Special of the day: The Beauty of Blanching Fresh Vegetables

04 Apr Special of the day: The Beauty of Blanching Fresh Vegetables

Beautifully Blanched Asparagus Tips with Dill Dip

Every season ushers in a new cast of fresh vegetables stepping out for all to enjoy. Spring for me sings of tiny tender asparagus tips, crunchy sugar snap peas and fragrant fresh basil leaves, all bursting with flavor and jazzing up our ingredient inventory with their veritable versatility.

If winter was for roasting, spring is for blanching, I say. Asparagus, sugar snap peas and basil steal the show this week as we walk through the basics of blanching fresh vegetables at their seasonal best.

                Blanching, by definition, means to partially cook, and then plunge into an ice water bath to halt the heat. It’s a great way to lengthen the life of fresh veggies in the fridge as the blanching process will serve to eliminate the enzymes that cause spoilage. Pay it forward by blanching now, chilling in the fridge and eating later.

                Timing is everything with blanching, and you might just be pleasantly surprised to see how quick and easy this method of gentle cooking can be. Cooking vegetables in simmering salted water for a spell and then cooling them in an ice bath sets the vibrant vegetable’s color while guaranteeing good texture and flavor.

                Blanching fresh basil leaves for a few seconds first will solve the horrible blackening that happens when cutting the herb with scissors or a knife. Beautifully blanched asparagus tips with dill dip are without a doubt my favorite fast fresh appetizer fix for spring soirees, and blanching sugar snap peas ahead of time sets you up for a speedy stir fry dinner with no sweat. Let’s get blanching!

                To begin blanching, make sure the salted water in the pot is at a simmer or gentle boil. You should see tiny bubbles under the surface of the water. Allowing the water to come to a full rolling boil will be disastrous to your fresh spring vegetables, so watch the water and decrease the heat, as needed.

 

simmering salted water

 

                Having an ice bath ready in the sink will ensure that the vegetables you so beautifully blanched will stop cooking immediately, setting the color and desired degree of doneness.

 

ice bath

 

                Storing your blanched beauties in airtight refrigerator containers will stock you with healthy snacks, crudités or side dish selections in a snap. Because blanched vegetables are already cooked, you can take them out and eat them as is, heat them up with a bit of butter, or throw into a stir fry in no time at all.

                Get busy blanching with this week’s Special of the day: The Beauty of Blanching Fresh Vegetables and recipes for Beautifully Blanched Asparagus Tips with Dill Dip and Garlic-Ginger Chicken and Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry. Happy Blanching!

 

Beautifully Blanched Asparagus Tips with Dill Dip

 

Beautifully Blanched Asparagus Tips with Dill Dip

(serves 4 as an appetizer)           

2 bunches fresh asparagus, ends trimmed or snapped off

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup real mayonnaise

1 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced (or more, to taste)

dash of Kosher salt

Fill a medium heavy saucepan 2/3 full of water.

Stir in 1 teaspoon salt.

Heat over medium high heat until water comes to a simmer.

Add asparagus tips and let cook for 5 minutes, checking to make sure the water isn’t vigorously boiling.

Reduce heat, if necessary, to maintain a gentle simmer.

While asparagus is cooking, set colander in sink and fill halfway full of ice.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, dill and dash of Kosher salt while asparagus is cooking.

Drain blanched asparagus in ice-filled colander, covering the asparagus with additional ice cubes to immediately stop the cooking and set the color.

When asparagus spears have cooled, remove to paper towel and gently pat dry.

Arrange blanched asparagus attractively on a serving platter and serve with dill dip.

Enjoy!

 

Garlic-Ginger Chicken and Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry

 

Garlic-Ginger Chicken and Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry

(serves 4)

8 ounce package sugar snap peas, strings removed

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (Asian foods aisle)

½ cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons corn starch

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 clove garlic, minced (or more, if desired)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (Asian foods aisle)

Fill a medium heavy saucepan 2/3 full of water.

Stir in salt.

Heat over medium high heat until water comes to a simmer.

Add sugar snap peas and let cook for 5 minutes, checking to make sure the water isn’t vigorously boiling.

Reduce heat, if necessary, to maintain a gentle simmer.

Drain blanched sugar snap peas in ice-filled colander, covering them with additional ice cubes to immediately stop the cooking and set the color.

When blanched sugar snap peas have cooled, remove to paper towel and gently pat dry.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together hoisin sauce, chicken stock, ginger, corn starch and soy sauce until thoroughly combined.

Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces.

Heat oil in large stir-fry pan or wok over medium high heat.

When oil is hot, add garlic and stir fry briefly, until softened.

Add chicken and stir fry until golden brown and cooked through, about 6 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium low and add sauce mixture, stirring constantly until thickened.

Add sugar snap peas and cook briefly to warm.

Serve over steamed rice.

Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top of Garlic-Ginger Chicken and Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry

Enjoy!

 

                Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at sydnegeorge@hotmail.com . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at http://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.

 

 

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