending on the vegetable. The water is then drained off and cooking completed with the addition of a little butter or drippings, seasoning and, in the case of very dry vegetables, a little stock or water. The saucepan should be covered and the cooking done very gently. Vegetables are better flavored when cooked by this process than when simply boiled in a large quantity of water.
Few cooks realize the importance of cooking fresh vegetables as soon as possible after preparing them. Statistics show that in the case of potatoes, peeled and left soaking in water for several hours, the loss in nitrogenous matter was 50 per cent, and in mineral matter 40 per cent respectively, during the cooking.
Steamed vegetables lose only about one-third as much food value as when immersed in boiling water, but more fuel is used as they cook more slowly.
The greatest changes that occur when cooking vegetables are in the swelling and bursting of starch grains, softening of cellular tissue and development of flavors and odors; while if the cooking is too long continued, flavor and odor are partly or entirely lost.
There are several ways of eliminating, at least, a part of the odor of cooking vegetables. One, to discard the first cooking-water after five minutes and replacing it with fresh; another, to place a small piece of charcoal in the pan with the vegetables; or with onions or greens cook a slice of red pepper, fresh or dried, in the pan.
Potatoes should always be kept in a cool, dark place. In warmth and light they are liable to sprout which is undesirable. They are so commonly used that we might expect them serverd in perfection, but in reality few vegetables are so poorly cooked. If potatoes are peeled before cooking, it should be done as thinly as possible; the flavor is better and the food value greater if the skin is left on. Always cook potatoes of even size at one time that all may be done together.
Baking is the best method of cooking, as all the potash salts are retained and dry heat bursts the starch cells, rendering the potatoes mealy and digestible. When baked or boiled in their skins they must be eaten as soon as cooked, otherwise the flavor changes quickly. If delay is neccessary, break the skin to let some of the moisture escape.
To boil potatoes, either in their jackets or when peeled, put them into enough boiling water to cover, add a table spoon of salt for each dozen potatoes, cover the saucepan closely, and if of moderate size, cook thirty minutes — small ones may take a little less time. Test with a fork and, if tender, drain at once, let the steam pass off and shake the potatoes in the pan to make them floury. If they can not be served at once, cover lightly with cheese cloth to prevent the cold air reaching them.
Creamed or escalloped potatoes are better prepared from left-over baked ones rather than boiled, as they are drier and of better flavor. The same applies to German fried, that is, cold cooked potatoes fried; also to Lyonnaise potatoes, that is, potatoes fried with minced onion, or chives and chopped parsley.
top of page