Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross: Blanching a must for vegetables
Posted: 07/30/2012 at 1:15 am
Food & Nutrition
What an amazing difference that rain has made on our gardens. I know many of you were watering, but the rain this past week has provided just what the vegetables have needed for growth.
At the fair, I have had many conversations about various forms of food preservations. When I teach — and often a conversation is an opportunity to teach — I share that my favorite way to preserve vegetables is freezing. I like working with small batches of fresh vegetables and blanching for the freezer. I have learned and practice using the microwave to not only blanch vegetables but to steam or cook them.
If you are a gardener or have access to vegetables, plan to harvest young, tender vegetables as they reach their peak of flavor rather than trying to preserve the whole crop at one time. Even those who go to the you-pick market or purchase large quantities to freeze, the microwave is the answer when it comes to blanching.
I encourage you to work with the specific amounts that I suggest. If you have several batches to blanch, microwave the first while you clean and trim the second. Your kitchen will still be cool and the small batches will be more uniform and easier to handle than a steamy kettle full of hot water for blanching the conventional way.
When freezing vegetables, you need to blanch them to stop or inactivate the enzymes and to preserve the vitamin content of vegetables stored in the freezer. When vegetables are not blanched, they become tough, lose their food value and change to an unattractive color.
Start by cleaning the vegetables thoroughly. Let the vegetables soak in cold water for a few minutes. Plan to add some table salt to the water so you can get the critters that may be hiding in the vegetables to crawl out and onto the surface. Then cut vegetables into small pieces. If possible, slice in 1-inch lengths or cut or break into flowerets. Place pieces in casserole with water and cover. Microwave following the times in the remainder of my column until vegetables are vibrant green or pliable but crisp, and then drain them.
Next, plunge vegetables immediately into ice cold water to cool completely. This prevents further cooking. Drain thoroughly. This is a great place to use a clean kitchen towel to absorb all the moisture. For large quantities, you might want to choose the loose-pack method. For this, spread the pieces on a baking sheet with sides, freeze; once the pieces are frozen solid; pack in bags or boxes and seal. Pack small amounts tightly into freezer bags, boxes or pouches, leaving ½ inch airspace at top of package, seal. Remember to label plainly with name of vegetable and date. Frozen blanched vegetables will keep for nine to 12 months at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
For yellow or green beans, work with one-half pound, which is two cups. Cut or break into 1 and ½ inch pieces, put in a 3-quart covered casserole with one cup of water. Microwave 5 to 6 minutes; remember to stir twice during the cooking process. When doing lima beans, work with ¾ pound, which is about two cups. Put the lima beans in a 3-quart covered casserole with one cup of water and microwave 3 1/2 to 5 minutes; remembering to stir once.
For broccoli or cauliflower, cut into pieces or flowerets, use 4 cups in a 3-quart covered casserole with 1 cup water and stir twice during the 4 to 5 ½ minutes. Use 2 to 2 ½ cups of whole Brussels sprouts in a 2 quart covered casserole with 1 cup water stirring once during the 4 to 5 minutes.
Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is county extension director and extension educator in health and human sciences. Contact her at 17746 C.R. 34, Suite E, Goshen, IN 46528-6898; 533-0554; 533-0254 (fax); or firstname.lastname@example.org.